Different Methods for Preparing Jerky
A dream challenge for any grill master is to make great jerky. There’s an endless rabbit hole of jerky-related books, online articles, message boards, and forums on the subject just waiting for ambitious cooks to discover them. The hobby has a history spanning centuries, with an assortment of different methods for preparing jerky. If you think you might be interested in taking up the apron, donning the chef’s hat, and turning a fine slab of meat into delicious jerky, read on to learn about a few of the methods available.
Sun-drying is a time-honored method for jerky preparation that requires a very particular climate to yield ideal results. For meats to successfully dry in the sun, the cuts must come from very lean beef, young lamb, or venison. You can use fish as well, but only if you heavily salt it. We don’t recommend poultry of any sort for this method.
People interested in drying their meats in the sun should only take on the task if the temperature outside is in the triple digits. We recommend arid, desert climates. If you sun-dry your jerky in weather that is too cool, you run the risk of getting food poisoning.
Leave the meat outside on a sunny day for six to seven hours. Don’t leave the meat out overnight. If it fails to dry after six to seven hours, complete the task by cooking the meat in the oven.
When it comes to preparing jerky in the oven, the trick is to lower the heat as much as possible. The ideal temperature for oven-made jerky is about 140°F. To achieve this temperature, most cooks should set the oven at its lowest setting. It’s essential that you avoid overloading the oven and using the broiler element. For ovens that have a broiler element even on their lowest settings, you can put a cookie sheet on the top shelf to divert the heat.
This method also necessitates well-ventilated ovens. You can use wooden spoons to keep oven doors ajar if your oven doesn’t have vents. You might also want a fan in the room to maintain air circulation.
A dehydrator machine usually contains several layers of trays stacked on top of each other over a heat source. They tend to run at 140°F. If you use this method, it’s essential to understand that you’ll need to watch over the jerky and regularly transfer the trays between the rungs. You may initially do this every hour, but that may change to every 30 minutes as you draw closer to the end of the process.
You may also lower the heat by 10°F when the meat approaches a fully-cooked state to avoid over-cooking. When setting up the meats on the tray, make sure you arrange them as one layer with no overlapping edges.
People generally frown upon microwaving jerky due to the uneven heat that microwave ovens often generate. But if you want a quick, easy method, this process is about as simple as you’re going to find.
You must first trim the beef (you can use flank steak, chuck roast, sirloin tip, brisket, steak, or really any meat you can cut in lean, even strips) into 1/8-inch slices. You should let the meat marinate overnight in seasonings, which could include sea salt, garlic powder, pepper, onion powder, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, and many other ingredients.
The next day, place the meat in a microwave-safe rack, cover it with a paper towel, and let it cook in the microwave on a high heat setting for two and a half minutes. Next, flip the meat over and cook it for another two and a half minutes. You should repeat this process until you’ve thoroughly cooked the meat. Make sure to let it stand for five minutes before you eat it, and keep all the leftovers in an airtight container.
A smoker is a tool for cooking meats in a low-temperature environment using the smoke from burning wood. Because it’s the most involved of the different methods for preparing jerky, smoking meats isn’t something that inexperienced cooks should take lightly. But the results can be very rewarding.
You will first want to marinate the meat with the marinade of your choice and let it settle overnight. The next day, cut your strips. You can then either put them in the smoker on a tray or hang them on the cooking grate with toothpicks that you run through them.
To get started with the cooking, you’ll want to bring the smoker to 190°F and add a smattering of water-soaked wood chips to the smoker. You should maintain this temperature until the wood chips have ceased their smoking, which should take somewhere between 30 minutes and an hour. If it’s smoldering at the correct temperature, the smoker should be emitting blue smoke.
Once the chips have burned out (you can tell because the blue smoke changes to white), you can bring down the temperature to approximately 160°F. At this point, there’s no need to add more chips. Leave the wood tray door open to allow for airflow. Let it smoke for three to five hours.
At around the three-hour mark, you can periodically check if the jerky is ready. Try bending a jerky piece to do this. If it bends but doesn’t crack in half, it should be ready. You can also look for the presence of white fibers, which is a good sign that it’s finished.
So You Want To Make Jerky?
Jerky cooking is a time-honored tradition passed down from one generation to the next. If you think you might be interested in taking up the challenge yourself, there’s never a bad time to learn how to make jerky. All it takes is a little research, some planning, and the gumption to see a project through to the end.
The above list gives you a few ideas of where to start, but there are many more techniques and methods that you can explore elsewhere. Feel free to play around with as many approaches as possible until you find one that works for you. Along the way, you can also try the delicious beef and poultry jerky from Lee’s Market Jerky to serve as inspiration for what you can achieve if you continue to work on your jerky-making skills.