Jerky, dried meat, can be made from almost any lean meat, including beef, pork, venison or smoked turkey breast. Raw poultry is not recommended for jerky because of the texture and flavor of the finished product.
Always use safe handling and preparation methods.
- Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water before and after working with meat products.
- Use clean equipment and utensils.
- Keep meat refrigerated at 40ºF or slightly below; use or freeze ground beef and poultry within 2 days and whole red meats within 3 to 5 days.
- Defrost frozen meat in the refrigerator, not on the kitchen counter.
- Marinate meat in the refrigerator. Don't save marinade to reuse. Marinades are used to tenderize and flavor the jerky before dehydrating it.
Maintain a constant dehydrator temperature of 130ºF to 140ºF. This speeds the drying process, removing water that allows microorganisms to grow and spoil the food. Do not rush the drying process by raising the temperature during drying. High drying temperatures cause 'case hardening" which traps moisture inside the food and cause spoilage.
Two methods can be used to heat jerky to safe temperatures: heating meat strips in marinade before drying, or heat dried jerky strips in an oven after drying. Both methods are described below. Heating marinated meat before drying may reduce drying time, but color and texture will differ from traditional jerky.
Preparing the Meat
Partially freeze meat to make slicing easier. The thickness of the meat strips affects the safety of the methods recommended. Slice meat no thicker than ¼ inch. Trim and discard all fat from meat because it becomes rancid quickly. If chewy jerky is desired, slice with the grain. Slice across the grain if a more tender, brittle jerky is preferred. A tenderizer can be used according to package directions, if desired. The meat can be marinated for flavor and tenderness. Marinade recipes may include oil, salt, spices and acid ingredients such as vinegar, lemon juice, teriyaki sauce, soy sauce or wine.
- 1½ to 2 pounds of lean meat (beef, pork or venison)
- ¼ cup soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- ¼ teaspoon each of black pepper and garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon hickory smoke-flavored salt
Combine all ingredients. Place strips of meat in a shallow pan and cover with marinade. Cover and refrigerator 1 to 2 hours or overnight. Products marinated for several hours may be more salty than desired. If you choose to heat the meat before drying, do so at the end of the marination time. To heat, bring strips and marinade to a boil and boil for 5 minutes before draining and drying. If strips are more than ¼ inch thick, time may need to be increased. If possible, check the temperature of several strips with a metal stem-type thermometer to determine whether meat has reached 160ºF.
Drying the Meat
Remove meat strips from marinade and drain on clean, absorbent towels. Arrange strips on dehydrator trays or cake racks placed on baking sheets for oven drying. Place the slices close together, but not touching or overlapping. Place the racks in a dehydrator or oven preheated to 140ºF. Dry until a test piece cracks but does not break when it is bent (10 to 24 hours for samples not heated in marinade). Samples heated in marinade will dry faster. Begin checking samples after 3 hours. Once drying is completed, pat with clean, absorbent towels to remove excess beads of oil and cool. Remove strips from the racks. Cool.
If the strips were not heated in marinade before drying, heat them in an oven afterwards to be safe. Place strips on a baking sheet, close together, but not touching or overlapping. For strips originally cut ¼ inch thick or less, heat 10 minutes in an oven preheated to 275ºF. (Thicker strips may take longer to reach 160ºF.)