Create your perfect jerky recipe
What’s in a name?
The word jerky comes from the Quechuan language of the Incas. It’s a derivative of “ch’arki,” which translates as ‘dried meat.’
Whatever you call it, there’s evidence of the Incans and Native Americans drying meats to make jerky since 1500s or earlier. European settlers embraced this method for preserving meats and jerky has grown in popularity to now be a widely available snack food in many countries.
Can I jerky that?
Today, when you think jerky, beef is the most commonly used meat. But historically, Native Americans across North and South America used the wild animals that were prevalent. In North America, this meant bison, elk and deer, and for the Incans in South America, llamas and alpacas were the meats of choice.
In modern jerky production, as well as the widely used beef, game meats remain popular choices, as well as turkey. Some of the commercially available jerky meats in North America include bison, deer, crocodile, alligator, antelope, duck and wild boar.
When choosing a meat for your jerky recipe, remember that lean meats are the best choice. Fat will oxidise and spoil your jerky, so whatever animal you pick, look for cuts that have the least amount of fat possible.
Aside from which animal you choose, another major consideration for your jerky recipe is choosing between using whole muscles or ground meat.
A major difference between jerky made from whole muscles and ground meat is texture. Some people prefer the softness of a jerky made from ground meat, while others like the chew of jerky made from sliced whole muscle. You can also vary the end result by changing up the thickness of the meat, as well as choosing between cutting across the grain and with the grain. Ultimately, there isn’t a right or wrong choice, just individual preferences, although most people tend to prefer the texture of meat sliced across the grain.
For home processing of jerky, whole muscle cuts are recommended as a safer choice. In domestic environments, there are safety concerns, particularly around E. coli with ground meats. If you do use ground meat in a home environment, the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service recommends reducing the risks if the meat is precooked to a temperature of 160°F prior to drying.
Rubs versus marinades
The other major variation between jerky recipes is the choice between a dry rub or a wet marinade. There are pros and cons to both approaches.
Dry rubs take less time, both with waiting to let the flavors penetrate and reducing dehydration time. On the flip side, dry rubs can make it harder to evenly distribute flavor and usually don’t include a cure to prevent bacteria growing.
Jerky recipes that use a marinade mix the chosen seasonings into a liquid, frequently soy sauce, Worcestershire, or another base liquid. The marinade usually includes some vinegar or a curing agent to inhibit bacteria. Using a marinade results in a more uniform flavour, but it can be easy for the meat to become too salty if left in the liquid for too long. Using a marinade also involves waiting for 6 to 24 hours for the meat to season, as well as extending the dehydration time due to the additional liquid.