How to Make Beef Jerky at Home - The Easy Way
You have this beef jerky problem, right? You love the stuff, but you do not love the fake chemical flavorings and heavy sodium dose of many packaged brands. There are two possible solutions to your dilemma. One is to purchase a new gourmet brand online, with a mix of inventive, all-natural flavors, like the Chipotle Adobo from Three Jerks™ Jerky. The other option is to create your own mouth-watering jerky, with some basic tips and your choice of recipe.
DIY jerky may seem intimidating, but this handy guide will prepare you for an easy home project that leaves you supplied with a new kind of treat to share with family and friends. Besides, there’s no rule that says you can’t do both—make your own and enjoy the gourmet brand. There’s a themed party idea in there somewhere.
This Could Get Messy
Clear the kitchen—more specifically, clear a path from your counter or working space to your oven—marinated jerky is drippy. A word to the wise: keep Fido and Fluffy locked in another part of the house, to protect both your precious pets (raw garlic and peppers can’t be good for them), and your precious jerky! After all, you’re going to be waving raw meat around—they’re bound to notice …
Preparation – The Meat
Select a lean cut of meat. Most recipes specify for about 5 lbs. Ask your butcher to trim any fat, and, when you begin your prep at home, use your sharpest knife to trim any remaining fat. Favorite cuts of meat for jerky include brisket, top round, and, for a truly luxurious treat, try filet mignon jerky, favored by gourmet foodies like the owners-namesakes of Three Jerks Jerky. The cuts are already smaller than a big brisket, making your task of slicing and prep a bit easier.
Next, slice the meat—this is actually a two-stage process. Stage one: depending on the size of your cut of meat, you may want to cut it into two halves or more sections. Remember to keep them long, in order to make long, thin slices. First, wrap the large pieces in plastic wrap or a sturdy zip-lock freezer bag, and place in the freezer. Avoid hard freezing; you just want it firm enough to make thin slicing easier. One to two hours should be plenty of time in the freezer. Stage two: slice thin strips, between 1/8” to ¼” thick.
Preparation – The Marinade
Enjoying beef jerky is a multi-faceted experience, from the chewiness to the beefy flavor, but nothing keeps you reaching for one more piece like the pungent mix of spicy and savory/sweet goodness. It should be rich and salty, with a powerful overlay of spices and flavorings. You can vary the flavors to suit your tastes, your mood, or the season. First time out, pick a good, basic recipe, and then start experimenting with future batches.
Here are some key ingredients used in many popular DIY beef jerky recipes. It is best not to throw everything in at once, but start with a basic recipe, like the original beef jerky flavor from Three Jerks Jerky, see how you like it, and then try variations in future batches:
- Liquid base and acids: Choose a combo of soy sauce, tamari sauce, apple cider, beer, Worcestershire sauce, teriyaki sauce, or balsamic vinegar.
- Seasonings, flavorings, and spices: Try a mix from garlic powder, onion powder, salt of your choice, fish sauce, Dijon mustard, liquid smoke or smoked paprika (or both), sesame oil, cayenne pepper, turmeric, or freshly cracked black pepper.
- Sweet: Nothing brings out savory flavors like a touch of sweetness; plus, sugars open up another whole category of their own fantastic flavorings. Most recipes include brown sugar; some add honey, dark corn syrup, or blackstrap molasses.
Bathe That Jerky
Place your strips of meat into a large, ziplock plastic bag, pour in the marinade, and give it a nice, thorough bath. Place the whole bag into the fridge to thoroughly marinate for up to 24 hours, but no fewer than 4 hours. The longer you marinate, the deeper your flavor and tenderizing action. The most convenient process is to simply refrigerate overnight and start your next step, the drying process, on the following day.
Drying Your Jerky
Remove your oven racks before turning on the oven. Line the bottom of your oven with aluminum foil to catch the drips, and to make clean-up a snap. Then, preheat oven to about 160 to 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Arrange racks over paper towels on a work surface. Take marinated strips of meat and lay them flat across the racks. Be sure the strips are not touching and there is space for air to circulate around each one. Some advise blotting the strips on paper towels first, to allow excess liquid to drain, but jerky enthusiasts have differing ideas on this point.
If you want to maximize your production—in other words, if you want to fit the most possible jerky strips in your oven in one batch—try an alternative arrangement. Use bamboo skewers, threading them through one end of each strip, and then suspend skewers from your oven racks.
When racks are filled with your meat strips, place them in the oven, ideally with the door cracked open. You can put a wooden spoon or a wadded-up aluminum foil ball in the space to hold the door open just enough. The goal is dehydration—or removing the water from food—so, you need to be sure that the warmed air is moving and circulating in order to dry the meat.1 If the oven is too hot, or there is no circulating air, the meat will cook instead of drying, yielding a poor outcome.
Most recipes recommend a total of 7 or 8 hours in the oven, depending on the thickness and size of your strips. Remember to turn slices over about halfway through, so both sides will dry evenly. You will need to be around to monitor your oven, but, basically, you’ve got all day to accomplish other things.
How do you know when your home-made, gourmet beef jerky is actually—jerky? There’s only one way, and that is the taste test. Select a nice bit to try and give it a bend. If it’s too dry, it will crack and break right off. If it’s easy to bend and tear off a bite, it is ready to go! Try this at around 6 hours, to be sure you don’t overdry the meat. If it’s not yet ready, give it another hour or so, and test again.
When done, remove jerky from the oven and leave it out in the air to cool down and continue drying. Once fully cooled, store jerky in an airtight container, and enjoy your flavorful, handmade gourmet treat for months to come (but no more than 4 to 6). Chances are it will have disappeared long before you need to worry about an “expiration date.”