What food treat can you buy at the supermarket that dates to prehistoric times? The answer to this brain teaser? Beef jerky! Jerky is one of the oldest forms of food preserving, providing a nutritious food for use in leaner times, easily stored and transported for tribes on the move. In times past, game meats like buffalo, elk, venison and antelope were commonly processed into jerky. Today, beef jerky is the type you'll find at the supermarket. Commercially produced jerky is expensive. Did you know you can make this ancient treat at home? If your family enjoys beef jerky, you can make a better-tasting product and save a lot of money. You can “personalize” your home made beef jerky with marinades seasoned to your family's tastes.
Jerky is simply meat with all the moisture removed. Start with a lean cut of beef, such as London broil or brisket. Remove all fat. Fat turns rancid, and will spoil the entire batch. After trimming all fat, partially freeze the meat, which can then be cut into the very thin slices necessary to produce the traditional and safely dried beef jerky.
Cut the beef across the grain into strips not larger than one quarter inch thick. Finished strips should measure ½ to ¾ inches wide, and six to eight inches long. The jerking process reduces the meat to about a third of its beginning weight. A three pound piece of beef yields about one pound of beef jerky. Now is the time to marinate. You can season or marinate the jerky with anything that tickles your fancy. You can use your favorite marinade recipe, or a purchased marinade sauce or dried packet. Marinate for two to three hours. There are several methods of making beef jerky. The meat may be sun-dried, smoked, dehydrated in a food dehydrator or oven-dried.
The sun-dried method is not recommended for the home cook, as it introduces unsanitary elements like flies and other insects. A food dehydrator offers the most control of temperature for “automatic” drying. The down side of using a food dehydrator is limited space. Smokers are a good choice, as they add a desirable smoky flavor while keeping critters out. Your home oven may be your best bet, as a large quantity of beef jerky can be made in a single batch. A large cookie sheet with wire racks laid inside afford ample space. Be sure slices do not touch one another, as this will cause uneven drying. If possible, set the oven temperature to 140 degrees. If your oven does not permit setting to this exact setting, set the temperature to “warm” and monitor with an oven thermometer until you approximate the ideal 140 degrees. Leave the oven door ajar for good air circulation.
Your beef jerky is done when the meat is very dark and cracks without breaking. When done, cool to room temperature. Store in zip-lock bags or air tight jars. .
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