The Beef Chief's guide to making your own excellent beef jerky at home.
Have you always wanted to have a go at making jerky? Or maybe you had a butcher that used to make your favourite beef jerky and one day stopped making it. If you have ever eaten beef jerky that was so good you could eat it all day, the best thing to do is make it at home yourself. Here's the only 2 ways to get it.
Buy Beef Chief jerky, or make it yourself at home.
Understanding the process.
Before you start, you need to have an understanding of the process. Making great jerky is simple if you know how. Simple, but not easy. Great beef jerky isn't as easy as throwing some meat in a dehydrator or oven. You need to consider preparing the right marinades, choosing the right cut of meat, how thick you slice each piece, method of drying and when to tell if its done all make a big difference to the end product.
Here are some things to consider when working out what dehydrator to buy and how much it will cost:
- Are you a regular beef jerky eater?
- How much do you want to make?
- Is this a one time thing or are you a hard core enthusiast?
- Do you think you will be making beef jerky regularly? (Consider steel trays – no warping over long term)
- What sort of budget do you have?
Here's a quick list of equipment you're going to be using:
- Marinading tubs/zip lock bags
- Knife/Meat slicer
- Shears/Sharp scissors
- Cutting board
- Air tight containers to store the finished product
Dehydrator: This is the main equipment you’ll be using. What sort you buy will depend on how much you intend to make and how often. My recommendation for virtually all applications is to get a 10 tray wire rack dehydrator. These can be brought on ebay for around $200 and I can say they worked great for me when I was starting out. Here’s a list of whats available at different prices.
- A small round $50 unit can be picked up from a homemaker store at most shopping centre’s.
- A $200 ebay unit is a good mid range option - you can get a 10 tray dehydrator with wire racks (these steel trays are great to clean and wont warp with sustained use. Warping is a big problem with plastic trays)
- $500 professional home dehydrators exist, like the Excalibur dehydrator range, if you want to drop serious cash. I've never used one so you'll have to do your own research here.
- Or if you don’t want to buy anything you can dry jerky in the oven on clean racks.
Knife/Meat slicer: You can use the trusty kitchen knife to cut your beef down to the desired thickness, as long as it's sharp. Throw the slab of beef in the freezer for a short while to make it more rigid and easier to slice uniformly. This is important to ensure it dries evenly and you don't get wet spots in your jerky.
If you want to step it up to a serious level you can pickup a domestic or small commercial meat slicer. These range from $400-$1200 so if you're this keen I'll let you do your own research.
Ziplock bags: Grab some large or extra large durable zip lock bags. These are great for marinading your strips of beef overnight before drying. You want your meat to be fully covered in marinade. Meat that's exposed will not be absorbing the maximum amount of flavour, so come back and shake up the bag at least once to ensure each piece tastes great. These bags are good for storing beef jerky when it's dried too. Just be sure not to pack it too tight because dry hard jerky can poke through the bag pretty easily if you're rough with it.
Ingredient quality is paramount when making a premium beef jerky. The finished product is only as good as what you put into it. A cheap jerky will be made from cheaper cuts of meat, sometimes even a meat paste (you can tell when meat paste is used because the jerky is almost see through) and cheap filler ingredients. Like anything in this world, you get what you pay for.
High quality ingredients = High quality product.
A good common list of jerky marinade ingredients are soy sauce, BBQ sauce, Worcestershire sauce, sweet soy then your various spices and herbs. Here’s a basic traditional beef jerky recipe for you to try out. You can add any spice you like to give it your own twist.
Traditional Beef Jerky Recipe
1 cup Soy sauce
2 Tblsp Worcestershire Sauce
1.5 Tblsp Onion paste/powder
1 Tsp Pepper
1.5 Tblsp Garlic paste/powder
0.5 Tblsp Liquid smoke
How long to dry depends on a variety of factors.
- Thickness of the meat strips.
- Consistency of the marinade.
- How dry you personally like your jerky.
- Temperature you dry the meat (should be set to 68 degrees).
- Efficiency of your dehydrator.
- How closely the meat is spaced out on the racks.
Generally you're going to need to set aside 8+ hours to get the job done.
How thick do you like to eat your jerky? If you're unsure or are trying this for the first time aim for around 10-15mm. This thickness will prevent it drying out too quickly and becoming like cardboard. If you like your jerky in big wide sheets, slice and marinade thin steaks as opposed to thin strips. DO NOT chop your beef into pieces before you dry it. If you cut into bite sized pieces before drying the jerky is severely reduced in quality. It will dry much smaller than you anticipate and it’ll end up no good. You always want to cut the strips into pieces AFTER it comes out of the dehydrator and has cooled down. You’ll need a good pair of kitchen scissors. If you’re making large batches regularly grab a pair of shears to use.
