Beef Jerky

4 Jan

You ever decide to try something new, and the whole adventure seems ill-fated from the start? Like, one thing after another just refuses to turn out right? Welcome, my friends, to…

Challenge: Beef Jerky

So, I wrote a draft of this blog while I was marinating my jerky. And, as you may have guessed from my opening, my jerky-making adventure did not end well. I’m going to go with most of my original copy, because a lot of the information is solid. But I’m making a few edits, in italics, for your knowledge and/or entertainment.

First, the technical details: beef jerky is simply dried beef. That’s it. And it’s shockingly easy to make. Note: Unless you’re me. You trim and thinly slice beef, let it sit in a marinade or cure, and then let it dehydrate in an oven or dehydrator. Note: Not just any beef. We used a rump roast, because it’s what we had in the freezer. BAD IDEA. Fat does not dehydrate well, and leaves you with a greasy mess. Use something lean, like a top round or eye of round or flank steak.

We’re making two homemade batches, one with a commercial cure, and one with a DIY marinade. 

And we’re comparing the homemades against World Kitchens’ Old Fashioned Beef Jerky, which is made from sliced beef, brown sugar, water, salt, papaya juice, vinegar, black pepper, garlic powder, MSG, natural smoke flavor, sodium nitrite and citric acid.

cure and spice packets

Cure mix

The store-bought cure contains salt, sugar, sodium nitrite and caramel color, along with seasoning packet that includes salt, spice, garlic powder and spice extractive, soy sauce powder and propylene glycol (to prevent caking).

The homemade marinade contains:

3 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
Juice of ½ lemon
1 tsp. dry mustard powder
1 tsp. garlic powder
¼ to ½ tsp. ginger powder
Salt and pepper
Note: This recipe is one I made up, and it’s pretty bad. Seriously, I don’t recommend it.

slicing the roast

It needs to be thin. No, even thinner. No, EVEN THINNER!

To make jerky, trim meat of excess fat, and slice into ¼-in. thick slices. Note: Cut with the grain. Long grains are chewy. You want that. Short grains snap, which is no fun, as I found out.

bags of marinating and curing beef

jerkies in the making

Throw slices of beef into a plastic bag with the cure or marinade. Make sure the bag is sealed tightly, then squish the meat around so it all gets covered with the flavoring. Toss the bag into the fridge to get tasty overnight.

placing beef strips on drying racks

Getting the beef to fit w/o touching is like playing Tetris.

In the morning, remove the meat from its plastic bag. Place meat on dehydrator racks in a single layer – no overlapping! – and dehydrate for 6 to 10 hours or until you can bend the jerky so the meat cracks but doesn’t break. Or, preheat your oven to 120 to 150 degrees. Place the meat on wire racks or foil-covered baking sheets, and dry in oven for 6 to 10 hours. If you use baking sheets, flip over jerky after 6 hours so it dries completely on both sides.

Note: If your jerky looks a bit greasy, blot it with paper towels before you cool it. This is probably really obvious, but I was in a rush and skipped this step, and regret it. Let the jerky cool, then store in paper bags or air-tight containers. Or, um, plastic bags. Marinated jerky will keep for about a week on the counter or a few weeks in the fridge. Cured jerky will keep for several months, unless your dog gets hold of it.

Time and Cost Comparison

The store-bought jerky was inexpensive and easy to find. It cost $9.99 per 12-ounce bag. That’s $0.83/ounce.

The cured jerky took 30 minutes to cut and cure, spent 18 hours in the fridge, and took another 10 hours to dehydrate. It cost $5.88 for an estimated 10 ounces, for a total of $0.58 per ounce.

The marinated jerky took 30 minutes to cut and marinade, spent 18 hours in the fridge, and took 10 hours to dehydrate. It cost approximately $5.32 to make an estimated 10 ounces, coming out to about $0.53 per ounce .

Nutritional Comparison

A serving size is 1 ounce of jerky.

