Making Jerky

Jerky is a classic camp and trail food, and by making it yourself, you can experiment with meats and seasonings to create your own custom campfire cuisine.

| November 19, 2009

Camp Cooking book

“Camp Cooking: A Practical Handbook” details every aspect of living and eating well in the wild, from safely maintaining a proper campfire to catching, cleaning and preparing large and small game animals.


The following is an excerpt from Camp Cooking: A Practical Handbook  by Fred Bouwman ( Skyhorse Publishing , 2009). The excerpt is from Chapter 1: Meat.  

Jerky is any lean, red meat that has been lightly cured with a solution of salt and spices and then dried, either mechanically or naturally. The typical routine for pre-industrial hunters, whether of this age or in times past, was to gorge themselves with fresh meat at the place of the kill and dry the rest over slow, smoky fires. The drying process not only preserves meat by removing much of the water content (therefore making it unpalatable to bacteria); it also reduces the weight substantially. A pound of fresh meat ends up as about 4 ounces of jerky.

Jerky is dried — not cooked — meat. Simply and basically, one only has to apply slow heat, on the order of 100 to 125 degrees Fahrenheit, until the meat is dry. This process is made easier and tastier, however, by applying some sort of a salt cure beforehand.

Jerky can be made in camp, of course, but there’s no reason to do so outside of a survival situation. Make your jerky at home, where the process can be done efficiently and almost effortlessly, and use the finished product for trail meals, snacks or lunches while in camp.

To make jerky, take any lean meat — wild or tame — and cut it into 1/8- to 1/4-inch-wide strips, cutting against the grain if possible. Cutting with the grain will result in a little chewier product, but is not a big problem if the structure of the chunk of meat you’re cutting makes it expedient to cut it that way. Trim every piece of fat you possibly can from the meat. Remember, you are drying — not cooking — the meat, and fat left in quantity will turn rancid.

The next step is the salt cure. The simplest way is just to use a strong solution of salt and water. This can be improved with the addition of various spices, as you will see in the jerky recipe below. Leave the meat in the cure overnight under refrigeration. The salt will draw the juices, blood and some of the moisture from the meat strips, replacing them with salt and spices.

jeff rc
3/9/2012 6:12:46 PM

I've made jerky on a homemade smoker w/ a slow burning fire but I'm getting more interested in a serious food smoker. Would be good to have in hard times. Does anyone have any suggestions on the best way to make jerky? Here's a site I found that has good prices for smokers, dehydrators this type of thing.

dakota woman
11/21/2009 3:33:10 PM

My People's word for dried meat is 'boppa'. When you cut the meat, you cut it in strips as if you were cutting a jellyroll. Majority culture calls this crossgrain cutting. We don't season ours, but you can, & then hang it on sticks in a warm place where flies, dogs, & cats can't get at it. It's done when you have to flex a piece a number of times in order to break off a piece. Yum! and a great teething tool for babies.

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