Making Meat Jerky
by: Val Hillers, Ph.D. , Extension Food Specialist
Home-prepared venison jerky was the cause of an outbreak ofE. coli O157:H7 infections in Oregon. The electric dehydrator that was used hadn't reached a high enough temperature to kill the harmful bacteria. To kill these bacteria in home-made jerky, jerky must be heated to 160°F while it is still moist. Because most home dehydrators cannot reach temperatures as high as 160°F, precooking the jerky in marinade is the recommended procedure.
Precooking in marinade shortens the drying time and makes a more tender jerky. Although the color and texture will be different from conventional jerky, precooked jerky is still tasty.
Selection of Meat
The best jerky is made from lean meat. The leaner the meat, the better the finished product. Either fresh or frozen meat can be used.
Use lean beef. Standard, select or utility grade are leaner than choice or prime meat. Good cuts for jerky are the flank, round, sirloin, or rump cuts.
Most game meats can be used. Venison, elk, and antelope make excellent jerky. Any cut of game meat can be used, but loin, round, and flank make the best jerky.
Poultry and rabbit
Turkey breast, thighs, and legs are the best cuts for making jerky. The loin of the rabbit is also good. Be sure to skin the meat and remove all the fat.
Meat used for jerky should be sliced into long 3/16"-1/4" thick slices. For a tender jerky, cut the meat across the grain. For a tougher, more chewy product, cut the meat with the grain. Remove all the fat possible.
For easier cutting, partially freeze the meat. Use a sharp knife or electric meat slicer.
Precook jerky pieces
- Prepare 1 to 2 cups of marinade and put in large saucepan.
- Bring the marinade to a full rolling boil over medium heat. Add a few meat strips, making sure that they are covered by marinade. Re-heat to a full boil.
- Remove the pan from the burner. Using tongs, immediately remove meat from the hot marinade to prevent over-cooking.
- Repeat steps 3 and 4 until all meat has been precooked. Add more marinade if necessary.
Caution: Soaking the meat strips in marinade overnight is not advised. Putting unmarinated strips directly into boiling marinade minimizes a cooked flavor and maintains safety.
Drying the meat
Either a dehydrator or smoker can be used to dry the precooked meat pieces. Put the precooked meat in a single layer on drying racks. The strips should not overlap since air circulation is very important.
Test for doneness by letting a piece cool. When cool, it should crack but not break when bent. There should not be any moist or underdone spots.
Refrigerate the jerky overnight in a plastic freezer bag. Then check again for proper dryness. If necessary, dry longer.
Store jerky in plastic freezer bags or glass jars. For long term storage, put the jerky in a refrigerator or freezer. Jerky can be stored at room temperature for short periods of time, but the fat will turn rancid more quickly if the jerky is at room temperature.
You can use your favorite marinade recipe to pre-cook the jerky. Season to taste. Following is a sample marinade that you may want to try.
Sample Marinade Recipe
1 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon black pepper or lemon pepper
1 teaspoon liquid smoke (optional)
This is enough marinade for about 2 pounds of lean meat strips