The store-bought jerky has 80 calories, 1 g. fat, 20 mg cholesterol, 590 mg sodium, 3 g. carbs and 15 g. protein.

The cured rump roast jerky has 40 calories, 1.5 g. fat, 19 mg cholesterol, 780 mg sodium, 0 g. carbs and 6 g. protein.

The marinated rump roast jerky has 43 calories, 1.5 g. fat, 19 mg cholesterol, 280 mg sodium, 2 g. carbs and 6 g. protein.

Ingredient Comparison

All three jerkies have the same basic ingredients: Beef, salt, spices and flavorings.

By far, the marinated jerky is going to be the least offensive in terms of preservatives – there are none. But, this means that the marinated jerky is going to go rancid faster than its compatriots.

For the cured and store-bought jerky, the main preservative is sodium nitrite, an ingredient found in most cured or processed meats, including sausage and jerky. Sodium nitrite can lead to the formation of carcinogens during the curing process or when exposed to highly acidic conditions, like that of your stomach. It can lead to gastric cancer. (When the gov’t. limited the use of sodium nitrite, incident of gastric cancer declined rapidly.) However, using citric acid inhibits carcinogen formation. The store-bought jerky has citric acid to help stop the badness. The store-bought cure does not.

An additional thought: MSG and sodium nitrite can both trigger migraines in some people. If you’re one of those people, stick with the homemade, with a better marinade than I came up with, and use an MSG-free soy sauce.

Taste Comparison:

Well. Here’s the kicker. Our jerky was thieved. The culprit and his alleged accomplice did the dirty deed while Rob, HoA, and I were away at our day jobs, and we came home to find the remains of a plastic bag. A plastic bag that once held cured beef jerky. No longer. No, now the cured jerky is held in the belly of this creature of doom:

Miles, the dog.

The Great Thief.

He won’t admit to it, but his thirst and contented smile tell another tale. His counter-jumping accomplice is similarly silent:

Smaug, the cat.

The accomplice.

For shame, Miles and Smaug. For shame.

Luckily, our marinated beef jerky remains un-consumed, and I sent a sample bag to work with Rob, HoA. So we may continue with our analysis.

According to Rob,  the store-bought jerky and cured jerky are both terrific. The marinated jerky is pretty bad. According to Miles, the cured jerky is so good, you may want to consume it all in one sitting (although, to be fair, he did enjoy a sample of the marinated variety, as well). According to me, the store-bought jerky is far and away superior to the marinated variety. I don’t like jerky for breakfast, so I didn’t get to try any of the cured variety.

PITA Factor

3. If you buy a thin, lean cut of meat, your job is pretty easy: slice and marinate and dry. If you buy a larger, fattier cut of meat, it’s going to take a little more work to get your beef ready to go. But after that, it’s mostly inactive work – marinate while you sleep/work, and dry while you watch movies/do yard work/whatever.

DIY or Buy:

Buy – either invest in a bag of pre-made jerky, or invest in a good commercially prepared cure, perhaps with some citric acid in it. Or, I suppose, the third option is to find a better marinade than I can provide, which is probably valid. But for me, I’m buying from here on out.


5 Responses to “Beef Jerky”

  1. Steffie 01/06/2011 at 10:45 am #

    Well it made for a funny story, anyway. 🙂

    • amanda 01/06/2011 at 11:38 am #

      And it gets even better! Last night, in a fit of forgetfulness, we left the bag of marinated (aka not-so-good) jerky out on the counter. This morning, it was still on the counter, but Smaug The Accomplice had broken into it and was chewing happily away on a jerky strip. The War Against Cats On The Counter is being renewed with even greater passion than before.

  2. Thisbearbites 01/10/2011 at 1:06 am #

    It is very easy to make great jerky with ground meat.

  3. StoneMaven 10/12/2011 at 2:26 pm #

    You definitely need a better recipe. I’ve made jerky several times (without a cure) and it was fantastic. I think the mustard powder might have been your problem…you might want to add ground red pepper.

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