Jerky is one of the oldest forms of preserved meat. Drying meat deprives the bacteria that cause food spoilage of the moisture they need to survive. Thus the meat does not spoil. The earliest jerky was made by smoking strips of meat over a fire or simply drying it in the sun. Today you can simply buy a food dehydrator, and you can even make jerky in your oven.
Some ovens actually have a dehydrate setting. But if yours doesn't, just use the lowest temperature your oven will go to, which is probably somewhere between 160°F and 200°F. And if your oven has a convection setting, that's great. Set the oven to a low temperature with the convection fan going, and the circulating air will help dry out the jerky. In fact, that's all the dehydrate setting does is cook on a very low-temperature while the convection fan moves the air around inside the oven.
You'll need some sort of wire rack so that the air will be able to circulate under the meat. I use a regular roasting rack set inside a sheet pan and it works perfectly.
You can make jerky out pretty much any kind of meat, although beef is the most common. You can also get buffalo meat for making jerky, and even chicken or turkey breast will make a nice jerky. Venison will work great, too. As a rule, lean meats are best for making jerky.
There are any number of ways to season the meat for jerky, and I like to use a wet marinade that blends sweet, salty and spicy flavors. But you can also just mix up your favorite dry rub, season the strips of meat and dehydrate. You're pretty much only limited by your imagination. Following is my recipe for beef jerky. I like to use top round steak, cut into strips about a quarter of an inch thick.
- 2 pound beef round (or top round steak, 1 to 1½ inches thick)
- 1 cup Worcestershire sauce
- 1 cup soy sauce (or tamari)
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon liquid smoke
- 1 tablespoon onion powder
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon pepper flakes
- Slice the meat into strips about a quarter of an inch thick. It can help to freeze the meat slightly before slicing, but this isn't really necessary. If your strips come out too thick you can pound them with a meat mallet to flatten them out some. If your strips are too thick you may have a hard time chewing the finished jerky.
- In a large glass bowl or baking dish, combine the remaining ingredients, and then add the strips of meat. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
- Preheat your oven to its lowest temperature, and turn on the convection fan, if your oven has one. Or use the dehydrate setting it yours has one. If you're using a food dehydrator, follow the manufacturer's instructions.
- Set a wire roasting rack in a sheet pan. There will be some drippage, so if you like, you can line the pan with foil first. Then drape the strips of meat evenly across the wire rack. Make sure there is space between each piece.
- Place the pan in the oven and let it cook for anywhere from 4 to 8 hours, depending on oven temperature, the thickness of the meat, and whether you are using convection. The finished meat should be dry and leathery but still somewhat flexible. You don't want the pieces to snap when you bend them.
Jerky will keep for quite a while at room temperature sealed in a plastic zip-lock bag, and you can store it in the refrigerator or freezer, too.
Here are some alternate ingredients you can add to your wet marinade for some different flavors:
- Teriyaki sauce
- Dark corn syrup
- Maple syrup
- Celery salt
- Seasoned salts