Homemade Jerky

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Making Jerky

The E. coli 0157:H7 bacteria can be present in the intestines of animals. It is more likely for game meat to be contaminated with bacteria from the intestines than beef because game is usually gutted in the field by amateur butchers without access to running water and often in poor light. However, there are concerns with bacteria on beef too so this method works well with beef jerky also. Bacteria present on meat can be killed with heat, rendering it harmless to human consumers. Unfortunately, many home food dryers do not get hot enough to provide an adequate heat treatment. Therefore, this method of pre-cooking the meat gives a good margin of safety when making jerky.

Pre-Cooking Jerky

1. Slice the meat into long pieces that are a maximum 1/4 inch thick. Some people find it easier to slice meat that is partially frozen. Slicing across the grain will result in a more tender jerky. Remove all visible fat. It is not necessary to completely freeze the venison to kill parasites when this pre-cooking method is used.

2. Prepare a marinade in a large saucepan. Some recipes for marinades follow, but any flavor you prefer can be used. Make enough marinade to cover all the meat strips; the amount will vary with the amount of jerky you make and the saucepan you choose. A general guideline is 1 - 2 cups marinade for each one pound batch of meat.

3. Bring the marinade to a full rolling boil over medium heat. Add a few meat strips, making sure that they are covered by the marinade. Return to a full boil.

4. Using tongs, immediately remove meat from the marinade to prevent over-cooking. Repeat the immersion process until all meat has been given the heat treatment.

5. Place precooked strips on drying racks with a small space between each strip. Dry in dehydrator at 160F for 3-4 hours, then lower temperature to 140F for about another 4 hours or until dry. If drying in a household oven, the times tend to be longer; plan on about 8 hours at 160F and then more time at 140F. It is important that the temperatures not be higher, because you want to dry the meat for safety, not just cook it. Bacteria require moisture to grow so completely dry jerky is important for safety.

6. To test jerky for dryness, remove a piece from the dryer, cool it, then bend it. It should crack but not break and there should be no moist spots. Package air tight (so moisture cannot re-enter the meat) and store at room temperature for a couple of months, or freeze for longer storage. Longer storage at room temperature is associated with off flavors.

Brine/Marinade Recipes

A few brine recipes are included on this page in case you do not have access to them.   If adapting a recipe from a cookbook, use one that is liquid, not a dry rub. When developing the new pre-cooking method, taste panels found that both an overnight soak plus the heat treatment in the marinade produced an undesirable flavor. When you come across a recipe with seasonings you think you will like, you may consider omitting the overnight soak step. The flavors do penetrate more rapidly when dipped in the hot brine than when soaked in a cold brine.

General Marinade

This marinade works well for venison, beef, turkey or chicken jerky. It is adapted from a recipe by Sunset Books. It makes enough for about 2 pounds of meat.

1/4 c soy sauce
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon hickory smoke flavored salt

Old Fashioned Jerky

This recipe contains nitrates which were traditionally used in curing jerky, but now most householders use them primarily for making corned beef, ham or bacon. It takes time for the nitrates to penetrate the meat, so this brine traditionally required a marinade process of 8 to 10 hours in refrigerator. Unfortunately, when the meat is both marinated for hours and then given the heat treatment, the flavor is too strong. Our family enjoys a lighter cure so we found the flavor to be acceptable when the long soak was omitted and only the hot brine dip was used. Try a small batch to see if the flavor is acceptable for your household before using this recipe as a hot process on a large amount of meat. Use the following proportions to make the amount you will need. Recipe adapted from Food Drying, Pickling and Smoke Curing by Don Holm.

1 cup curing salt (such as Morton's Tender Quick)
1/2 cup brown sugar (use molasses for a strong flavor)
1 tsp. liquid garlic
2 quarts water
4 Tablespoons black pepper

Dip meat in hot brine, then blot dry with paper towels. Sprinkle with onion salt, garlic salt, or pepper if desired. Place on meat trays.

Domestic Meat Brine

This one was never used as a long soak, so the flavor is good with the new hot method. Recipe adapted from Food Drying, Pickling and Smoke Curing by Don Holm.

2 cups salt
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup cider
1 tsp. cloves
1 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
2 quarts water

Bring to a boil. Immerse meat according to pre-cooking instructions. Some people prefer to rinse the meat in water between the pre-cooking and drying step for a lighter flavor.

  Developed by university food preservation specialists from Oregon and Colorado. Above instructions adapted from "New Venison Jerky Procedure" by Oregon State University Extension