Beef Jerky: Easier Than You Think

There’s just something about a new kitchen appliance that inspires me. It is a little bit like having a new hammer—everything starts to look like a nail. In this case, it is a new dehydrator. There is nothing exotic about it, just a simple Nesco American Harvest 4-tray model with one knob for temperature control.  On-sale fruits, vegetables, herbs, grains, and meats take on new meaning when you own a dehydrator and you know how to use it.

Nuts, sprouted grain, and fruit all turned out successfully, so it was time to try my hand at beef jerky. Jerky was more intimidating—the cut of meat, marinade or dry rub, safety considerations, flavors—but it was the next challenge on the list.  It was difficult to find a straight-forward recipe for a first-timer like me, so I collected meat advice from a local butcher at Ranch Foods Direct, combined directions in the dehydrator booklet with some I found on-line, and used a recipe by Alton Brown that looked promising.

It was easier than expected and turned out GREAT savory, sweet, mildly peppery jerky we all liked. For jerky enthusiasts looking for step-by-step instructions and a basic recipe, here’s what I did:

Start with:
Dehydrator with temp range up to 160°
1 1/2 – 2 lbs of London broil, or a very lean cut of meat

Marinade:
2/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
2/3 cup Yoshida’s Original Gourmet sauce, or 1/3 cup soy sauce & 2 rounded tbsp honey
2 tsp black pepper
2 tsp onion powder
1 tsp liquid smoke
1 tsp red pepper flakes

Directions:
Put beef in freezer for 1 hour to partially freeze; this will make it easier to slice evenly. Slice beef, with the grain, into thin slices; place in a Ziploc bag. Mix the marinade ingredients and pour over the sliced beef, making sure it is well coated.  Refrigerate overnight or at least 6 hours.

Remove beef from the bag and spread out on paper towels. Blot meat with paper towels to remove as much excess moisture as possible. Spread out strips of meat on a baking rack set over a pan. Place meat in the oven at 170° for 1 hour to be sure the meat has reached that temperature.  Jerky requires a minimum 160° for food safety before the drying process begins.

Remove the meat from the oven and evenly space the strips of beef on the dehydrator trays so the meat does not overlap. Set the dehydrator at 160° for approximately 6 hours (drying time will depend on the thickness of the slices). Periodically blot the jerky with a fresh paper towel to remove any oil that accumulates (2-3 times during the process).

To determine if the jerky is done, let a piece cool to room temperature. Bend it in half. If it bends without cracking, it needs more time. If the jerky cracks or snaps in half, it has dried too long. If it cracks without breaking, it is just right.  Once the jerky is done wrap it in paper towels and let it stand for a couple of hours.  The paper towels will absorb excess oil, which will extend shelf life.

Jerky can be stored in a glass container or vacuum seal for long-term storage.  Homemade jerky will keep for 1-2 weeks unrefrigerated (there are differing opinions on this). Refrigerate or freeze for longer storage.

For more info about jerky, check out these sites:

http://www.fsis.usda.gov/factsheets/jerky_and_food_safety/index.asp
http://www.jerkyfaq.com/
http://www.fabulousfoods.com/index.php?option=com_resource&controller=article&category_id=16&article=18430
http://allrecipes.com//Recipe/docs-best-beef-jerky/Detail.aspx
http://www.marksdailyapple.com/how-to-make-your-own-jerky/

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