Homemade Jerky Drying Methods

These four methods of drying meat will turn your tastefully marinated beef, poultry, venison, or fish into tasty, homemade jerky.

Jerky on a drying rack

Making jerky is relatively simple and can be done by anyone who has access to a kitchen and a dehydrator or smoker.

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High in protein and low in fat, jerky has become a hugely popular snack, but there are problems with commercially-made jerky. It’s expensive, high in sodium, and is made with a limited number of flavors, both in meat and in seasoning. Homemade jerky, however, means you’re able to use your own game or fish or locally-sourced meat, and allows you to include a huge variety of flavor or marinade options. Spicy turkey, savory tofu, and soy and brown sugar venison are just a few of the flavor options presented in The Complete Book of Jerky by Philip Hasheider. Hasheider is a butchery expert, and in his book he not only lists dozens of jerky recipes, but also details basic butchery for various meats, how different muscles on different meat translates into jerky, and ways to prepare jerky in a food dehydrator or smoker. Marinated, flavored, or plain and simple, learn how to make the snack you crave.

Making jerky is relatively simple and can be done by anyone who has access to a kitchen and a dehydrator or smoker. You don’t need any special expertise, but you do need to understand and follow some easy directions. Like homebrewing or canning, making jerky at home requires attention to a few basic principles to ensure a safe, stable food product.

Making your own jerky allows you to choose from a wide variety of meats, such as beef, chicken, fish, wild game, and waterfowl. It also puts you in control of the kind and intensity of flavors in your jerky, and it allows you to create a high-quality product without chemical stabilizers or preservatives. This will walk you through the steps required to produce safe, top-quality jerky and will discuss some of the equipment you’ll use.

Four Ways to Make Jerky

Given sufficiently low humidity and enough sun, thin slices of meat will dry in the open air. While this primitive method may have worked for Native Americans and pioneers, it is not recommended today because it can foster bacterial growth and expose the meat to insect or animal contamination and spoilage. Instead, you will need to use a dehydrator or a smoker, sometimes in combination with an oven. The equipment you use does not need to be expensive or fancy, but it must be reliable, especially with respect to temperature control.

It was long believed that meats for jerky only needed to reach 145 degrees Fahrenheit to ensure the safety of the finished product. Some years ago, however, several incidents of food-borne illnesses linked to commercial and homemade jerky spurred research by food scientists into the processes needed to inactivate bacterial pathogens in the meat. As a result of that research, the USDA now recommends that to make jerky safely you should heat the meat to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit (poultry to 165 degrees) before drying. Fish can still be heated to 145 degrees and be used safely.

In this book, we’ll focus on four ways to make jerky:

1. High-Temperature Dehydrator
2. Oven and Low-Temperature Dehydrator
3. Smoker and Low-Temperature Dehydrator
4. Smoker

Method 1:
High-Temperature Dehydrator

You Will Need

• Food dehydrator that can reach temperatures of 160 degrees F or higher
• 2 pounds of meat and the Classic or Big-Batch Venison Jerky Recipes, or any other jerky recipe
• Equipment used for slicing meat strips
• Drying racks or trays

Instructions

1. Thoroughly wash your hands, countertops, knives, slicers, and any other pieces of equipment you will use.

2. Slice the meat into strips at about 1/4-inch thick and prepare per your recipe. Most recipes will require marinating for at least 2 hours or overnight before proceeding.

3. Set out the drying racks or trays, remove the meat strips from the marinade, and place the meat strips close together but not so close that they touch or overlap each other. Place the trays or racks in the dehydrator.

4. Preheat a reliable high-temperature dehydrator to 160 degrees F or slightly higher. Then put in the meat for 4 to 6 hours or until it reaches an internal temperature of 160 degrees F (poultry needs to reach 165 degrees F internal temperature). If you maintain the high temperature, you should not need to lower it to finish the drying process. However, monitor the meat strips’ progress so that they do not become too dry.

5. You should begin checking the jerky after 3 hours from the start of the drying process. To test the jerky for doneness, first pat off any beads of oil or fat with a paper towel. The jerky can be considered finished if it cracks when bent over on itself but doesn’t break clean through. There is a fine line between underdone and overdone jerky. If it breaks, it has been dried too much. This isn’t a disaster—it’s still edible. With any new equipment that you use, some experimentation may be necessary to reach a result that is satisfactory to your tastes.

6. After allowing the jerky to cool to room temperature, store it in a clean plastic container with a tight-fitting lid or in a resealable plastic bag, and place the container in the refrigerator. If you notice any condensation forming on the inside of either, the jerky should be returned to the dehydrator and dried a little longer.

Method 2:
Oven and Low-Temperature Dehydrator

You Will Need 

• Oven
• Food dehydrator
• 2 pounds of meat and the Classic or Big-Batch Venison Jerky Recipes, or any other jerky recipe
• Equipment used for slicing meat strips
• Drying racks or trays

Instructions

1. Thoroughly wash your hands, countertops, knives, slicers, and any other pieces of equipment you will use.

2. Slice the meat into strips at about 1/4-inch thick and prepare per your recipe. Most recipes will require marinating for at least 2 hours or overnight before proceeding.

3. Preheat your oven to 145 to 155 degrees F. Set out the drying racks or trays, remove the meat strips from the marinade, and place the meat strips close together but not so close that they touch or overlap each other.

4. Once the oven is preheated, place the trays or racks in the oven. Bake the meat for approximately 4 hours. Increase the heat to 275 degrees F and continue to bake until the meat reaches an internal temperature of 160 degrees F (poultry needs to reach 165 degrees F internal temperature).

