Beef jerky is a low fat, high protein snack that you can feel good about snacking on (and giving your kids to snack on). But I’m not talking about the processed jerky sticks that line the gas station counter (Can you say Slim Jim? That’s not real jerky and it’s not good for you). I’m talking about good old, natural, homemade jerky and no, it’s not as hard as you probably think and you don’t need any fancy tools. Depending on the ingredients and recipe you choose, it could even save you money. But on the flip side, it could cost more. But this isn’t about frugality. This is about enjoying the amazing flavor of homemade beef jerky and good health.
You can pretty much use any kind of meat that you want. Some people even make salmon and other fish jerky. I prefer to stick to beef, but hey, that’s just me. Some good choices are flank steak, brisket, sirloin or top round. The trick is to use something lean. If your meat is fatty, the jerky won’t last nearly as long. Here a few recipes to get you started (All of these recipes are made using your oven, no dehydrator needed):
Tips for Making Better Jerky
Slightly freeze the meat – Put your meat in the freezer for an hour or two. You don’t want it to freeze solid. But if you get it just to the point where it’s starting to freeze, has little ice crystals starting to form and is nice and solid, it’ll be so much easier to slice.
Make friends with the butcher – Most butchers like, no love, to help out. They’re very helpful if you don’t know which meat would be best for a particular dish or if you need a certain cut. I’ve yet to talk to one that wasn’t more than happy to help. Talk to them! Chances are, they’d even be happy to slice that meat for you (great if you don’t have a good knife to do it with) for very cheap and very likely, even free.
Skewer ’em up – After you slice, season and marinate your meat, get out some skewers (or even toothpicks). Most recipes will tell you to lay out your strips of meat directly on a rack. But you can do larger batches if you skewer one end of each slice and let them hang freely from the rack.
Against the grain or with it? Most recipes will say that you should slice your meat with the grain (parallel to the muscle fibers in the meat). Why you say? Most believe that it’ll help your slices to not fall apart. But fact is, if you slice against the grain, it’ll be more tender when done. If a little here and there does fall apart, well no big deal… you’ll have strips of jerky along with some little bite-size nibbles to snack on.
Jerky with no dehydrator OR oven?? Some people swear by the box fan method. Personally, I’m not comfortable with my meat sitting at room temperature like that for so long. But I haven’t done much research into it and I would assume if a chef like Alton Brown recommends it, then it should be safe. But still. Not me.
Making your own beef jerky is pretty easy. Yes, it takes some time, but it’s mostly passive. Just waiting for it to dry out. If you’re just plain too lazy for that then there are some healthy options out there and actually, some really fun flavors. For example, how about bacon jerky, smoked cherry maple or jalapeno carne asada? Yeah, sounds delicious right? I haven’t tried them because I prefer to make my own. But if I were to buy jerky, it’d probably be some unique, different flavor like one of those.