Jerky 101 - What is Jerky?
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
I do it all the time. Still remember my mom saying it’s not a good idea. I’m sure if you are buying a nice steak and intend it eat it as a grilled T-bone you might notice some flesh cell break down (texture change). If you are going to use it in sausage you will not notice any difference. Made brats last night. Once frozen pork and elk. Refroze the brats. I do it time and time again.
Here is a link to a website that has a handy Excel spreadsheet. It is, as it says a free non-commercial site.
As for Waltons dropping the ball, I vote they are doing a great job.
I think for all of us there are general guidelines, but unless you have a temperature and humidity controlled environment, both for the preparation, cooking (if you cook them) smoking, hanging etc, the results are bound to vary from batch to batch.
Personally, I am searching how to get my home made smoked and dry cured pepperoni to the exact texture and firmness of Margarita pepperoni from the store.
Through trial and error I have the flavor where I want it, but not the texture or firmness. I know time, temperature and humidity are all crucial, but the best I can do is in the basement and then subject to the environment that is there.
I figure as long as I am not killing anyone or making anyone sick I am making progress. Thanks Waltons for all of the great information so far.
Having said that, it would be nice to have your chart in an Excel spreadsheet.
Thanks Jonathon! One question tho! You eluded to 178 being high for a temp! Don’t you guys recommend setting the temp at 175 during the final stage to completion to internal temp? Three degrees shouldn’t make that much difference should it??
Sounds reasonable. Thanks for your input. Pulling the meat at 152 will make a big difference I bet! Thanks again.
@Kinger Thanks for the information. Your process, other than going to 178, is on in my mind. The only thing I do differently is an ice bath for 20 minutes. Showering for 10 minutes, if you are running a cycle and a fan in your smoker can work, but I still think an ice bath would bring it down faster and more. Last time I did thick summer sausage it was down to 110 in 20 minutes, I also tried showering it at 2 minutes on 2 minutes off for 20 minutes and it was only down to 136 (ish) but i did not have a fan running on them.
One more thing you might want to try, if you are stalled towards the end you can finish them up by putting them in a vacuum bag (I have done then hot, right from the smoker, some condensation in the bag but it still gets a good vac) and get some water going at around 165, it should get up to temp in under an hour depending on the thickness.