5. Once the meat reaches an internal temperature of 160 degrees F, you can use a low-temperature dehydrator to finish the drying. Transfer your meat to a dehydrator and maintain a constant dehydrator temperature of 130 to 140 degrees F while you continue drying.

6. You should begin checking the jerky after 3 hours from the start of the drying process to make sure that is doesn’t dry past the point where it’s enjoyable to eat. To test the jerky for doneness, first pat off any beads of oil or fat with a paper towel. The jerky can be considered finished drying if it cracks—but doesn’t break—when it’s bent over on itself. There is a fine line between underdone and overdone jerky. If it breaks, it has been overheated. This is not a disaster—it will still be edible—but more of an inconvenience. With any new equipment that you use, some experimentation may be necessary to reach a result that is satisfactory to your tastes.

7. After allowing the jerky to cool to room temperature, store it in a clean plastic container with a tight-fitting lid or in a resealable plastic bag, and place the container in the refrigerator. If you notice any condensation forming on the inside of either, the jerky should be returned to the dehydrator or oven and dried a little longer.

Method 3:
Smoker and Low-Temperature Dehydrator

You Will Need

• Smoker (outdoor model)
• Food dehydrator
• 2 pounds of meat and the Classic or Big-Batch Venison Jerky Recipes, or any other jerky recipe
• Equipment used for slicing meat strips
• Drying racks or trays

Instructions

1. Thoroughly wash your hands, countertops, knives, slicers, and any other pieces of equipment you will use.

2. Slice the meat into strips at about 1/4-inch thick and prepare per your recipe. Some recipes may require marinating for at least 2 hours or overnight before proceeding.

3. Preheat your smoker to 200 degrees F. Add chips or pellets to the burn chamber to begin smoking. Use the smoker vents to stabilize the temperature between 165 and 175 degrees F.

4. Set out the drying racks or trays. Remove the meat strips from the refrigerator and the marinade. Pat the strips dry and place them close together—but not so close that they touch or overlap each other.

5. Place the rack or racks with your meat in the smoker. Insert a temperature probe into the thickest piece of meat.

6. Smoke the meat for 4 to 6 hours or to an internal temperature of 160 degrees F (or 165 degrees F for poultry). The amount of time smoke is added to the heating chamber will depend on personal preference, but 3 hours should be sufficient. If you prefer a heavy smoke, you can allow more time. You may have to experiment with the smoking process to determine the amount that suits your tastes. Add water to the pan if needed—although you are dehydrating the meat, it may be necessary to maintain humidity inside the smoker to prevent it from getting too dry or too smoky.

7. Once the meat reaches an internal temperature of 160 degrees F, you can use a low-temperature dehydrator to finish the drying. Transfer the meat to the dehydrator and maintain a constant dehydrator temperature of 130 to 140 degrees F while you continue drying.

8. Test the jerky for doneness after 4 hours. First pat off any beads of oil or fat with a paper towel. The jerky is finished if you can bend it over on itself and it cracks but doesn’t break. There is a fine line between underdone and overdone jerky. If it breaks, it has been dried too much. This is not a disaster—it will still be edible—but more of an inconvenience. With any new equipment that you use, some experimentation may be necessary to reach a result that is satisfactory to your tastes.

9. After allowing the jerky to cool to room temperature, store it in a clean plastic container with a tight-fitting lid or in a resealable plastic bag, and place the container in the refrigerator. If you notice any condensation forming on the inside of either, the jerky should be returned to the dehydrator and dried a little longer.

Method 4:
Smoker

You Will Need

• Smoker (electrically powered)
• 2 pounds of meat and the Classic or Big-Batch Venison Jerky Recipes, or any other jerky recipe
• Equipment used for slicing meat strips
• Drying racks or trays

Instructions

1. Thoroughly wash your hands, countertops, knives, slicers, and any other pieces of equipment you will use.

2. Slice the meat into strips at about 1/4-inch thick and prepare per your recipe. Most recipes used in this book require marinating for at least 2 hours or overnight before proceeding.

5. Place the rack or racks with your meat in the smoker. Insert a temperature probe into the thickest piece of meat.

6. Heat the meat for 4 to 6 hours or to an internal meat temperature of 160 degrees F. You may wish to rotate the racks after 2 hours to ensure even heating.

7. After the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees F (165 degrees F for poultry), begin adding smoke to the heating chamber with wood pellets or chips in the chamber designed to hold them. The amount of time smoke is added to the heating chamber will depend on personal preference, but 3 hours should be sufficient. If you prefer a heavy smoke, you can allow more time. You may have to experiment with the smoking process to determine the amount that suits your tastes.

8. Test the jerky for doneness after 4 hours. First pat off any beads of oil or fat with a paper towel. The jerky is considered finished if you can bend it over on itself and it cracks but doesn’t break. There is a fine line between underdone and overdone jerky. If it breaks, it has been overheated. This is not a casualty—it will still be edible—but more of an inconvenience. With any new equipment that you use, some experimentation may be necessary to reach a result that is satisfactory to your tastes.

9. Remove the racks from the smoker. After allowing the jerky to cool to room temperature, store it in a clean plastic container with a tight-fitting lid or in a resealable plastic bag, and place the container in the refrigerator. If you notice any condensation forming on the inside of either, the jerky should be returned to the smoker and dried a little longer.

 

Find Hasheider's recipes for venison jerky here:
Homemade Venison Jerky Recipes


Reprinted with permission from The Complete Book of Jerky: How to Process, Prepare, and Dry Beef, Venison, Turkey, Fish and Moreby Philip Hasheider, published byQuarto Publishing Group, 2015.