Homemade Jerky Recipes & Instructions

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Jerky is a near perfect snack. Whether you prefer beef, turkey, buffalo or venison, dehydrating the meat leaves you a delicious treat that is loaded with protein, low on fat, and not too high on calories. It’s great to take along on camping trips or for a day outdoors, pack in a lunch, keep in an emergency pack or just nibble on during that late-afternoon slump.

The problem with buying beef (or any other meat) jerky is it is expensive, and can be loaded with more salt and preservatives than you are comfortable with. By making your own jerky, you control the ingredients, save money, and can season the meat as you prefer. It isn’t difficult to make jerky, and once you taste the results, you’ll be keeping your pantry stocked with this healthy, tasty treat. You can even make vegetarian jerky with tofu. You can dry most any low fat meat, but some specific good choices include:

  • Beef: flank steak, rib eye, loin
  • Game: venison, moose, elk
  • Poultry: turkey breast, chicken breast
  • Fish: salmon, cod, halibut

Along with the meat, you will need a sharp knife, ingredients for the marinade, and a heat source such as oven, dehydrator or smoker.

The Basic Procedure

  1. Put meat in the freezer until it is somewhat firm, but not frozen. This will make it easier to slice. Keep in mind that meat shrinks considerably during the drying process: a pound of raw meat will leave you with approximately ¼ to 1/3 pound of jerky.
  2. Slice meat thin, between 1/8 and ¼ inch thick. For chewy jerky, slice with the grain. For tender, brittle jerky, slice against the grain. Cut away all visible fat.
  3. If desired, slice meat into smaller strips.
  4. Marinade the meat slices in the refrigerator for 8 to 24 hours.
  5. Pat the meat dry with paper towels.
  6. If using a dehydrator or smoker, place meat slices single layer on the shelves, and set the temperature between 140 and 150 degrees Fahrenheit.
  7. If using the oven, line the oven floor with tin foil, and set the temperature between 140 and 160 degrees Fahrenheit, or as low as your oven goes. Place strips of meat directly on the oven rack, spacing them so they do not touch. Leave the oven door slightly ajar during the drying process to release moisture.
  8. Depending on what you are using as a heat source, the moisture level of the meat and the air humidity, it can take anywhere from 2 hours to 8 or more hours for the jerky to be dried. Check frequently during the process, and remove your jerky when it reaches the consistency you desire. Cooked jerky should be a rich, browned color, with no pink or undone appearance.
  9. Store in airtight bags or canisters. You can keep your jerky in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks. Homemade jerky without added preservatives and nitrates won’t last as long as the store bought version.

Special Note on Poultry

If you are drying poultry, it is safest to heat the meat before marinating to avoid the risk of bacterial illness. After slicing the poultry into thin slices, drop the pieces into a large pot of boiling water. Let the meat boil for a minute or so, then remove from heat and blot dry. Marinade the poultry and continue with the drying process as outlined.

Special Note on Tofu

When making vegetarian jerky, start with extra firm tofu. Drain and blot dry with paper towels before slicing the tofu into thin slices. Marinade the tofu as desired, and then dry the strips in your oven or dehydrator. The finished tofu jerky should be firm but chewy, not crispy.

Marinades

There are as many marinades for making jerky as there are cooks to make it. Some popular ones are given below.

Basic Marinade

Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons liquid smoke
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon meat tenderizer
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon paprika

Mix all ingredients together in a large Ziploc bag or glass bowl, and marinade meat for at least 8 hours.

Hot and Sweet Marinade

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons cracked black pepper
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup soy sauce
  • ¼ cup teriyaki sauce
  • ¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 5 tablespoons liquid smoke
  • ½ cup pineapple juice
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste

Mix all ingredients until brown sugar is completely dissolved. Marinade meat for at least 4 hours.

Sweet and Tangy Marinade

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons maple syrup
  • ¼ teaspoon liquid smoke
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons barbecue sauce
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar

Mix all ingredients until brown sugar dissolves. This is an especially nice marinade for tofu or poultry jerky.

Teriyaki Marinade

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2/3 cup teriyaki sauce
  • ½ cup orange juice
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon liquid smoke

Mix all ingredients until salt and brown sugar dissolve. Marinade meat for at least 12 hours.

Whichever meat (or nonmeat) you choose, jerky is delicious and so convenient for busy days on the go. Toss a baggy full of jerky in your kids lunch bags, or keep some in your desk drawer at work. It’s a great snack, and very nutritious. You can even make a big batch of jerky to give away as gifts, or sell at the local farmer’s market. Try a few different types of jerky, and you may find you love them all.

Last Updated: June 24, 2012
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About Michelle Ullman Michelle Ullman has lived and gardened in Southern California since childhood. A freelance writer, she covers topics ranging from gardening to home improvement to health issues. She also has experience as a catalog copywriter and poet. Michelle has trained and worked as a respiratory therapist and surgical technologist, but prefers to spend her time gardening, and walking with her dog. Michelle holds a Bachelor's Degree from Redlands University in Business Management. 

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