Beef jerky is a great way to get a little pick me up during your day and is a great take along snack for your summer road trips or backpacking adventures. Although it's protein packed and great fuel for your body, it's not exactly inexpensive or as flavorful as it could be, that is, until you make it yourself. It takes very little prep time and can be made to appease even the most persnickety palate.
Jerky is a great way to use up leftover meats hanging around your freezer or to take advantage of summer sales at the grocery store. It's also an easy way to use up little bits of spices or flavorings you might have lying around.
Here's a few tips before you get started:
• Don't over-dry your meat. It's an easy thing to do because after all, your main goal is to remove all the moisture to obtain your end product. Keep an eye out for meat getting brittle, that's a sign it's gone too long.
• Zip top bags are key to marinading without excess air.
• Eliminate as much fat from the outside of the cut as possible and chose a lean meat to begin with. The fat will go rancid and won't cure. Even the tastiest jerky can make you sick if you don't follow this thought carefully.
• Freezing your meat is important. After trimming the excess fat from your cut of meat, toss it in the freezer for a few hours to let it stiffen up, making your cutting process a breeze later on.
• Weigh your meat after trimming. If the recipe you use calls for 2lbs of meat, buy extra when shopping so you'll have enough once trimmed. Otherwise, you'll have extra salty jerky!
• 1 1/2 to 2 pounds flank steak
• 2/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
• 2/3 cup soy sauce
• 1 tablespoon honey (which can be omitted)
• 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
• 2 teaspoons onion powder
• 1 teaspoon liquid smoke
• 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
(Additional flavorings and spices may be added, try to keep all other additions under 2 Tablespoons. Garlic powder and ginger are some of our favorites to add)
Trim meat of excess fat. Place it in a zip top bag, remove excess air and freeze for 1-2 hours.
Remove from freezer and cut with a sharp knife with the grain. Cut into desired shapes, long strips work great, but cutting that size in half for smaller children can be good size as well.
Place zip top bag into a bowl and turn the edges over (helps bag to stay open while you add other ingredients). Place meat and other ingredients into bag. Remove as much air as possible and seal bag. Place in refrigerator for 3-6 hours. 3 hours will yield a milder flavor while 6 hours makes it bolder and more vibrant.
Remove meat and pat dry (we use paper towels, feel free to use other alternatives), add to dehydrator in a single layer. Add to a dehydrator (we use an inexpensive model and it works just fine, Alton Brown uses a box fan and some air filters and there are higher power models available for those who really get into their jerky making adventures)
Turn on and walk away. Check on it throughout the curing process until you've reached meaty perfection! They keep best in an airtight container in the fridge, although can be packed and left on the shelf if a silicon oxygen absorber is added. Something like these.
Homemade jerky is a great birthday present for a foodie, Christmas stocking stuffer, or mid-day snack without worrying about refrigeration or utensils!
What flavors do you like to add to your jerky recipe? Let us know in the comments below!
Related: Food Science: How Meat is Cured
(Images: Sarah Rae Trover)