The number of American road trips fueled by energy drinks and convenience store meat sticks is already lost to the history of America’s 20th Century. The problem is those individually packaged concoctions of meat byproducts and chemicals hyped by professional wrestlers and marketed to truckers and impulse munchies buyers are usually sold as one or another brand of “jerky.” But once you try homemade jerky, there’s just no going back.
Jerky – real handmade, artisan jerky made from meticulously cared for strips of real, lean meat – is the ULTIMATE camping food. Homemade jerky has been for a long, long time all around the world. There are versions of homemade jerky originating from every inhabited corner of the globe. Before refrigeration, there was a big time need for a way to preserve meat. Drying it and salting it was the way to do that. The fact that removing the moisture also significantly reduced the weight was a wonderful side benefit for anyone on the move – like Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery… and today’s car camping family.
At its most basic, jerky requires only lean meat cut into strips thin enough to dry efficiently and salt (either plain rubbed on the outside or from an ingredient source like soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce in which the meat is marinated). That’s it. However, most recipes incorporate more spices and flavorings like black pepper, liquid smoke, etc. And from there, the sky is the limit! Ingredients for rubs and marinades for jerky can range to the truly exotic and phenomenally expensive.
Why is good jerky at the meat market so expensive? Think about it. It’s made from the same meat you buy at the other end of the counter, but most of the water is removed from it. So if the cut of fresh meat sells for $10/pound and it’s 70% water, that means the same cut weighs less than half once it’s made into jerky so they have to charge at least 50% more for it… and that’s without figuring in time and other ingredients!
12 Tips for Making Homemade Jerky
As you’re planning for your summer camping adventures, a great way to involve your whole family in the preparation is to make up big batches of jerky for those trips. It’s a fun and educational process for a season when the weather isn’t so conducive to family camping, and it’s one you’ll enjoy twice – during the making and the eating weeks or months down the road.
Here are some basic tips for making safe, delicious jerky:
There are many recipe cookbooks available. Find them online or in your local library.
- Get your meat from a source you can trust. Find a local butcher shop or grocery that you know will only provide fresh, quality meat that’s handled with the strictest standards.
- Use only fresh meat to make jerky – never meat that’s been frozen and thawed.
- Make sure your equipment is clean and sanitary, too.
- Know the guidelines for temperature to which meat must be heated to be consumed safely.
- It’s safest to stick with red meat like beef, bison, and venison.
- Trim as much fat as possible from the meat you’ll make into jerky.
- Cut strips of meat for jerky with the grain of the meat.
- Cut meat for jerky about ¼-inch thick and not much more.
- When jerky is done it should be dry enough to still bend without breaking, but it should begin to crack on the surface.
- Store finished jerky in airtight containers. In the refrigerator it will last a couple months. In the freezer it will stay in good condition six months or longer.
- We all know how delicious jerky is to chew on in the company of beer and other beverages, but don’t forget it as an ingredient in other dishes once it’s reconstituted.