Beef jerky is a popular snack, not only because it tastes great and is high in protein, but also because it keeps and travels well. While there is often a large variety of beef jerky flavors at the local grocery or convenience store, making your own beef jerky can be a fun and rewarding project. You can avoid the preservatives in commercial beef jerky and experiment with flavors. Homemade jerky is also more economical than the store bought variety.
The first step in making beef jerky is to choose a good cut of meat. Game meats such as venison may be used in the place of beef. Choose a lean cut and use a sharp knife to slice it along the grain into bite-sized strips. One-inch (2.5 cm) cubes are another option. Remove any fat or white tissue. It may be easier to slice the meat if it is slightly frozen.
Next, you must season the meat. There are nearly endless options for this step. You can marinate the meat overnight in the refrigerator using your favorite barbecue sauce or marinade. Alternatively, you can blanch the meat in boiling water and use dry spices to season it, or you can boil the meat briefly, about one minute, in a hot marinade. Many marinade recipes can be found in cookbooks or online, and they are easy to customize to suit personal taste or develop a trademark flavor.
Finally, the beef jerky must be dried. Purists may wish to hang the seasoned strips of beef in the sun for a few days. Tie each onto a piece of string and hang them where they will get plenty of sunlight and air. Use cheesecloth to shield the meat from pests. It may be necessary to bring the drying meat inside overnight to protect it from morning dew.
For those who prefer more modern — and quicker — methods, beef jerky can be dried in the oven or with the help of a food dehydrator. If using the oven, turn it on the lowest setting to avoid cooking the meat. Arrange the beef strips on a wire rack over a cookie sheet to catch the drippings. The strips should not be touching and should have plenty of airflow around them. Leave the door partially open, perhaps propped open with a spoon, and your beef jerky will be ready in six to twelve hours.
A food dehydrator should come with instructions on how to make beef jerky, and the wait time is comparable to the stove method. Another option is to use a smoker, which will also take at least six hours but provides the added benefit of a smoky flavor. When using any of the above mentioned methods, except for sun drying, check the jerky regularly after six hours. Beef jerky should be almost black in color and the consistency of rubber. Do not allow it to become too dry, but do not stop the drying process if the meat is still raw on the inside.