What Is Beef Jerky?
As most of us already know, and as the name suggests, ‘jerky’ is strips of meat that are trimmed of fat, salted, then dried and preserved to snack on later. The salt used in this process prevents bacteria from inhabiting the meat, hence reducing the chances of food poisoning. The first step is always trimming off the fat before drying the meat, since it does not dry up and could lead to rancidity. This meat must be dried fast to prevent the bacteria from multiplying under these moist conditions.
For the process to be successful, the meats are stripped into skinny slices to increase the surface area for faster drying. The meat is then dried under low temperatures in an oven or dehydrator. However, overdrying would be a mistake, as the meat can get very tough. But before this, you need to place the beef strips in plastic bags with marinade to soak them for a few hours. And this brings us to the topic of what marinades we can use.
The main reason for marination is to provide a more intense flavor, and to do so, you would have to use herbs and spices and other ingredients that add flavor to the beef. You need an acid to tenderise the meat, like lemon or lime juice (and in some cases, vinegar). You need a decent amount of salt, as well as oils that will be used to hold the pieces of lean meat together, and that will provide moisture to the meat. There are many different marinades you can buy at the store, but there are also some you can do at home to avoid any nasty chemicals, if that’s a concern for you. You can try whatever you think would work.
After removing the strips from the marinade, you can place them on aluminium foil on the oven racks and let them cook for about 3 hours at 170 degrees, subsequently turning the strips and allowing them to cook for another 3 hours. The approximate time for cooking depends on the size of the pieces. The bigger the dimensions, the more massive the amount of time used to cook and vice versa is true. Signs of meat being fully cooked is the meat ripping off quickly. On the other hand, overcooked meat will have signs of flaking and being too hard to chew. Some people use dehydrators because they are faster and cost less to operate, and they work quite well! The jerky is ready for storage once they are left out to cool for a while. There are different methods of storing the jerky, as discussed in the next paragraph.
Jerky should be stored in the refrigerator in airtight containers. This kind of storage is to ensure that no air gets into the container, so as to prevent the beef from being oxidized. But for those who lack refrigerators, you could leave them in airtight plastic bags on dark shelves, like in the pantry, away from heat of any kind, for a period of not more than one month. When put in airtight containers in the fridge, the jerky can last for about a few months.
Processed beef jerky lasts between 1-2 years, but that’s because of possibly dangerous preservatives, so making them at home is the healthiest way to go. They may not last as long, but at least you know they can be flavored the way you want and will be more tender as well. Jerky is great to snack on from a meat lover’s perspective, but also a great low carb choice for someone on a diet!