Organic, hormone-free, meatless (!). It’s safe to say that jerky is going through a healthy renaissance of sorts these days. But even if that’s the case, we can all agree that nothing can beat the all-natural, preservative-free nature of the homemade version. And for those of you who think that recreating your favorite store-bought jerky strips at home is next to impossible, think again.
From choosing only the leanest cuts of meat to upping your game with the best dehydrator on the market, these seven genius tips can make the whole process all the more accessible and grant you front-row access to a healthy (and delicious) batch of jerky every time.
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Opt For Lean Cuts of Meat
By now you know that fat and dehydration don’t exactly see eye to eye. Since it contains zero water, the popular macronutrient is actually resistant to any type of dehydration, including drying. On top of that, bacteria tend to feed off of fat, which can only shorten the life of your jerky once it’s cooked.
That’s why you should always opt for lean cuts of meat such as skinless poultry (chicken or turkey), pork tenderloin or beef rounds (top or bottom). Friendly tip: If the cut you are about to use is loaded with fat, you can always remove it by chopping away all the respective parts. Just make sure you use a sharp chef’s knife to make the process much easier.
Marinate For As Long As Possible
Fun fact: Homemade meat jerky is only as good as the marinade you drench it in. However, choosing the right spice-to-oil ratio is not your only concern when it comes to flavoring your soon-to-be-jerky meat; timing also matters. That being said, make sure you marinate your cuts for as long as possible, even up to 24 hours.
Thaw and Marinate Meat in the Fridge
If you are one of those people who thaw meat by placing it on a plate and leaving it on the counter for hours and hours, we have some news for you. According to the USDA(1), you should NEVER defrost meat at room temperature because the food enters the “Danger Zone” (somewhere between 40-140oF), a temperature range which allows bacteria to multiply very quickly. So, to avoid such mishap, always thaw your food in the refrigerator where it will retain a stable and safe temperature – about 40oF or below. Note that the same principle applies for marinating.
Remove Excess Moisture
The more water your meat contains, the longer it takes for it to dry. That’s simple mathematics. If you want to skip this awkward part and save some serious time and energy, make sure you remove all excess water before you put it in the dehydrator. One way to do so is to pat the meat dry with paper towels while squeezing away all liquid. You can also cure the meat by rubbing with a little salt. Himalayan salt is considered a no-brainer in this case. This method will also prevent harmful bacteria from multiplying. So, you kill two birds with one stone.
If you’ve ever tried to cut warm, uncooked meat into thin slices, then you know that it can be one heck of a ride. So, to avoid making a mess and getting zero work done, make sure your cuts are still a tad frozen. The ice crystals within will help keep the meat firm which makes your slicing job less slippery and definitely easier.
Also, if you are a fan of easy-to-chew jerky strips, make sure you slice your cuts against (NOT along) the grain. What does this mean? Using a sharp chef’s knife, slice the meat against the direction at which the muscle fibers are aligned. This practice will shorten the fibers and tenderize your meat. Genious, huh?
Heat the Jerky Before Drying
High temps don’t always eliminate the harmful bacteria that reside on top of your meat. To make sure your jerky is safe to consume 100% of the time, take a moment to heat it before you place it in the dehydrator. Specifically, preheat the oven to 300oF, add the meat strips, lower the temperature at 160oF and cook for about 8-10 minutes. If this step sounds like too much of a hassle for you, you can always equip your kitchen with a dehydrator that’s specially designed to preheat the meat before drying it. Trust us; it’s a worthwhile investment.
Pick a High-Quality Dehydrator
While drying your strips in the oven can also do the trick, nothing guarantees a perfect result quite like a top-notch jerky dehydrator. This high-tech kitchen appliance basically takes the guesswork out of the process by providing you with a variety of options, from adjusting the temperature to keeping your food out of light sight (more nutrients, yeah!).
In plain English, you’ll always enjoy perfectly dehydrated jerky with just the push of a button. Now that’s a cooking method we like! PS: if you don’t know where to start, check out this in-depth list of jerky dehydrators that will help you pick the best one out there.
We hate to be the ones to break the news to you, but seasoned dehydrated meat is not the only thing you sign up for when shopping for store-bought jerky. Numerous chemicals, preservatives, and sodium lurk inside that meaty bunch and, unfortunately, they are ready to “poison” your body with their harmful effects (at least, that’s what experts(2) suggest). If you are ready to give a healthy twist to your jerky eating habits, these seven easy-to-follow tips will make the process much easier.
More: Can Jerky be Healthy?