Why is beef jerky so expensive? If you’re like most people you want to get right to the bottom line and you’ve no doubt noticed that beef jerky can typically be over $20/lb. Aside from it being a somewhat labor intensive process, dehydrating removes most of the weight. It takes about 1 pound of beef to make just over a 1/4 pound of jerky.
How is jerky made? Jerky is made by drying out thin marinated pieces of meat. Generally beef is used, but turkey, pork, venison, and many other meats can be used as well. Once the meat is sliced and marinated it is placed either in a dehydrator or smoker. Both processes remove most of the moisture and slow cook the meat. The more moisture removed the more preserved the meat will be.
Do I need special equipment to make beef jerky? If you plan to make jerky on any sort of a regular basis you may want to get a meat slicer. Those nice meat slicers you see at the supermarket deli counter cannot be used to slice raw meat for health reasons, but your butcher may have their own separate slicer for this purpose so it's worth asking. You can cut it with a knife, but the more consistent the thickness the better the outcome and the less you have to fiddle with the jerky during the dehydrating process.
Jerky can actually be made in the oven using oven safe cookie cooling racks, but the more common method is to use a dehydrator or a smoker. A small dehydrator can be purchased at retail stores for as little as $30. Smokers come in 3 basic types; gas, charcoal, and electric and can also be purchased at retail stores. Charcoal smokers can be purchased for around the same price as a small dehydrator.
What cut of beef do I use for beef jerky? Ironically, one of the less expensive cuts winds up being one of the better ones. In the Northeast it is sometimes referred to as London Broil. Most every place else carries it as top or bottom round roast. You’ll want a solid lean piece and you’ll want to trim off as much remaining fat as possible. Have the butcher cut a 2-3” thick steak from top or bottom round roast to make slicing easier. It’s typical to see this cut of beef for around $2/lb on sale. You can also use brisket. rib eye, or any other lean solid cut.
What is in a beef jerky marinade? There are literally thousands of beef jerky recipes ranging from sweet to salty, spicy or mild, and everyting in between. This site is more about the jerky making process, but below is my personal favorite marinade recipe: - 1 cup soy sauce - 1/2 cup brown sugar - 1/2 cup white wine or beef stock or broth - 1/4 cup katsup - 2 Tbl prepared mustard (your favorite) - 1 Tbl fresh minced ginger - 2 tsp liquid smoke (optional) - 1 to 2 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
This recipe makes enough to marinate about 2 pounds of meat, which will fit in a gallon sized re-sealable food bag and fill a small round dehydrator.
As with most recipes this basic recipe can be tweaked in an almost endless number of ways. There are tons of recipes available on the internet and also a number of pre-made marinades to be found at your local supermarket.
Should I use a dehydrator or smoker? This is sort of a personal choice. This site is mainly for making beef jerky in a dehydrator. Personally, I have both a dehydrator and a (charcoal) smoker and I’ve made jerky in both and prefer the dehydrator for beef jerky. The charcoal smoker is more of a cooking process and doesn’t “feel” as preserved to me, not that jerky lasts that long in my house anyway.
Although I do use my smoker for certain things, it also introduces a carcinogen in the form of the smoke particles themselves. In moderation it's not usually a problem as people have been eating smoked meats for centuries. However, I also find it easier to use the dehydrator for jerky as the dehydrator racks are better designed to hold the thin raw slices of beef.