My wife often buys those packages of factory-made jerkies that are almost ubiquitous in super-markets and convenience stores now. I’ll eat the odd piece occasionally but, to be honest, I am not terribly keen on any of them. I find they have very artificial, chemical tastes to them and the texture is very often very poor.
Years ago, before I was married, I used to buy some terrific beef jerky at our local farmers market. It was very simply seasoned and the thick, foot-long strips were cut lengthwise along the grain of the meat making them robust and chewy (unlike the thin, friable industrial varieties commonly available these days). It took a good 30 minutes or so to gnaw away at one of those suckers and that’s what made them so darn satisfying. Today, I am going to make some good thick pieces in the same manner, keeping the ingredients light and simple so as to leave the original taste of the meat and not completely mask it with hydrolyzed-soy and high-fructose corn-syrup…
- 2 to 2 1/2lbs. lean Beef;
- 1 tsp. Garlic Salt;
- ¼ tsp. Saltpeter or other Curing Salt (such as Prague Powder #2);
- 1 tbsp. Sugar;
- 1 tsp. Liquid Smoke (optional).
A curing salt is not strictly necessary from the preservation standpoint. The whole point of drying meat like this was originally to keep it for long periods by removing the water that would allow spoilage and, in truth, with small amounts, you will likely consume it before that is an issue. That being said though, these salts will give the meat a nice pink color and may give you added peace of mind if you are really worried about spoilage.
This is the small beef roast I purchased. It weighs about 3lbs, but after trimming away the fat and uneven edges, it will be down to just less than 2 2/2 lbs.
After you have trimmed the roast (making sure to cut away as much visible fat as possible), cut it into 1 cm. slices along the grain and then cut these slices into strips about an inch or so wide. Next, lightly pound the strips with your fist or other heavy object to tenderize slightly. Don’t be too aggressive here, just pound them until they are somewhere between ¼ and 1/3 inch thick.
Mix together the dry curing ingredients and then rub the strips well with the mixture making all surfaces get coated. If you are using the liquid smoke, toss the strips with it and then put the meat in a covered container and let sit in the refrigerator for 24 hours.
If you have a proper food de-hydrator, by all means go ahead and use it according to the manufacturer’s directions. If not, though, you can do it in your oven set to its lowest setting, which is the method we will be using here. In either case, you first need to blot the strips as dry as you can make them using paper towel and then, if you are oven drying, allow the meat to sit at room temperature for an hour or so until the surface is a little tacky to the touch.
A heat setting of 140 to 150 degrees is about ideal but my oven, like many modern ones, will not go below 170 degrees. This temperature is okay but anything much higher than that is really too much as you run the risk of cooking rather than simply drying the meat. In any event, you need to keep the door slightly ajar (propped open using a folded cloth or wooden spoon, if necessary) so as to allow air to circulate and vent moisture.
You can, if you like put skewers through the strips and hang them from your oven rack set at the top-most position, but a wire rack in a baking try works fine. Keep a weather eye on the meat as it dries, especially if you are stuck with higher temperature settings, and turn the strips regularly. About once an hour should be good but I do it a little more frequently to minimize the surfaces getting imprinted by the wire rack. Also, make sure none of the pieces touch each other or they won’t dry properly where they are in contact.
The drying time will vary quite considerably depending on the thickness of the slices, the heat and vagaries of your oven, and the amount of air circulation and humidity. Small pieces cut very thinly across the grain may be ready in just a few hours, but the time will increase as the pieces get larger and thicker. Basically, you want the pieces to be firm and leathery but without being brittle. The harder they are, the longer they will keep, but if they have a bit of ‘give’ when you try bending them, they will be much nicer eating.
I allowed mine to dry for just about 10 hours and they were still quite pliable. A bit longer, perhaps 12 hours or, so might have been a little better for storage purposes but this wasn’t a particular concern and they were very good and chewy just as they were.
If you are going to store jerky for any length of time, make sure it well dried (almost, but not quite, brittle) and keep it on a cool, dry place. Ideally, store it upright in a container that does not keep the pieces tightly packed.