What Is Beef Jerky & How Do You Make It?

beef jerky

What is jerky?

Jerky is lean meat that has been trimmed of fat, cut into strips and then dried to prevent spoilage. The most popular jerky meat is beef – but pretty much any meat can be used, including fish, kangaroo, chicken, buffalo, alligator, turkey, venison and pretty much any meat you can think of.

How to make beef jerky

Prepare the meat

Select a lean cut of beef – most beef jerky recipes specify for about 2.5 kilos of meat. Ask your butcher to trim any external fat, and when you begin your meat preparation you can use a sharp knife to trim away any fat that remains. An ideal cut for making beef jerky is topside.

Once you have your meat trimmed and ready, you need to slice it. This is a two-stage process:

Stage 1: Wrap the meat in plastic wrap and put it in the freezer. Depending on how large your chosen cut of beef is, you may want to cut it into halves or quarters to make this easier (remember to keep the pieces long so that you can make long, thin slices). Freeze the meat until it is firm enough to make thin slicing easier, but avoid freezing it until it’s solid. One or two hours should be plenty of time in the freezer.

Stage 2: Slice the beef into thin strips, between 3-7 millimeters thick. See a graphic guide of how to slice beef jerky.

Prepare the marinade

You marinade should be sweet and savoury, rich and salty and include a powerful combination of spices and flavourings. Here’s a classic beef jerky marinade:

  • 2/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 2/3 cup soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder or 2 cloves smashed, minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Soak the meat

Put the beef strips into a large ziplock bag, and pour in the marinade. Place the whole bag into the fridge and marinate for up to 24 hours (but no fewer than 4 hours). The longer you marinate, the more flavoursome and tender your jerky will be.

Dry it out

This method uses an oven, but you can also use a dehydrator. See how to make jerky in a dehydrator.

Here’s what you need to do:

  • To prepare your oven, take out the oven racks and line the bottom with aluminium foil (to catch drips and making cleaning up as easy as possible).
  • Once you’ve done this, preheat your oven to about 70 – 80 degrees celsius. Arrange the oven racks on a work surface, on top of paper towels.
  • Take the marinated strips of beef out of the bag and lay them flat across the racks. Make sure that the strips aren’t touching, as there needs to be space for the air to circulate around each one.
  • Place the racks in the oven, leaving the oven door a fraction open. A wooden spoon or wrapped up ball of aluminium foil will be sufficient to hold your oven door open. The key here is to achieve dehydration (removing moisture from the beef), which requires warm circulating air and a low temperature. Most recipes recommend that you let your jerky dehydrate for around 7-8 hours.
  • Turn the slices over about half way through, as this will ensure that both sides of the meat dry evenly.

Taste test

How do you know when your jerky is ready? You taste test! Once you’re about 6 hours in, pick up a piece of meat and bend it – if it cracks and breaks, your jerky is too dry. If it’s easy to bend and tear off a bite, it’s ready.

Finishing up

Once your jerky is ready, take it out of the oven and leave it out in the air to cool down and continue drying. Once fully cooled, store the jerky in an airtight container. We’d recommend eating your jerky within a month – but it tastes so good we doubt it will last that long!

Thanks to Three Jerks and Jerkyholic for these jerky tips!