foods and cuisines

Jerky | The portable, protein-packed snack that will power you through your day


Dehydrated meat shriveled almost beyond recognition – an unlikely source of so much gustatory pleasure, but jerky is a high-protein favorite of backpackers, road trippers, and snackers everywhere. It’s American food the way we like our wilderness grub – tough and spicy. We like the creation myth that says it’s the direct descendant of American Indian pemmican, which mixed fire-cured meat with animal fat. Beef, turkey, chicken, venison, buffalo, even ostrich, alligator, yak, and emu. Peppered, barbecued, hickory-smoked, honey glazed. Flavored with teriyaki, jalapeno, lemon pepper, chili.

Jerky is so versatile and portable and packs such nutritional power that the Army is experimenting with jerky sticks that have the caffeine equivalent of a cup of coffee.

However you take your jerky – caf or decaf; in strips, chips, or shreds – prepare to chew long and hard.

Jerky is lean trimmed meat cut into strips and dried (dehydrated) to prevent spoilage. Normally, this drying includes the addition of salt to prevent some forms of bacteria growth, and encourages others; before the meat has finished the dehydrating process. It originated in the Andes mountains in what is modern day Peru and the word “jerky” derives from the Quechua word ch’arki which means “dried, salted meat”. All that is needed to produce basic “jerky” is a low-temperature drying method, and salt to inhibit bacterial growth.

Modern manufactured jerky is often marinated, prepared with a seasoned spice rub or liquid, or smoked with low heat (usually under 70 °C/160 °F). Store-bought jerky commonly includes sweeteners such as brown sugar.

Jerky is ready-to-eat, needs no additional preparation and can be stored for months without refrigeration. To ensure maximum shelf-life, a proper protein-to-moisture content is required in the final cured product.

Many products which are sold as jerky consist of highly processed, chopped and formed meat rather than traditional sliced whole-muscle meat.[citation needed] These products may contain more fat, but moisture content, as in the whole-muscle product, must meet a 0.75 to 1 moisture-to protein ratio in the US. Chemical preservatives can prevent oxidative spoilage, but the moisture-to-protein ratio prevents microbial spoilage by low water activity. Some jerky products are very high in sugar and therefore taste very sweet – unlike biltong, which rarely contains added sugars.

What You’ll Need To Make Homemade Beef Jerky

When making beef jerky, it’s important to start with a well-trimmed, lean cut of meat, as fat does not dry out and accelerates spoilage. An eye of round roast is ideal; it’s affordable, accessible, lean, and easy to trim. Before slicing, pop it in the freezer for 1 to 2 hours; it will be much easier to cut.

The marinade contains soy sauce, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, seasoning, and unseasoned meat tenderizer. Meat tenderizer contains bromelain, an enzyme that breaks down meat tissue. You can find it in the spice section of your supermarket.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Slice the Meat

Slice the meat between 1/8 and 1/4 inch thick with the grain. If the roast is too thick to slice easily, cut it in half horizontally before slicing.

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  • Make the Marinade

In a medium bowl, combine the brown sugar, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, smoked paprika, meat tenderizer, black pepper, red pepper flakes, onion powder, and garlic powder. Whisk until evenly combined and the sugar is dissolved.

  • Marinate the Beef

Add the meat to the marinade and toss until all of the pieces are evenly coated. Cover with plastic wrap (or transfer to a large ziplock bag) and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours or overnight. Toss the meat (or flip the bag) once or twice to be sure the meat marinates evenly.

  • Dry Out The Meat

Line two baking sheets with aluminum foil for easy clean-up. Place a wire rack over each pan. Preheat the oven to 175°F and set two oven racks in the centermost positions.
Arrange the marinated meat on the wire racks in a single layer. Bake, rotating the pans from front to back and top to bottom midway through, until the meat is dried out, 3 to 4 hours. To determine if the jerky is thoroughly dried out, take a piece out of the oven and let it cool to room temperature. It should be dry to the touch, leather-like in appearance, and chewy but still somewhat tender.


After the jerky is dried to the proper moisture content to prevent spoilage, it is cooled, then packaged in (often resealable) plastic bags, either nitrogen gas flushed or vacuumed packed. To prevent the oxidation of the fat, the sealed packages often contain small pouches of oxygen absorber. These small packets are filled with iron particles which react with oxygen, removing the oxygen from the sealed jerky package, and from an opened and resealed unfinished packet.

