Making jerky at home is a real treat since you can customize the flavors to suit your tastes. But since you are dealing with fresh meat, it's important to follow some guidelines for the best results. These tips and tricks will help get you started.
Jerky Tips and Tricks
- Before embarking on your jerky experiment, familiarize yourself with the recommendations of the Food Safety and Inspection Service to avoid any food-borne illness risks.
- Select only the leanest cuts of meat and remove all visible fat. Fat can become rancid and ruin your jerky.
- It is advisable to freeze wild game completely before drying to kill any potential parasites in the meat.
- Partially frozen meat is easier to slice into thin strips. For old-fashioned chewy jerky, cut strips along the grain. For more tender jerky, slice against the grain.
- Thicker slices will take longer to dry than thin ones. Try to keep your strips as uniform in size as possible for even drying.
- Salt not only helps pull moisture from the meat, it also acts as a preservative. Jerky using salt will have an appreciably longer shelf-life than that without. In general, using one teaspoon of salt per pound of meat, plus any optional herbs and spices, is considered unsalted jerky.
- Salted jerky is generally brined in a solution using 2 1/2 cups pickling salt per three quarts of water plus any optional herbs and spices. After one to two days, remove from the brine, pat dry, and proceed with drying.
- Always refrigerate when using a marinade.
- Take a basic jerky recipe and add your favorite herbs, spices, and flavorings in a marinade or dry rub to create your own signature jerky.
- When oven-drying, you can place strips directly on the oven racks, but put a layer of heavy-duty foil on the bottom to catch any drips.
- A cake rack inside a foil-lined cookie sheet will also work, but may require boosted air circulation. A low-speed fan blowing toward the open oven door should do the trick.
- Be sure to allow adequate space in between slices for air circulation. Arrange slices at least 1/2-inch apart.
- Use paper towels to blot any oils that rise to the surface.
- Depending on your drying method, it may be necessary to flip the meat at the halfway point.
- Be sure the jerky has completely cooled before storing. Blot away any moisture. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer.
- Jerky will weigh approximately one-fourth its original raw weight.
- Finished jerky products should be as pliable as a green stick. It should not break cleanly like a dry stick. This doneness test should be performed after the jerky has cooled.
- Most salted jerky can be stored in the refrigerator or freezer for two to three months. Any longer and it deteriorates. Unsalted jerky should be refrigerated and used within two weeks.