Beginners Guide To Making Jerky

Written by contributor Tom Claycomb III.

Who doesn’t like jerky? I image even a few card carrying PETA members might be closet jerky eaters. Who can blame them? Jerky is a delicious snack that is hard to quit eating….until it’s all gone! The only trouble is that it is costly when purchased in a supermarket or gas station. So, why not make your own? The cost is substantially less and you can make (and eat) as much as you want in the exact flavor that you want.

Historically, Beef jerky is thought to have originated in South America during the 1800s by the Quechua tribe; who were ancestors of the ancient Inca Empire. This particular tribe produced a meat similar to beef jerky called ch’arki, or charqui. It was made by adding salt to strips of meat from game animals such as deer, buffalo, and elk. This allowed the tribes people time to dry the meat in the sun or over fires for extended periods of time. You have to remember, they didn’t have refrigeration so if they killed a deer in the summer it would have spoiled quickly without this drying process.

Just a couple of years ago, while I was in Alaska, I witnessed the Indians hanging their salmon in a huge hut with a small fire burning in the center. This is similar to previously mentioned methods of drying meat. I also have a friend that observes his wife’s tribe hanging strips of salmon over brush in order to let the sun and wind dry it out before eating.

JERK 1Slicing the jerky is much easier when the meat is slightly frozen. This allows you to cut pieces as thick or thin as you want.

Jerky was/is also used as a method for food consumption without the need for a fire. The Indians routinely carried jerky with them on hunting trips, raids and so forth. That way they didn’t have to build a fire in order to eat. They’d also add fat or dried fruit for energy which was called “pemmican”; which is similar to today’s version of trail mix. Today we are conditioned to make our jerky out of super lean meat. Although fat will spoil faster, one of my hunting partners routinely makes his jerky out of Choice meat. He says that the fat makes his jerky much juicier. I have to agree. (additional cooking method)

Slicing It Up

For the purpose of this piece let’s talk about making jerky out of lean cuts. I recommend using Bottom Rounds, Top Rounds or knuckles (Pikes Peaks Roast). You’ll want to start by slicing the meat thin. Slicing will probably prove to be the most difficult part of the jerky making process. To make things easier, you may want to wait until the meat is slightly frozen, then cut your strips and cook it immediately; or continue freezing and wait for another time to fix the individual pieces. (how much meat from a single deer)

Spicing It Up

Now that we’ve got our meat cut it’s time to spice it up. Honestly, you can throw just about anything into the mixture. Popular items include: soy sauce, Worcestershire, salt, pepper, garlic, cayenne pepper and liquid smoke. Work up your own blend of spices and experiment with different flavors if you wish.


Experiment with different flavors and enjoy the spoils of a successful hunt anytime, anywhere.

However, if you are the type that likes to work with a recipe or pre-made mixture of seasonings, then I highly recommend the Hickory Jerky mix made by Hi-Mountain Seasonings from Alaska Butcher Equipment & Supply . It is the absolute best jerky mix that I have ever tasted. I should mention though that good quality seasonings aren’t cheap. In fact, be ready to pay more for good flavorings. Sure, there are a lot of cheap ones on the market but when compared to higher priced seasonings the taste difference is well worth the money. (deer processing tools)

Mixing It Up

Ok, now that we’ve sliced our meat and selected our spices, we can mix it all together. Some recipes (specifically sausage) suggest you mix the spices with water in order to get good dispersion. However, when making jerky you want to remove all of the water so don’t mix your spices with water. Instead, tumble the meat in your seasonings to obtain a good mix and then put it all in a glass bowl. Next, cover it and place it in your fridge. Personally, I wrap my jerky bowl with a plastic grocery bag and tie it off to prevent smelling up the other food. I imagine that there is some magic time frame for letting your mix sit but in about four hours or so I will mix it again. I don’t suppose that you can over mix it.

Cooking It Up

After letting your mix set for about 24 hours in the fridge it will be time to dry your blend. In the old days a lot of people hung the pieces of meat on the racks inside the oven. If you dry your meat this way just make sure to put a cookie sheet underneath so it doesn’t drip all over the inside of your oven and give your wife an excuse to terminate your life.

JERK 3Commercial cookers allow you to fix a lot of meat at one time. However, when it comes to good jerky…enough is never enough.

Today, most people employ the use of a food dehydrator. When using one of these units, don’t forget that the bottom tray will dry first so don’t leave it unattended overnight. It’s best if you plan to be around while the meat is cooking in order to rotate the top tray to the bottom and so forth. As the pieces dry you can break them apart or bite into them to test their condition. Once they have reached your desired cooking level simply remove them and let the pieces cool off a bit. Then, pack it in a sandwich sized freezer baggie. Happy Eating! (additional recipes)

jerk 4

Authors Note: You can make jerky out of almost any of your big game.  However, don’t make jerky out of bear or cougar meat as they can both have trichinosis which will not be killed by low heat cooking methods. (bowhunting black bears)


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