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Homemade Jerky Drying Methods

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

| July 2016

  • Making jerky is relatively simple and can be done by anyone who has access to a kitchen and a dehydrator or smoker.
    Photo by Fotolia/bozhdb
  • “The Complete Book of Jerky: How to Process, Prepare, and Dry Beef, Venison, Turkey, Fish and More” by Philip Hasheider
    Photo courtesy of Quarto Publishing Group

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 (Quarto Publishing Group, 2015) 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.

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: The Complete Book of Jerky.

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:

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