You can’t buy a better more suitable meat for jerky than venison. Its leanness is tailor made for this popular snack food whose origins date back to ancient Indian cultures. It’s not surprising that it became a favorite of the early settlers and explorers since it lasted weeks and even months without any special care or storage.
Fat is the enemy of any jerky and will greatly shorten the shelf life because it doesn’t dry and will end up spoiling. There are certain precautions that come anytime you work with meat and jerky is no exception. I’ll just point you to the University of Georgia’s Food Preservation website which is a joint venture with the USDA and a clearing house for information on home food preservation where you can read more about the subject.
There are two popular methods of jerky making, one where you slice the meat in thin slices and the other where you form ground meat in to thin strips with the use of a jerky shooter. The jerky shooter somewhat resembles a caulking gun with a nozzle at the end that forms the ground meat into thin strips. Once dried, it holds together remarkable well and you’d never know by looking at the final product that it started out as a ground meat.
Here’s a collection of jerky shooters I have amassed over the years.
I love both types of jerky and I don’t favor one over the other. They’re just different, but both are delicious and fun to make. No matter which one you make you should use the leanest cut of meat available so if you’re going to use ground venison it shouldn’t have any fat added to it.
Ground Venison ready for the dehydrator. The thin strips were formed with the use of the jerky shooter.
When shopping for a dehydrator, make sure it has a heating element. Mine goes to 160° and that’s where I set it when I make jerky. As far as time goes, that can vary greatly by such things as the thickness of the strips, how much you’re trying to dry at one time and the relative humidity is also a factor. I’m usually around the four hour mark with my dehydrator but that can vary as much as a half hour depending on the before mentioned factors. You’ll just have to experiment with your own equipment. Just remember most people dry way too long when they first start because they’re checking their jerky when it’s warm. Take a piece and set it in the freezer for a few minutes to cool it down and then check to see if it’s done. It shouldn’t be so dry that it becomes brittle and cracks, it should bend, more line a green branch or twig.
If you want to make jerky for the first time but don’t want to invest in a jerky shooter or dehydrator, don’t let that stop you. Get some wax paper or cling wrap and a rolling pin and find two things about 3/16” to ¼” thick to lay on either side as guides to elevate the rolling pin so you get a uniform thickness when you’re rolling the ground meat between the wax paper. Who cares if it’s not rolled out in uniform strips as long as it tastes good? The uniform thickness is important though so the entire batch will dry to the same degree. If you don’t have a dehydrator try drying your jerky in the oven on low and with the door open so the moisture can escape.
Remember to pat dry any grease that’s formed on the strips when you’re done. The grease is from fat in the meat and can turn rancid and spoil your jerky. I like to cut the ends off and square up the strips and make them look nice, this allows me plenty of samples as I’m cutting the strips into equal lengths.
So what spices should you use? There are so many different jerky spices on the market and most are very good, it just comes down to a person preference. I think I’ve tried over a hundred different jerky spices and recipes and I’m still searching for the ultimate jerky recipe. I was locked in on one particular spice for quite a while and was quite happy with it but then I tried a new recipe that I found on an internet cooking web site. After letting friends and family try a blind taste test to compare the two I was surprised that an over whelming majority like the new recipe. I’m sure I’ll eventually get bored with it and move on to another recipe. And actually I’ve already altered that one and tried a few twist lately to jazz it up. Notice the photo below where you can see that after using the jerky shooter to squeeze out the strips on to the dehydrator tray I’ve taken some dry rub and sprinkled it all over the strips. The jerky already has spices added in the meat but this little addition will really add some extra zing. I just laid down a plastic mat underneath the tray to catch the spill over.
Covering with dry rub will add some extra zing to your jerky!
The best thing about this little trick is you can try everything you have in the cupboard. Get creative and sprinkle something different on every couple of strips. Just keep notes and if you come across a winner, you’ll be able to duplicate it.
Here’s two of my recent favorites, Weber’s Tex-Mex Fiesta and Burgundy Beef Dry Rubs.
I process my own deer, something I highly recommend learning how to do. I plan on talking a lot more about that subject in upcoming stories. Since I grind my venison and store it in two pound bags, my recipe below is for a two pound batch of ground venison. I actually make eight to ten pounds at a time but I can only mix two pounds at a time in my mixer. I use a paddle on a Kitchen Aid mixer to mix the meat. I run the mixer while I slowly add in the spices finishing up with the Ketchup and Worcestershire Sauce. I let it mix for a while and it has a way of collecting any silver skin or sinew on the paddle which I remove before loading it into the jerky shooter.
Here’s a photo of all the ingredients listed below. Now I’m ready to make some venison jerky.
Ground Venison Jerky
- 2 lbs ground venison
- 2 teaspoons non-iodized salt
- 1 teaspoon Accent flavor enhancer
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 tablespoon Adolph’s unseasoned tenderizer
- 1 teaspoon pepper
- 1 1/3 tablespoons brown sugar – that’s (4 teaspoons)
- 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
- 1/4 cup ketchup
- Mix all spices with the venison including the Worcestershire, and ketchup.
- You need to mix it well.
- Press into strips with a jerky gun.
- Dry according to your dehydrator manufacturer’s instructions.
- Storing in the refrigerator will make it keep longer.
This recipe above will produce great tasting jerky all by itself but it you want to get creative, try sprinkling some other spices over the top before you place in the dehydrator.
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