Drying meat has literally been a standard method of food preservation since time immemorial. Drying meat is very simple, and there are a number of ways to do it, but the end result is the same: The water in the meat is removed to make it stable over time. Nearly all the nutritional value is maintained, and most cultures that dry meat consider it a delicacy. Modern technology has made the process more safe and accurate than ever, but when it’s all said and done the process is the same: Slice meat into thin strips, season and cure* the meat, then place it in a warm, dry environment to dehydrate it. Jerky you make yourself won’t taste like store-bought jerky, as commercial ovens cook differently and have features like “wet-bulb” temperature settings, and so on. But different doesn’t mean better. Comparing store-bought jerky to freshly made jerky is like comparing packaged supermarket cookies to Mom’s fresh-baked snickerdoodles.
Check out our video, but if you need something to refer to in the kitchen, here's what we recommend:
1. Trim meat so there is very little fat remaining.
2. Cut meat across the grain for tender jerky, cut meat with the grain for tougher, more traditional jerky.
3. Mix water, cure (1 oz of 1.25 percent cure* per 5 pounds of meat), and seasonings.
4. Allow meat, cure and seasoning to marinate 24 to 36 hours. This allows the cure to penetrate the meat completely. Cure* prevents things like botulism.
5. Lay meat out on drip rack/cookie sheet (or similar).
6. Place in oven preheated to 170 degrees Fahrenheit (it’s important to cook slowly) for 2 hours, or until the internal temperature of the meat reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
7. Remove jerky from rack, place in ziplock bag and refrigerate. Jerky will keep for a few months this way.
Items needed to make jerky:
5 pounds lean meat
1 ounce 1.25 percent Sodium Nitrite cure (substitute with Kosher salt if desired)
1 ounce fresh-ground black pepper
1 ounce brown sugar
8 ounces cold water
Knife that is well-suited for slicing
Glass bowl or 1.5-gallon zipper lock bag (don’t use metal mixing bowls, as this can make the jerky take on a metallic flavor)
Drip rack/Cookie Sheet
Conventional Oven/Smoker/Wood Pellet grill with “Smoke”setting
*An important note on cure: Sodium Nitrite cure has been used for well over a century to prevent food-borne illness like botulism. In the early days, it was used at a much higher rate than today. Whatever cure you're using, it is important never to exceed the manufacturer’s recommended amount. Cure may also be replaced with sea salt or kosher salt, but make sure to keep this jerky refrigerated.