Thursday, February 11, 2010

Where's the (dried) Beef? Homemade Jerky

Jerky. Portable, nutritious, and downright delicious. But so expensive! A 3oz. package could be $3-$5 PLUS it has a ton of nitrates and preservatives in it.  So what do we do if something is worth having, but not always worth buying? Make it yourself! Don't have a smoker or dehydrator? Me neither. If you have an oven or a box fan, you can make your own jerky.

Pick a cut of meat that has very little fat. Maybe on a steak some tasty fat is nice, but jerky fat will go rancid and is just nasty. You can make jerky with beef, venison, moose, elk, etc. Choose a lean cut such as loin, top round, eye of round, etc. Personally, I've made beef jerky with eye of round and top round. I find this offers the best price for a lean cut of meat. If you can afford it, get a cut of grass-fed beef. Once you have it, freeze the meat for a couple of hours so it is easier to slice. Slice across the grain: slices should be long and between 1/8" - 1/4" thick. Remember, thinner = faster drying. If you are lucky enough to have a deli slicer, this will create consistently thin slices.

 1st batch: eye of round roast, about 4 lbs. (fat was trimmed on outside)

 2nd batch: top round - 4.62 lbs. more marble than the eye of round, but turned out fine. Slicing is clean due to a couple hours of freezing beforehand.

Flavoring is up to you. Some people like to marinate their meat in mixtures of soy sauce/teriyaki sauce/etc. for a few hours or overnight. Others, especially purists, will say you can only use a dry rub. I've done both and I like both. The first batch I ever made was marinated overnight in teriyaki sauce; the most recent batch was just tossed in a dry rub called "Montreal Steak" by McCormicks obtained at, yes you guessed, Costco. You can also find a bunch of recipes online for both marinades and rubs. I recommend doing half and half to decide what you like best. Just remember that the marinated meat will take longer because 1.) it needs to marinate and 2.) it will take longer to dry. Right now, I am leaning towards the dry rub and some liquid smoke (available at most food stores near the bbq sauce) for efficiency's sake and flavor.

1st batch: teriyaki marinade overnight

2nd batch: dry rub with McCormick's Grill Mates "Montreal Steak" from Costco

If you are using your oven, take the rack out and put it in your sink. YES, put it in your sink. This is the step where your significant other thinks you're crazy. (Or maybe they're used to this sort of thing) Spear the slices with a toothpick and line them up through the oven rack so the slices hang down. Be careful when you take the rack out of the sink, don't tilt it too much otherwise your work of art will slide!

 How to spear better than Brock Lesnar

You may look crazy, but it's worth it!

Set the oven to the lowest temperature it can go. Mine is 170 degrees. Once you carefully place the rack of meat in the oven, leave the door open a few inches. This will circulate the hot, moist air out.  Jerky will be a few hours to dry depending on how thin you cut the meat. My "dry rub" slices that were closer to 1/8" thick took about 2.5 hours to dry and those slices around 1/4" thick took 5 hours. As you can see, slicing matters! Marinated slices will take significantly longer, probably 5-7 hours depending on oven settings. (Note: in the beginning I said that if you had a box fan, you could make jerky. Still true! It is actually not the HEAT that matters, it is the circulating AIR. So if all you have is a box fan, you can still make your own jerky. This guy does. OR you can make a $10 dehydrator which we will try to make at CrossFit KoP - thanks Evan and Laura for the link!)

1st batch. The 2nd batch had longer strips, almost down to the bottom of the oven.

Jerky is done when you can bend it and the meat cracks but doesn't snap apart. It might take a few trials to get the right touch, but luckily you have some leeway with drying meat so you don't need to be checking every minute. Ideally you would vacuum seal it, but if not, you can throw the jerky in plastic bags and keep them in the refrigerator. I've kept it for a few weeks like this. (the only reason it didn't last longer is because we ate it all!) In terms of output, for the 2nd batch I started with 4.62 pounds of raw meat and ended up with 2 pounds of dried jerky. At a little over 1oz. per serving (15g of protein or 2 Zone blocks) it is about 25 servings. For $16 dollars from Costco, that's about $0.40 per oz!

(The next time I make jerky, I'm going to try and find some liquid smoke to get that smokey flavor to add to the dry rub.)

2nd batch: Jerky is done when it cracks, but doesn't snap apart

Remember to take those meatpicks out! (or save them for later??)

2nd batch (dry rub): 4.62 lbs. down to 2 lbs. - talk about losing your water weight!

If you feel like you don't have enough time to handle all of this, check out Steve Liberati's Paleokits. Money from these awesome kits goes to support his program, Steve's Club. Located in Camden, NJ, he helps teenagers by giving them something to do after school: CrossFit. Paleokits are awesome as they contain grass-fed beef, almonds, pecans, macadamia nuts, and dried strawberries and cranberries. AND they're vacuum sealed so you can buy them in bulk and keep them for camping trips, your commute, or just when you're feeling lazy!

Tried making my own version. Not as tasty as Paleokits though, and not vacuum sealed!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this Chris! I have read a few other how-to's for jerky, but this actually seems do-able for someone with my limited cooking abilities.


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