In our country's early days, jerking meat—that is, cutting it into thin strips and then drying it—was the main method of preserving it. When meat was treated in this way, it kept longer than when it was preserved with salt or other spices. For Native Americans, cowboys, trappers, and frontier people, Jerky made from beef, venison, or buffalo meat was an important food for long trips.
Today, jerky is more of a treat than a necessity. When I was eight years old, my mother stumbled upon a recipe for beef jerky. She was looking for a nutritious snack ... one that wasn't sweet and yet was tasty enough for me to eat without complaining. Needless to say, I had my doubts when she first asked me to try it. I tasted a piece, not expecting much. To my surprise, it was really good! Last year she taught me how to make beef jerky. I had my doubts about this, too, but again I was surprised: It was easier to make than I thought it would be.
There are two kinds of beef jerky: simple and marinated (soaked in spicy ingredients to add flavor). I think the marinated kind tastes better. Just about anything you put together as a marinade will be OK, except barbecue sauce. Once my mother and I tried a marinade of honey and vinegar. To be perfectly frank, it tasted terrible! You also have to be careful not to use too much hot sauce or pepper.
My mother's original recipe called for Worcestershire sauce. That contains artificial flavorings, though, so I substituted soy sauce bought at a health food store. The recipe also included celery salt, onion powder, and garlic powder. All of those have chemicals added to keep them free flowing, so I use fresh garlic, onion, and celery instead. Here are my recipes.
All-Natural Beef Jerky Recipe
Trim off all the fat from one round steak (3/4" to 1" thick). Cut the meat into thin strips and place them in an oblong pan. Combine these ingredients in a saucepan:
5 tablespoons of pure soy sauce
2 tablespoons of salt (or a salt substitute)
2 tablespoons of pepper
1 small onion, chopped
2 stalks of celery, chopped
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon of hot sauce
Bring this mixture to a boil and simmer it for 10 minutes. When it's cool, pour the liquid over the meat through a strainer. Then let the strips sit in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours.
Afterward, remove the marinated pieces and lay them across a broiling pan. (I first tried putting them across the oven rack, but they fell right through. If you use a broiling pan, the jerky will stay put. It will also drip into the pan and so not mess up your oven.) You may need more than one pan if you're working with a lot of meat. Put the strips into a cold oven and set the temperature at 125°F. Let the meat dry in the oven 10 to 12 hours. You don't need to refrigerate it when it's finished and dry. Just keep it in a covered container.
Zesty Marinated Beef Jerky Recipe
Prepare the meat in strips as in the All-Natural Beef Jerky recipe, but this time soak it in the following marinade:
1 1/4 cups of lemon juice
1 tablespoon of salt
1 tablespoon of pepper
1 tablespoon of oregano, crushed
small green pepper, minced
2 cups of water
Bring the ingredients to a boil and then remove them from the heat. When they're cool, pour the mixture over the meat strips, marinate them for 8 hours in the refrigerator, and then dry them in a 125°F oven for 10 to 12 hours.
Salt-Free Beef Jerky Recipe
For this recipe, again cut the fat off the beef ... but before you cut it into strips, generously sprinkle assorted spices (such as basil, bay, marjoram, savory, or thyme), along with lemon juice, over both sides of the meat, rubbing it all in with your hands. You can also use a product like Salt-Free Mrs. Dash, which is a combination of several spices.
Now cut the beef into thin strips and lay them across a broiling pan. Put the meat into a cold oven, set the temperature at 125°F, and let the strips dry inside for 10 hours. Remove the jerky afterward and keep it in a covered container.
I've found it works out best if I marinate the meat strips during the day and put them into the oven at night. This way, the oven isn't tied up during the day, and the jerky is ready when I get up the next morning.
I usually eat beef jerky for a snack, but it's a good lightweight food to take along when you're hiking, too. I've even packed it for camping trips and used it to make beef jerky soup. For this, I break the jerky into bite-size pieces, put them into a pot of boiling water, add fresh or dehydrated vegetables, and simmer the mixture until it's tender. Marinated pieces work best for this, as they have more flavor than un-marinated beef.
Another way I've used jerky is for Christmas presents. It makes an unusual gift that people look forward to receiving year after year. It's especially popular with our family doctor, mail carrier, grandparents, and friends.
At parties, beef jerky is an instant hit. It always disappears before the other refreshments do. In fact, the first thing you'll notice when you make beef jerky is how quickly it's eaten! Be sure to have more ingredients on hand so you can make another batch right away!
EDITOR'S NOTE: We'd like to compliment Michael on creating his own all-natural beef jerky recipes (almost all recipes for marinades that you find in cookbooks are heavy on artificial ingredients) ... and on the tastiness of his jerky. The samples he sent us were very popular.