Dried beef is also known as beef jerky, which can be prepared in a range of ways — some laborious and others easy. With a dedicated dehydrator or even just a windy area and some patience, traditional jerky can be made in a half-dozen ethnic styles, from pioneer and Native American Pemmican to Italian and South African. Others prefer to let a dedicated manufacturer make their jerky, as well as another kind of intensely processed dried beef that comes in a jar, which is known as chipped beef. This latter protein forms the centerpiece of an infamous U.S. military-spawned dish called creamed beef over toast.
The jerky style of dried beef is made to last several months, if properly salted and stored with just the right amount of moisture. First, lean beef is cut thinly, lightly pounded, and flavored with a mixture of seasonings like garlic powder, onion powder, salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, honey and pepper flakes. Before the seasoning, to kill all harmful bacteria, chefs also will drop the meat in a pot of boiling water for no more than 15 seconds — a process called blanching.
After the meat has spent a full day in the refrigerator marinating, it can become flavorful dried beef in a few ways. One way is to stack the slices onto the racks of a dehydrator, which can finish jerky in less than a day. Another modern method of obtaining traditional tasting jerky is to bake the pieces slowly in an oven set at its lowest temperature. The pieces are not placed on a sheet but instead hung from the top oven rack by toothpicks that are stuck through one end of the slices. To avoid actually cooking the meat instead of just drying it, celebrity chef Alton Brown recommends stacking the slices in rows of coffee filters and then attaching the stacks via bungee cord to the front of a running box fan. This will take longer to dry out the meat, but it will retain more flavor and texture.
Chipped beef is perhaps one of the more iconic types of dried beef. During World War II, these processed dried meat slices were used to feed troops a meal called creamed beef over toast. According to the USS Little Rock's Web site, the Navy recipe involves adding slices of dried beef to a simmering mixture of flour, milk, pepper, butter and Worcestershire sauce, which is then poured steaming hot over toast or an English muffin.
Though dried beef is the most customary, other proteins are regularly used to make these long-lasting treats. Venison, turkey, buffalo, elk, moose, bison and ostrich are common substitutions. Each produces a slightly different flavor and texture.