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Ford County

Drying Meat

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.

 Heating Methods

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.

Jerky Marinade

  • 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.)


Dry Meat Safely at Home

Possible Illnesses

Illness due to Salmonella and E. coli O157:H7 from homemade jerky raise questions about safety of traditional drying methods for making beef and venison jerky. The USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline recommends heating meat to 160ºF and poultry to 165ºF to destroy bacteria. A dehydrator may not reach these temperatures, and most dehydrator instructions do not include this step.


Preparing Wild Game

When preparing jerky from wild game, remember that the wound location and skill of the hunter can affect the safety of the meat. If the animals is wounded in such a way that the contents of its cut come in contact with the meat or the hunter's hands while dressing the meat, fecal bacterial can contaminate the meat. It is best to avoid making jerky from this meat and use it only in a way it will be thoroughly cooked. Deer carcasses should be rapidly chilled to avoid bacterial growth.


Making Jerky from Ground Meat

Jerky can be made from ground meat using special presses to form or shape the product. Disease-causing microorganisms are more difficult to eliminate in ground meat than in whole meat strips. Again, an internal temperature of 160ºF is necessary to eliminate disease-causing bacteria such as E.coli O157:H7, if present. After dehydrating ground meat jerky, place on a baking sheet and heat 10 minutes in an oven preheated at 275ºF.