Marinading & Storage
Marinade the raw beef making sure each piece is fully covered in the sauce. Store refrigerated for at least a few hours, preferably overnight. Basically treat it as you would marinading steak before throwing it on the barby.
Stacking the trays
However you prefer to slice your beef, you should always lay it on the trays uniformly and take care to not have the edges of the beef touching. Before laying the meat onto the tray remove as much excess marinade from the beef as you can. The beef is fully soaked after marinading. Any marinade on the surface of the meat will lead to a longer drying time with no benefit to the taste.
Use the space efficiently and lay as much beef down as you can on each tray. By the time it dries its about 1/3rd the surface area of whatever you stated with. So wasting space is a big no-no if you're making a large batch.
When you’ve stacked each tray take some paper towel and dab any excess marinade from the to of the beef. It’s going to drip so make sure you take this into consideration before loading the tray into the dehydrator. I've made the mistake of not removing all the excess marinade and a full dehydrator dripping for 8 hours can fill the shallow bottom of the drying unit and make a mess.
Set the dehydrator to 65-68 degrees (usually the highest setting on most domestic dehydrators). If you are doing this inside your home keep the windows open or a ceiling exhaust fan on because all the moisture leaving the beef can make the room very humid and condensation can form on the walls. You want to turn it on and get it up to working temp before loading the trays into it.
Load the trays into the dehydrator. If you are using all the trays it comes with, stack from top to bottom. If you only are using a handful of trays, stack them closest to the middle where the heating element is going to more efficiently dry the beef.
Checking on the meat while cooking
When using any sort of dehydrator you'll need to rotate the trays at least once while drying. Trays will dry unevenly based on their position relative to the heating element. For instance, if you're using a 10 tray vertical box dehydrator the 4 trays closest to the center tend to dry fastest. The meat on the rear facing half of the tray will also dry quicker as the meat is closer to the heating element.
Remove a piece that looks dry and slice the jerky with some sharp kitchen scissors or a clean set of shears. Give it a squeeze to see if any juice comes out. Put it back if it's juicy. If one or two very small beads of juice form it’s ok to take out. When removing beef jerky that is still too juicy, when it cools down this will be wet and wet jerky will have a much shorter shelf life and can get mouldy.
Removing the jerky
The jerky will be ready when you take it out and can bend it and it feels like its juuust about to snap. If it makes a cracking sound when you bend it you're probably spot on. If it snaps it's too dry and will be very hard and crispy when cooled down. This is still edible, but will be far from perfect. It’s a disappointing feeling to ruin it right at the end of the process after all that time, effort and anticipation.
Storage while cooking and the risk of sweating
When you remove the jerky from the dehydrator, it will be hot. Make sure to let the jerky cool down when you first pull it out. Leave it uncovered on a tray or in a container for a few hours. If you store in an airtight container while it's still warm the meat wont finish drying properly and will sweat and it'll spoil prematurely.
You need a strong pair of kitchen scissors or garden shears for this step. One strip at a time cut the jerky into bite sized pieces - around 2-5cm long - or leave them in long strips if you prefer it that way. Be sure to trim any fatty spots off as the moisture retained can prematurely spoil the jerky. BUT, don’t throw those offcuts away! Between you and me, these are the best bits. Especially when it's still warm. This is something special you can only enjoy if you make your own beef jerky. Sneak a piece to your missus and they'll understand your new obsession.
Long term storage
Properly dried beef jerky can be stored for months on end. To preserve the life of your beef jerky it needs to be kept in a cool dry place. It doesn't need to be refrigerated, storing in the pantry is fine. Be careful leaving it somewhere it can get warm without you realising. Places like the glovebox in your car can get hot on sunny days and these conditions can spoil the beef. Not the sort of surprise you want a week later when tucking in.
If you get a dehydrator with steel trays you can blast them with a pressure washer. A quick soak in warm water and will result in all of the dried meat coming right off. This is by far the easiest and quickest way to get the job done. If you haven’t got one of those, or you're using plastic trays the best bet is to soak them in soapy water and hit it with a scrubbing brush and some elbow grease. A pressure washer on too high a setting will snap the trays.
The Chief's finals thoughts...
Now you should have a good idea how to make your own beef jerky. Experiment with some different flavours and see what you like the most. Send me a piece if it turns out any good. I might even hit you back with any of my new flavours in development.
If you're going to all this effort you should make a good sized batch to share around with your mates too. But be careful though because if you follow this guide you're going to have people constantly pestering you to make another batch.
Keep on chewin,