How to Make Beef Jerky

Preparing the Meat

To start, you want to select a lean cut of meat. Most recipes will require at least five pounds of meat for a decent batch of jerky. Trim all fat from the meat before marinating. The best cuts of meat to use in beef jerky are the top round, the brisket, and the filet mignon.

For larger cuts of meat, you may want to consider cutting them down to more manageable sizes. Always cut lengthwise, even during this step. After cutting them down into smaller sections, either wrap them in plastic wrap or seal them in a zip lock baggie. Freeze them for one or two hours. You do not want to freeze the meat until it is frozen solid, however. This step is only to make the meat easier to slice into thin, even strips. The ideal thickness of these strips are between an eighth to a quarter of an inch wide.

Preparing the Marinade

You will need to start with a base of some sort. The most common base for beef jerky marinade is soy sauce, although people may choose a variety of other bases. Apple cider, Worcestershire sauce, balsamic vinegar, tamari sauce, beer, and teriyaki sauce are some of the other bases that are chosen for beef jerky marinades. After choosing a liquid base, it's time to move on to seasonings. The most popular seasonings to use in beef jerky (and most other jerkies) are garlic, onion, and salt. You may also choose to use mustard, paprika, cayenne, pepper, sesame oil, turmeric, or even fish sauce. Adding something sweet to the marinade is one way to bring out the bolder flavors of the meat. Most people accomplish this via brown sugar, but some use dark corn syrup, honey, or even molasses.

After cutting the meat into long, thin strips, place them in a zip lock baggie. Fill the baggie with the marinade you have prepared and be sure that all of the meat is submerged and bathed in the marinade. The bag should be refrigerated for up to twenty four hours, but not less than four to six hours. In order to accomplish the deepest and most flavorful taste of the jerky, you will want the meat to marinate for as long as possible. The longer it marinates, the more tender the jerky will be once it is finished.

Dehydrating the Jerky

There are several ways to dehydrate the meat once the marinating process is complete. You can either use an oven or use a dehydrator. An oven can be a tricky way to do this, as you will need to ensure that there is proper air flow, not to mention the messy cleanup afterwards. The clean up problem can be amended by laying aluminum foil in the bed of the oven before placing the jerky-laden racks back into the stove.

If you want to avoid the excess work and possible cleanup, a dehydrator is the way to go. Dehydrators usually have a specific setting solely for the purpose of producing jerky, so you won't need to wonder whether the heat or air flow is correct. Dehydrators come with trays designed to allow for optimal air flow, as well, and include fans in order to ensure the best possible atmosphere for dehydration. They are also usually put together in easy to clean segments, many of which are dishwasher safe, so you won't need to spend a long time cleaning the dehydrator once you've finished. Most dehydrators take about four to seven hours to dehydrate the meat.

However, if you find that a dehydrator is unavailable to you, then a standard kitchen oven will do the job. Begin by first removing all of the racks from the oven. Once you have done this, you can either lay aluminum foil in the bed of the oven, as previously suggested, place a rack lined with aluminum foil on a rack and replace it to the oven on the lowest rung, or simply return the rack to the lowest rung and place a baking sheet on it to catch the drips.

Once you have done this, retrieve the zip lock baggie of marinated meat from the refrigerator. You will need to use toothpicks for this step, so make sure you have them on hand. Take a strip of meat and insert the toothpick through one of the ends of the strip. Afterwards, lower the strip of meat through the grate of one of the oven racks you have removed, so that the ends of the toothpick suspends the meat from the rack. Repeat this step with all of the meat, ensuring that they are not positioned too close together (air flow is important) and then slide the rack back into the oven on the highest rung available.

Once you have done this, set your oven to about two hundred degrees Fahrenheit and prop the door of the oven open to allow for air circulation. You can use a wooden spoon or a ball of aluminum foil in order to accomplish this. Usually, the entire process of dehydrating the jerky takes approximately seven to eight full hours, but some of the meat may be ready in as little as four or five hours. It's important to constantly check the meat in order to avoid overdrying. The jerky is ready when there are no grey spots and when it bends, but does not break.

The jerky will dry a bit more after being removed from the oven and cooling for a period of time. Jerky can usually last anywhere from four to six months without spoiling, but usually it's gone before anyone needs to worry about it expiring.

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