Jerky 101 - What Is Jerky?
Attend this entry level class from Meatgistics University by watching the video, reading the article and post any questions you have!What is Jerky?
Jerky is a meat product that has been processed, seasoned, cured and then cooked or dried. Drying and curing meat is one of the oldest ways to preserve meat and has been around for 1,000s of years. It is typically made from low-fat content pieces of meat or has had the fat trimmed off. Jerky should still be cooked up to 160°F internal temperature to kill off harmful bacteria.Types of Jerky
Whole Muscle - Whole muscle is jerky that has been sliced into strips between 1/8" and 1/4" inch then coated on all sides with a mixture of the seasoning and the cure. Once that is done it will be placed in a plastic bag with just enough water to cover all the strips and held in a refrigerator for 12 hours and then cooked and or dehydrated. The advantages of this type of jerky are that it is easy to do and you need minimal equipment.
Restructured Jerky - This is a form of jerky that has been ground up, seasoned and cured and then extruded into strips or sticks. The jerky is then cooked and or dehydrated to form the classic jerky structure. The advantage of this type of jerky is that you can control what form the jerky takes and that you can use more of the animal as you don’t need to start with a whole muscle cut of meat.Water activity
A key part of making jerky is lowering the water activity. A simple explanation of water activity is that it represents the amount of water in a product that is free to be used for microbial growth. A product can have some moisture to it but most of that water is bound up with the meat, or sugar and mold or other microbes cannot access it to begin spoiling the meat.Cure
You might hear some people say that Jerky does not need to be cured as it is going to be dried out. However, the meat will not start out at that level of dryness and since we are cooking this at low temperatures we are creating an environment that is ideal for the growth of botulism, so cure should be used for safety reasons. Think of it as a seat belt, your car will start without it but it’s not a great idea to ride around town without it on!Smoking/Dehydrating
We do not recommend that you use only a dehydrator unless that dehydrator can run at 160 or above. The reason for this is if you dehydrate the meat before killing off the bacteria you have made that bacteria much harder to kill. In essence, you need some moisture to kill the bad bacteria.Storage
If you have a way to measure water activity and it is below .85 then you do not really need to vacuum package it and it can be left out, now, there are other factors here but it is a good general rule. However, since most people do not have a way to monitor this you should still either put it in an airtight container and store it in the fridge or vacuum package it.Shop waltonsinc.com for Jerky Seasonings Shop waltonsinc.com for Vertical Smokers Shop waltonsinc.com for Weston Dehydrator 160L Pro Series
Jerky 102 - Equipment Needed To Make Jerky
Attend this entry-level class from Meatgistics University by watching the video, reading the article and post any questions you have!What is the Most Important Piece of Equipment?
Whether you are making whole muscle meat or restructured you need a way to thermal process it. If you want to go the dehydrator route then you really do need one that will run at least 160° for food safety. The Weston 80L or 160L Pro Series Dehydrator are both great dehydrators that will allow you to fully cook and dehydrate it at the same time. However, this will not add any smoke flavor to you Jerky, which we like. When we make Jerky here we are lucky enough to use our Pro Smoker 500T HVE Smokehouse but this is simply not going to be an option for most people. With some experimentation, you can get similar results with a Pro-Smoker PK-100 and controlling the dampers.Do You Need A Slicer?
When making Whole Muscle Jerky one of the most important things you can do is to cut it all to a uniform thickness as this will help cook and dry at an even rate. The slicer we use is the Weston 10" Slicer but you absolutely can get by without one, IF you have steady hands. Both the Precise Slice Adjustable Knife and the Weston Jerky Slicing Board and Knife Set can give you uniform slices of meat.Do You Need A Stuffer?
If you are going to make restructured jerky then you need some way to extrude it into strips or sticks. I would recommend a Sausage Stuffer and an All-Around Jerky Maker as this will give you the ability to make many types of sausage as well! You can get similar results Dakotah Sausage Stuffer or a Jerky Gun though.Best Dehydrator For Beginners
The Weston 6 Tray Digital Dehydrator is an inexpensive ($80) dehydrator that will get up to 160° and can run for over 24 hours at a time. This should give you all the functionality you need to make quality jerky.$500 Budget for Equipment
In my opinion, I would spend the majority of my budget on a slicer the Weston 10" Slicer has a hefty price tag of $400 but it will cut evenly and can also be used for so much more than just jerky. Then I would spend the remaining amount on the 6 Tray Digital Dehydrator. Now, another, and equally valid way to go would be to spend the bulk of your money on a Weston 80L Pro Series Dehydrator ($350) and then buying a Weston 9" Slicer, don’t let the 1 " difference between these slicers confuse you though, the 10" is extremely well built and could be used in a semi-commercial environment whereas the 9" is only for home use.Other Equipment Or Supplies A Smokehouse will give you a lot more versatility and can obviously be used for so much more than jerky. Shop waltonsinc.com for Vertical Smokers Shop waltonsinc.com for American BBQ Systems Smokers
Jerky 103 - Best Cuts For Jerky
Attend this entry level class from Meatgistics University by watching the video, reading the article and post any questions you have!What Are Desirable Qualities?
With Whole Muscle Jerky, you are looking for a cut with low levels of intramuscular fat. This mean cuts that do not have a lot of fat inside the muscle of the meat, when you look for a good steak you want to see some nice marbling in the meat, for Jerky you want the exact opposite. If the cut has a large fat cap on it, like an Eye of the Round then that is easily cut off.
If you are making Restructured Jerky this is a little less of a concern, just again, make sure you are removing any fat cap from the meat before grinding it.Best Cuts For Whole Muscle
Eye of the Round - Eye of the round is a smaller muscle in the hindquarter that is usually very tough. It can have a larger grain to it but it works well to cut into strips for making jerky, as long as you cut across the grain. If this has a fat cap on it, it must be trimmed before using to make jerky. Since this is a round cut after slicing into thin pieces it is a good idea to cut it again after slicing it to form a more classic jerky shape.
Flank Steak - Flank Steak comes from the abdominal region of the cow, it is low in fat about 3 oz has about 6 grams of fat. The muscle is a heavily used one during the cow’s life so it is a tougher cut so it will usually be a little less expensive at your butcher. It will rarely have a fat cap on it so you should not have much that needs to be trimmed off. After slicing this you can cut it width wise again to form a more classic jerky shape.
Silver Tip - Silver Tip is taken from the shoulder and has a very fine grain. Because it is a heavily used muscle it can be fairly tough, which is a good thing for making jerky as it makes it very lean and less expensive. All around this is an excellent cut for making whole muscle jerky.
Hangar Steaks - Hangar Steaks were very inexpensive until somewhat recently, Americans became aware of this tasty cut and started looking for it in more than just restaurants. The problem with that is unlike other cuts like filets and rounds there is only 1 hangar steak per animal and it is fairly small. So it can be difficult to keep enough in inventory, especially since it is a very tender steak, for this reason, the price has increased year over year and what was once a great choice for jerky is starting to price itself out of the game, which is a shame as this is an excellent cut for jerky.Restructured Jerky
If you are wanting to make a reformed Jerky you will need to have some form of ground beef. The problem is that ground beef from the store is going to usually be 80/20 lean to fat ratio and that is higher than we would like. Your best bet is to grind a leaner cut yourself at home through a 1/8" plate. If you don’t have a way to do this look for 93/7 ground beef and make sure it is freshly ground.Shop waltonsinc.com for Jerky Seasonings Shop waltonsinc.com for Vertical Smokers Shop waltonsinc.com for Weston Dehydrator 160L Pro Series