Foodie Friday: Viva la beef jerky

Beef jerky is an eerie food. Tons of unrefrigerated animal muscle resides on gas station retail shelves across America for months at a time without growing a speck of bacteria. The idea doesn’t sound all that appealing — start with thin strips of cow muscle, fashion it into dried, leathery, chewy strips, and slather it all with preservatives and additives so it is no longer recognized as natural animal product.

So why then do I love it so?

Any time I am headed out for a road trip, I crave the stuff. I usually shell out the five bucks at any of the aforementioned gas stops for a thin, plastic package of Oberto or Jack Links jerky, both of which are ridiculously overpriced and grossly over-processed.

As my latest road trip approached, I thought I would try my hand at crafting a homemade version instead. With the help of a quick Google search, I combined a few recipes to synthesize my own method.

The jerky was not the world’s best, but I have some good ideas for perfecting the recipe. And for the five bucks I spent on ingredients, I was able to yield about three times as much as I could have bought prepackaged. So if you are headed out on the road, plan a day ahead and craft your own version of delicious, satisfying, preservative-free beef jerky.

Method: Homemade Beef Jerky:

  1. Buy some inexpensive skirt steak (or other thinly-sliced beef) from a meat market. Latino Carnecerias often has a good selection.
  2. Marinate the meat overnight in the fridge. Use your favorite spices and sauces — I used a combination of brown sugar, teriyaki sauce, Sriracha chili-lime sauce, worcestershire sauce, and crushed black peppercorns.
  3. Pat the meat dry and coat with a good amount of salt — maybe a half-teaspoon per steak. Place steaks onto cookie sheets.
  4. Place steaks in the oven. The goal is to dry the meat but not cook it. A gentle heat setting of 160° F will keep the bacteria away while doing a pretty good job of dehydrating the beef.
  5. Check the oven every hour, rotating and flipping the beef around in the pan so it all dries evenly. Taste test your creation once it begins to dry out. You want to remove it from the oven when it is 90% dry. 100% dry meat will keep longer, but will also taste like cardboard, so find a balance based on your travel needs.

Do you have any tips, enhancements, or alternate recipes? We would love to hear about your masterpieces.

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