If you enjoy beef jerky and have sometimes wondered how feasible it is to make your own – especially if you don’t own a dehydrator – you may be surprised at just how easy it is!
In terms of prep time and actual work, it doesn’t take more than 15 minutes (not including the drying time, of course) to make your own delicious, preservative-free jerky.
Whenever I play golf I have a couple of my homemade energy bars in the bag, but I will admit that an occasional guilty pleasure on the course is a can of regular Coke and some beef jerky. The combination of the syrupy sweetness of the soda and the salty, coarse texture of the jerky can’t be beat. (The guilty part is the Coke, not the jerky, by the way!)
Recently I began thinking about making my own beef jerky. The fact that I don’t own a smoker or dehydrator seemed unimportant; we have an oven, right? It can be turned down quite low, right? (Well, actually, wrong, but more on that in a moment.) What could be hard about this?
So I performed some rather extensive research (read: Googled “homemade beef jerky,” and later, “jerky making safety”) and started experimenting.
The good news: this is not rocket science. If you have an oven, some lean beef, ideally a timer/automatic shutoff on your oven, a few common spices and a little common sense, you’re good to go.
The only caveat: I cannot emphasize enough: regardless of the method you use to prepare your jerky, you must be absolutely certain that any pathogen (e.g., E. coli, etc.) that might possibly be present in the meat is eliminated or reduced to safe levels. There is a lot of information available on this topic; I’ll cite a couple of references at the end of this post. My key takeaways from these articles:
- if you’re using a conventional dehydrator to make your jerky, you should first treat the raw meat with a hot marinade, bringing its temperature to 160°F, prior to dehydrating (see the USDA article)
- if you’re using an oven, use a temperature of at least 155°F for 4.5 hours (see the University of Wisconsin article)
Please keep your safety and the safety of your loved ones and friends foremost in mind.
That said, on to the directions and recipes…
I’m going to focus on using an oven to make jerky. As I alluded to earlier, my oven actually has a minimum temperature of 170°F. Perhaps some will argue that at that temperature I’m not so much dehydrating the meat as cooking it; I honestly don’t know where the point of delineation is, but this process produces something that looks, feels, and tastes like jerky. Close enough for me. I’ll leave the debate to the scientists out there.
- 1-2 lbs. lean meat (I used boneless bottom round steak; flank steak/London Broil is a good choice. The meat must be lean and all fat should be trimmed off)
- Another excellent choice is lean sirloin steak!
- Broiler pan
- Cookie sheets
- Aluminum foil
- Ziploc bags for storage
- Trim fat off the meat as mentioned above
- Slice the meat 1/4″ thick, cutting across the grain
- Preheat your oven – see times and temps below
- Line your broiler pan with aluminum foil; if you require extra surface area, you can also use cookie sheets lined with aluminum foil
- Spread the meat slices out on the top of the broiler pan; do not let the pieces touch one another
- Lightly salt the meat, and apply fresh ground pepper to suit your taste
- Put the broiler pan/cookie sheets in the oven
- Turn the oven on – setting it at its lowest temperature – but at least 150°F
- Turn pieces over midway through the dehydrating process; season again if you prefer
- Minimal heating times, per the University of Wisconsin:
- 125°F – 10 hours
- 135°F – 9 hours
- 145°F – 7 hours
- 155°F – 4.5 hours
- It bears repeating: if you are using a dehydrator, first bring the meat to 160°F in a hot marinade before (drying off and) dehydrating
Having said all this, I use a 170°F oven and dehydrate the meat for 4-3/4 hours. I don’t bother preheating the oven, so the effective drying time is a bit less.
Please keep in mind the normal precautions you would take when handling raw meat: clean all surfaces with HOT soapy water, wash your hands frequently with HOT soapy water, and so forth.
Your finished jerky, when bent in half, should crack but not break in half. Adjust your drying time to produce a product with this characteristic.
More good news: your jerky doesn’t have nitrates or other preservatives in it!
As such, it won’t last as long if stored at room temperatures. In the refrigerator, it should last 2-3 months; at room temperature, however, I wouldn’t plan on more than one week. NOTE: I mentioned golf earlier. Please don’t put your homemade jerky in your golf bag and then park your car in 100°F temperatures… it may spoil.
If you want to learn a bit more, check out these references. Please pay attention to those that deal with safe preparation of jerky:
University of Idaho Extension: Beef Jerky
University of Wisconsin/Madison: Validating the safety of your jerky process
USDA: Food Safety of Jerky
Try making your own jerky – you’ll save some money, have a tasty snack that’s preservative free and (unless you go nuts with the salt!) lower in sodium than the commercially available stuff.
Plus frankly, the amount of work involved is REALLY minimal. My wife even tried it – and liked it – a few minutes ago, so anything’s possible!
P.S. If you want to try a teriyaki-type marinade, opt for low sodium soy sauce, mixed equal parts with worcestershire sauce; add some fresh ground pepper, a little garlic powder, and crushed red pepper flakes to your taste. I personally have stopped using a marinade as the flavor is needlessly strong and it stinks up the house for hours has a strong aroma.
P.P.S. 9.13.08 edit: I made jerky as described above again today – used sirloin steak, no marinade – and have a total of about 10 minutes actual work invested. Try it yourself – it really is very easy and tasty!