Even many jam and pickle county fair blue ribbon winners don't like to mess with preserving meat. While canning books assure newbies that they're unlikely to kill someone with strawberry jelly gone wrong, just preparing meat for dinner involves sanitizing your cutting boards and knives. Trying to preserve something that wants to spoil so readily feels like asking for food poisoning.
But even if you're just starting out, I encourage you to attempt to dry a batch of your own beef jerkey. Not only is it delicious and handy for hikes and car trips, by making your own you can control what goes into it. You'll have a jerkey with ingredients you can actually pronounce!
While drying your own jerkey has its pitfalls, they're relatively easy to avoid.
For starters, I highly recommend reading “Making Jerkey at Home” from the University of Oregon Extension. It's much more thorough than its USDA counterpart, and lays out several methods of safe jerkey making. Some other tips include:
- While you can play with the spices you use to flavor your meat, try to keep the salt in the recipe you chose at least close to the same. Some recipes don't bother, but I always toss in a bit of curing salt as well, for extra insurance.
- Make sure you're heating your jerkey to the right temperature. Get an oven thermometer to check that your oven or dehydrator is really as warm as the dial says.
- Heat treat your jerkey to 275 degrees for 10 minutes when it's finished, and then let it sit in an airtight container for 2-4 days to allow any remaining moisture to redistribute. This will help even out any overly dry or moist spots. If condensation forms on the container during that time, you'll also know that your jerkey needs to go back in the oven for more drying time.
- Lastly―and this is just a good rule for life, really―don't eat moldy food. If, after storing it for a bit, your jerkey smells “off” or is growing critters, toss it out.
Here's a simple jerkey recipe to get you started. It's a salty/sweet combination, but if you want a bit more of a kick add some red pepper flake or increase the amount of adobo sauce.
Homemade Beef Jerkey
- 2 pounds round steak or similar
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 teaspoon “pink” or curing salt
- ¼ cup soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tablespoons raw sugar
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon adobo sauce
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/8 cup water
Put the meat in the freezer for 2-4 hours before your start; it will make it easier to slice. Once the meat is about half frozen, use a sharp knife to slice it into strips that are about 1/8 inch thick. It's more important that the meat slices are of similar thickness to each other than it is that they're all of perfect thickness.
Once the meat is sliced, place it in a plastic baggie and add the remaining ingredients. Remember, you can play with the spices, but keep the salt at least close to the same. Seal the baggie, place it in a large bowl (in case of leakage), and pop the whole thing in the fridge overnight.
The next morning, spread the meat out evenly on dehydrator trays or on racks in your 150 degree oven. Dry until the meat will crack, but not break when you bend it. That should take approximately 6 hours in a dehydrator and may take double that time in an oven.
Either way, finish the jerkey by heating it for 10 minutes in a pre-heated, 275 degree oven. Allow the jerkey to cool, pat off any oil that has collected, and place in an airtight container for 2-4 days for conditioning. Give the container a shake once a day―this will help distribute any moisture left more evenly―and if you notice condensation forming on the container put the jerkey back in the dehydrator or oven to dry more.
Store the jerkey in a cool, dark, dry place. It will last a few weeks at room temperature, a few months in the fridge, and for up to a year frozen.