Because of the necessary low fat and moisture content, jerky is high in protein. A 30 g (about 1 oz) portion of lean meat, for example, contains about 7 g of protein. By removing 15 g of water from the meat, the protein ratio is doubled to nearly 15 g of protein per 30 g portion. In some low moisture varieties, a 30 g serving will contain 21 g of protein, and only one g of fat. The price per unit weight of this type of jerky is higher than less-dried forms, as it takes 90 g of 99% lean meat to generate 30 g of jerky.

Unpackaged fresh jerky made from sliced, whole muscle meat has been available in specialty stores in Hong Kong at least since the 1970s. The products are purchased by kilograms, and customers choose from 10 to 20 types of meat used to make the product. Some are sold in strands instead of slices. Macau has opened numerous specialty shops also, many of which are franchise extensions of stores from Hong Kong. Compared to the sealed packaged versions, unpackaged jerky has a relatively short shelf life.

This type of jerky has also become very popular in convenience stores in the United States under the name “slab” jerky; it is usually sold in plexiglass containers.


A typical 30 g portion of fresh jerky contains 10–15 g of protein, 1 g of fat, and 0–3 g of carbohydrates, although some beef jerky can have a protein content above 65%. Since traditional jerky recipes use a basic salt cure, sodium can be a concern for some people. A 30 g serving of jerky could contain more than 600 mg of sodium, which would be about 30% of the recommended

Is it healthy to eat jerky?

Beef jerky is an easy, on-the-go snack that packs high protein, zinc, and iron concentrations. Those nutrients are essential for overall health. Consuming beef jerky in moderation is key since processed and red meats can increase the risk of health complications.

Is jerky a junk food?

In short, though beef jerky is a healthy snack, its best consumed in moderation. Most of your diet should come from whole, unprocessed foods. Though beef jerky is healthy, avoid eating too much of it, as it’s high in sodium and may come with the same health risks that are linked to eating processed meats.

What animals make jerky?

Jerky from domesticated animals includes beef, pork, goat and mutton or lamb and game animals such as deer, kudu, springbok, kangaroo, and bison are also used. Recently, other animals such as turkey, salmon, and earthworm have entered the market.

How many types of jerky are there?

Dozens of flavors of beef jerky are popular including: original, spicy, teriyaki, peppered, sweet & spicy, garlic, black pepper, habañero and more. The classic original flavor is made by marinating beef in soy sauce, brown sugar, salt, garlic onions and spices. Spicy beef jerky is marinaded using extra spice.

What part of the cow is jerky?

The best cuts of meat for beef jerky are Top Round, Bottom Round, Lifter and Pectoral, but a variety of cuts can be used such as Flank Steak and Skirt Steak. These cuts of beef check all the boxes for beef jerky—economical, lean, and full of flavor. Selecting a lean cut of meat that has very little fat is key.

Does jerky give you energy?

It is loaded with protein and will provide you with the energy to get through the day. Experts say that 3.5 oz of jerky contains around 1.17 oz of protein. Remember, most people need 2.6 – 3.95 oz of protein to function daily.

How long does it take to dry jerky?

Dehydrating beef jerky in a dehydrator. Dehydrate the meat for anywhere between 3 and 6 hours. The drying time ranges due to several factors: ambient temperature and humidity, thickness of the meat, marbling of the meat, and the cut of meat to name a few.

Does beef jerky raise cholesterol?

The USDA tells us that our 100 gram serving of beef jerky contains about 10 grams of saturated fat, while a similar portion of egg contains only about 3 grams. Saturated fat can raise your levels of bad cholesterol, so it’s one of those nutrition elements you need to watch.

What happens if you eat too much jerky?

Consuming beef jerky in moderation is key since processed and red meats can increase the risk of health complications. Beef jerky often has high sodium content to preserve the meat. Excess sodium may lead to bloating and weight gain. American Heart Association.

How healthy is jerky?

Yes, beef jerky is healthy and has many health benefits including weight loss. When consumed in moderation as part of a balanced diet, beef jerky is an excellent snack food that is low calorie, high in protein, and a good source of vitamins and minerals including zinc, iron, choline, and Vitamin B12

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