How to Properly Prepare the Meat:
Choose lean cuts of meat, particularly beef or venison. Cut off all fat and connective tissue as these become rancid easily and will spoil the jerky.
If using ANY type of Game meat, please note that it is recommended by the FDA that you freeze these meats for a minimum of 30 days before using them in any jerky recipes. This is to ensure that any parasites (such as trichinosis) will be killed. Please note, this is entirely dependent on the type of Game you are preparing- some game meats need to be frozen for up to 24 MONTHS!
If the meat is partially frozen, it is considerably easier to slice evenly and cleanly. Slice With the grain into long even strips 1/4" thick & 1 to 1 1/2" wide. This ensures that the jerky will dry evenly and be chewy rather than brittle.
The meat may be dried with or without seasonings, depending on your personal preference. If using salt, please keep in mind that this is for flavoring only and should not be considered a preservative. At this point, if you want various flavors of jerky, we recommend marinating them for 18-24 hours. (marinade recipes listed below). Marinade recipes that contain oil should be avoided as the oils will become rancid once the meat has dried.
Jerky Marinade Recipes:
Please feel free to share your favorite Jerky Marinade recipe in the comments below!
Drying Methods: There are several different cost effective methods that are effective for making delicious jerky.
Carefully arrange the seasoned meat strips onto a cooling rack, leaving a bit of space between each piece of meat to allow for air flow. Set the oven to 150-165F, be sure that the oven maintains this temperature (use an oven thermometer) as the meat can spoil if the temperature drops too much. If using this method, we highly recommend using a drip tray to catch the drippings as it can/will make a mess of your oven otherwise. This method takes approximately 10-12 hours to dry the meat.
Currently there are a wide selection of food dehydrators available on the market that are relatively inexpensive. We highly recommend a model that offers a temperature gauge. (Some do, some don't). It is considerably easier to maintain the proper temperature and requires less attention while dehydrating.
Follow the manufacturers directions for the drying time in your particular model. For ours, it took exactly 4 hours to make 4 lbs of jerky in various flavors.
Do not attempt to dry other foods while drying meats as they will take on the flavor of the meat.
To use a smokehouse, simply drape seasoned meat strips on racks or hang them from the ceiling of the smokehouse. When starting the meat, the temperature should be 80F and should be gradually increased to 120F. It is highly recommended to use Hickory or Oak (hardwoods!) for smoking rather than soft wood woods such as fir, pines or conifers. Soft woods have a tendency to produce an undesirable flavor due to the resins in the wood. (Use a drip tray to catch any drippings as these will cause a different smokier flavor as well).
I've listed this method last as it is the least safe method of drying. It requires very HOT, very dry weather. Place the strips on a grill grate (of a bbq). If you do not have a bbq grate available, they could also be strung with fishing line and hung outside in a sunny spot for several days. The meat must be brought in nightly to avoid absorbing moisture. This method is considered unsanitary as the meat is exposed to dirt and bacteria within the air and it is difficult to maintain proper temperatures to prevent bacterial growth or spoilage. Keep in mind, this method also attracts "guests" such as critters and varmints.
Storing your Jerky:
Once the meat is dried to your preference, carefully blot off any beads of fat that may have formed. Allow the jerky to cool completely and store in ziploc bags or jars with tight lids. It is often recommended to store in the refrigerator, however, if the meat was properly dried, this is unnecessary.