Jerky 101

So midsummer is approaching, hunting season is just weeks away and you have an abundance of meat left from last years.

There are a few options to consider. They range from not hunting this year (not a likely choice), passing some meat on to someone who will use and appreciate it, making a bunch of jerky, or both of the last two choices.

If you wrapped the meat well last season, it will be in perfect shape and probably would still be good for another year.

Making jerky is an ancient activity and goes by a variety of names. Aboriginal people world-wide have dried meat since the discovery of fire, and perhaps earlier by air drying.

The big difference between jerky and dried meat is that jerky uses a flavoured (spiced) brine while dried meat is usually just that—dried meat, no brine involved.

Meat choice: Almost any red meat can be made into jerky, but for a better quality product avoid using poorer cuts.

Use round or shoulder pieces or any other cut where the meat pieces are large enough to be useful and not full of gristle or sinew. Trim away all fat.

Note: Pork or bear are not good choices for beginners, as the jerky-making process is not hot enough to ensure complete protection from trichinosis. There is conflicting information as to whether or not freezing will make the meat safe to use.

When butchering your animal, select and set aside meat for jerky. Here for a tutorial on how to clean big game

  • Trim well to have lean pieces without sinew or fat.
  • Cut in useful-sized pieces (roast size: pieces that are too big or too small lead to wastage).
  • “Garbage in, garbage out”—use meat that is in good shape, and not freezer burned.
  • Any cut can be used for jerky.
  • Slice WITH the grain while the meat is still semi-frozen (if totally thawed, re-freeze it to the point it is semi-frozen).

Jerky can be made in your oven, BBQ, smoker, dehydrator, over the wood stove or any other source of clean, dry heat.

If you are not using a smoker, “Liquid Smoke” (various flavours) can be added to the marinade. Jerky is not cooked—it is DRIED using warm, dry air to remove the moisture.

NOTE: If using an oven or BBQ, prop the lid/door open slightly. In a BBQ put the jerky rack on one side and low heat only on the other side.

Jerky is done when you like its consistency. It can be crumbly, chewy or soft. Meat thickness affects chewiness.

High temperature cooks the meat rather than drying it. Thicker pieces take longer, both in the marinade and in the drying process.

A jerky gun is the way to go when using ground meat for jerky. Photo by Larry Leigh

Ground meat (burger) or whole muscle meat can be used but the ground meat is a little more work unless you have a jerky gun, such as a Jerky Shooter or Jerky Master (a caulking gun-type device).

When using ground meat, spices/flavourings are first thoroughly mixed with COLD water and then added to the ground meat. If the mixture is too stiff to spoon into the Jerky Shooter, just add more cold water until it flows better.

Ground meat jerky can also be pressed between two sheets of waxed paper on a cookie tray, then sliced, but the Jerky Shooter is the way to go.

If using whole muscle meat make a solution (brine) and soak for a few hours. Experiment with time in marinade and amount of spices, but go light with spices at first.

Simple Jerky: slice with the grain into 1/8-inch slices while still semi-frozen.Try to use similar-sized pieces for uniform drying.

Marinate in teriyaki, soy or any commercial BBQ sauce for 3-4 hours. Then sprinkle on some or all of the following: Liquid Smoke, lemon pepper, black pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, chili powder.

Brush or spray Pam or olive oil on racks.

Dry in oven on lowest setting with door ajar, smoke or warm air above wood stove, cool side of BBQ with lid open slightly. Try brushing liquid honey on during the drying.

When done to the dryness level you prefer, let cool and package in serving size containers. This will keep in the fridge for a number of days but keep the packages in the freezer and remove as needed.

If there are children in the house, keep the jerky making a secret. Otherwise, it will all be gone the first night.

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