Ahh, beef jerky…the essence of long car trips and trekking through the backwoods. Well, for us anyway. The protein boost keeps you going much better than carby snacks! Two things I DON’T like about store beef jerky, though: too much salt, and preservatives. Our family is moving more and more towards getting that stuff out of our system. I don’t know what the long-term effects of that junk is and I don’t want to find out, so I’ll just stick to eating REAL food. Joining a CSA this year has definitely helped with that goal! So many fresh veggies at every meal has really made us feel better and refined our palettes. Now we can walk down a grocery aisle (which is WEIRD in itself because we don’t go there much anymore), see a box of some kind of pre-packaged, processed junk with loads of sugar and white flour…and it’s totally unappealing (even the baking aisle.)
So anywho, upon their recommendation for a cut of meat, I picked up a pound of London Broil from Rockin Z Ranch in Mountain Grove, MO. (I actually picked it up at the Ozark Farmer’s Market – much more convenient!) I talked to the lovely gals at the market about making homemade jerky & decided to take the plunge. It was a really good cut of meat because it was so lean. When you make jerky, lean is good because excess fat that melts off the meat when you dehydrate it can lead to early spoilage. Make sure you get a cut that is pretty flat, as it will be easier to slice and dry uniformly.
Now there are several ways you can dry meat. Oven, food dehydrator, Alton Brown’s box fan contraption….this post happens to include the oven method. (Mostly because my food dehydrator doesn’t rotate evenly, which scares me when it comes to drying meat.)
Step 1: Freeze (or thaw) meat until it is semi-frozen. Slice into quarter-inch strips. I did it cross-grain so it would be easier to tear off chunks in the end.
Step Two: Add marinade and cover meat evenly. Cover and marinade in the fridge for overnight or longer. Your marinade should have some acid in it to help break down the meat, like vinegar, lemon juice, lime juice, tomato juice, orange juice, etc. Try combining different tastes! Here’s what I did for a slightly sweet-salty-spicy-savory combo:
1 c. apple cider, preservative-free
1/2 c. raw apple cider vinegar
1 tsp each garlic, cayenne, pepper, and salt
The juice was really nice because it lent a natural sweetness and we didn’t need to add any cane sugar (another thing I’ve practically cut out of my diet this year – I feel so good without it! No more headaches, and more REAL energy!) Red juices like grape, cranberry, pomegranate, blueberry, etc. would be tasty for this too. Another natural sweetner that would be good is honey.
Step Three: Pat meat dry. The drier it is now, the easier it is to dehydrate. You’ll notice how it’s brown now from all that yummy marinade! You can reduce the used marinade down for another dish; just don’t use it raw for something else.
Step Four: Insert toothpicks into one end of each slice of meat and hang between oven racks. Place a foil-covered pan on the bottom rack to catch the drips of fat. There won’t be many, but some.
I tried not to insert the toothpicks into a fat sliver because it felt flimsier that way, like it might fall off the pick more easily.
Step Five: Set temperature as low as your oven will go (140 is ideal). Dry in oven until entire length of meat is tough. It should tear somewhat easily but not snap when you bite into it. My drying time in this oven was about 8 hours.
Step Six: Let cool, package in an airtight container or bag, and enjoy when you have your jerky craving – whenever you want to, because it is dry! (Since it doesn’t have a bunch of preservatives or salt, it will keep longer in the fridge or freezer. We took it on a weeklong+ camping trip (to a drier climate) and it did just fine.