Beef Jerky Bonanza!

Glorious peppered beef jerky.

First I’d like to say right now that these pictures won’t wow you. It’s damn hard making beef jerky look like anything but what it is — a leathery piece of flattened, dried-out meat. Or, if you’re slightly more morbid (as I am), a freshly plucked scab. I can’t make jerky glisten or shine or catch the light in any particular way. I can’t get a shot of jerky sizzling, or billowing with aromatic steam, or gushing with flavorful juices. Face it, jerky is not sexy.

Jerky, however, is very tasty. I love the stuff, especially when I road-trip. Maybe it’s the feeling of exploration or adventure that compels me to eat dried meat, but whatever the compulsion is, it’s there and it’s real. Even if I drive three hours east to Palm Springs in an air-conditioned car on well-managed state roads, I get a palpable sense of pre-discovery, like I’m Vasco de Gama searching for trade routes, all the while gnawing on a piece of desiccated meat. A little dramatic perhaps, but I wouldn’t be writing this blog if I didn’t have an over-active imagination.

Jerky is sustenance food that goes back thousands of years, most likely when some hungry pack of man-like hominids slayed a wooly mammoth and realized they wouldn’t be able to fully devour the massive beast before decomposition set in. I can see our hairy ancestors scratching their louse-ridden beards until a (prehistoric) light bulb goes off in their minds. “Dry it!” they grunt and say, “Eat mammoth in winter!”. And so they would dry strips of meat in the hot sun or over a smoky fire. And thusly was jerky born.

Okay, okay, this is speculative fiction of the worst kind, but logical I think. Anyway, in the modern era we have refrigeration and we mostly don’t need to think of alternate preservation methods in order to survive a long, mammoth-meat-free winter. But today jerky survives intact, not a food of necessity, but as a delicious, low-fat snack.

We don’t need to sun-dry our mammoth, er…beef strips now. We can do this in the oven or in a thermostatic food dehydrator. You might find recipes for jerky that call for making it in an oven set at 200º F with the door slightly ajar, but I can’t countenance burning gas for eight hours and heating up the kitchen unnecessarily. I recommend you go out and buy a food dehydrator; you can pick up a simple, decent model at Target for around $65. It’s worth it as you can make jerky and a myriad of amazing dried fruits. I’ll be posting at least a couple of dried fruit recipes soon too.

I made a few batches of jerky recently and these two versions really turned out very good. The classic peppered jerky was quite yummy, but the spicy teriyaki jerky was truly out-of-this-world!

A couple of tips. Don’t over-marinate your meat. Overnight is good, but I wouldn’t go two nights as your jerky might end up too salty. Also, the quality of your jerky has a lot to do with the quality of your beef, so get fresh meat from a reputable source. Don’t use discount meat! As far as beef cuts go, I’ve tried round and flank steak, but I like sirloin tip the best for flavor and pliability when dried. Finally, make friends with the butcher at your favorite market. Have him slice the meat for you; it’ll save you lots of time. Unless, of course, you have an industrial meat slicer at home. I have lots of great kitchen tools, but I don’t have the space for a massive slicer, so I get my pal Siggy behind the meat counter at Gelson’s Market to do most of the work for me.

Trim away any connective tissue and fatty bits.

Siggy slices sirloin tip into quarter-inch-thick sheets. First I cut out any bits that might appear extra fatty or tough and then I cut strips approximately one-and-a-half inches wide. I use a meat mallet to thin it even more, as thin as 1/8 inch in some areas. I use the toothed side to help tenderize the meat more; also, the pocks the mallet creates help hold and absorb flavors during the marinating period.

In a separate bowl I mix the marinade. I dip each slice of pounded sirloin into the marinade, making sure to coat each side with marinade, and then pile them in another bowl. I then transfer all the coated meat to a heavy ziploc bag and put it all on a plate in the fridge. I give it overnight to marinate. I might turn the bag over a couple of times to more evenly distribute the liquid. Sometimes I forget.

Gently pound the meat with the pointy  surface of a meat mallet.

The next day I drain the beef and shake off any excess marinade. I spread out the pieces of beef on the dehydrator trays and then start up the machine, drying them at the highest setting (155-160ºF) for about five hours. It might be only four hours or it might take eight hours — all kinds of factors will affect drying (marinade, beef, the dehydrator, external temperature, etc). Your jerky should be dry but pliable — ya know, like jerky!

Check out these two recipes. Now buy a dehydrator. Come on, it’s cheap! Make jerky.

Spread out your meat!

Classic Peppered Beef Jerky

  • 1 1/2 pounds of very thinly sliced sirloin tip, approximately 1/4-inch in thickness
  • 2/3 cup soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1 teaspoon worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon five-spice powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke

Whisk all ingredients together. Follow the instructions above and marinate overnight, up to twelve hours max.

I gave a few of my friends little wax bags of jerky.

Spicy Teriyaki Beef Jerky

  • 1 1/2 pounds of very thinly sliced sirloin tip, approximately 1/4-inch in thickness
  • 1 cup bottle teriyaki sauce of your choice
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons char sui bbq sauce*
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon sriracha (hot sauce)
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspooon
  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke

Whisk all ingredients together. Follow the instructions above and marinate overnight, up to twelve hours max.

*Chinese bbq sauce for pork. Substitute any other conventional bbq sauce. If smoky bbq, eliminate liquid smoke from the recipe.

You may not be able to tell from this picture, but this teriyaki jerky was insane!

I think you’ll be surprised how great homemade beef jerky can be. It far surpasses 98% of truck-stop or convenience-store jerkies. That shit is bunk. Make the real deal at home!

Batch #3 turned out the best!

2 thoughts on “Beef Jerky Bonanza!

  1. Pingback: Dried Rainier Cherries | OMNIVOROUS

  2. Pingback: Crispy Cashew-Miso Kale Chips | OMNIVOROUS

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