|Making homemade jerky can be a great way to use up that frozen venison sitting in the freezer.|
Got Venison? Got a little free time? How about experimenting with do-it-yourself venison jerky? If you're like me, the start of a new year usually means a freezer full of venison and some free time, a perfect combination for creating jerky for my friends and family. It's easy and only takes a few hours.
First, decide on your type of jerky. There are two kinds:
- Ground meat jerky
- Muscle jerky, made usually from round steak
Whichever you choose, be sure to thaw the meat in the refrigerator. It's advised to use meat that's been previously frozen since the freezing process helps eliminate bacteria growth in the meat.
Most recipes require from 2-5 pounds of meat, so be sure to thaw the correct amount needed for your recipe. When using steak, it's easier to slice the meat thinly if it's slightly frozen. Slice thin, bite-size pieces and cut with the grain.
When using steak, most recipes require it to marinate overnight, up to24 hours before drying. Ground meat may require a few hours and up to a day or two of curing, depending on the recipe, but when using a prepared mix like Backwoods by LEM, it can be mixed and dried immediately after mixing. There are several different ways to dry meat: with a smoker, a dehydrator or an oven; my guide covers oven drying.
Essential Ingredients for Jerky
Cure — Years ago I made jerky at home with various recipes I found in wild game cookbooks. It tasted great; however, the recipes usually didn't include cure, and my jerky wouldn't last long due to mold growth. What is "cure?" Historically, cures were used to preserve meat safely by using nitrates and nitrates to cure meat and enhance its color. The use of a cure reduced the risk of botulism, but the amounts of nitrates and nitrites must be used correctly to be effective, making use of prepared cures a safe and easy choice for jerky making.
|Jerky guns make creating jerky strips quick and easy.|
Be sure cure is included in the seasoning you purchase or that it's an ingredient in your homemade recipe. Cure is used in small amounts and inhibits bacterial growth during the lower temperatures used in the drying process. Oven drying using temperatures of at least 160 degrees is recommended for killing bacteria, although moisture could still lead to mold growth if not completely dried or if not stored correctly. You'll find many different brands of seasonings with cure available for making jerky, making the entire process foolproof and simple. If you choose to use your homemade recipe, LEM also makes a cure for purchase and recommends 1/4 teaspoon per pound of meat used.
Salt — Salt is used as a preservative and canning salt is ideal to use since it contains no additives. Table salt can sometimes add a metallic taste or funny flavor to jerky. You can find canning salt near canning supplies at your grocery store. Cures do contain salt, so you may choose to minimize the use of additional salt in your recipe.
Spices — Most of the ingredients found in homemade recipes you already have in kitchen. Common ingredients include: garlic powder, onion powder, pepper, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, liquid smoke, brown sugar, molasses, cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes. Have fun and play with the seasoning variations and amount of heat in your jerky to create your own special flavor. Some like it sweet, others like it hot and spicy.
Liquid Smoke — Liquid smoke is another fun way to vary the flavor of your jerky. You'll find several brands on the market, as well as a variety of flavorings like original, mesquite, hickory or barbecue, to name a few. Liquid smoke is actually a concentrated flavoring produced from smoke which is condensed and combined with water. Follow the directions on the brand you choose to determine amount to use. LEM Liquid Smoke recommends 1/2 teaspoon per 5 pounds of meat, while other brands may suggest a different amount per pound.
A working oven and a few basic pieces of equipment are needed to make jerky.
- Jerky seasoning packet, with cure included (I used LEM Backwoods Original. Or use your own recipe from scratch, with cure added. Meat cure is available at most grocery stores, butcher shops or where jerky-making products are sold.)
- Large bowl for mixing
- Measuring spoons
- Drying trays or racks (mesh), approximately one tray per pound of meat (Spray with non-stick cooking spray to prevent sticking.)
- Drip pan, placed under the drying racks in the oven
- Jerky gun, when using ground meat
Jerky guns are quick and easy to use. Similar to using a caulking gun, just squeeze and quickly press strips of jerky onto drying racks. If you don't have a jerky gun, you can also simply form jerky strips with your hands and flatten to 1/4-inch with a rolling pin between sheets of waxed paper.
Now that you have your venison ready and your equipment assembled, you are ready to begin. Be prepared to stay home, as you'll be leaving your oven on for the next four to six hours. Snowstorm coming? Cold and rainy weather keeping you indoors? What a great time to make some venison jerky!
If you're making jerky, be sure you plan to stick around the house, as it can take 4 to 6 hours to cook in your oven.
- Let mix rest for several minute
- Pack the ground and seasoned meat into the jerky gun, taking care to eliminate air pockets; wash hands
- Begin carefully pressing the ground meat onto the racks in strips about 1/8-inch apart
- Stack racks on top of drip pan
- Set oven to 160-200 degrees, as your recipe indicates
- Place in center of oven for approximately two to three hours
- After 2 1/2 hours, turn strips over, rotate racks and return to oven for another two to three hours
- After removing dried venison from the oven, blot off any excess moisture from the meat and let dry completely before storing
It is recommended to always store jerky in the refrigerator so it lasts longer. Store jerky in a paper bag or tightly sealed glass jar. Storing in plastic bags is not recommended as it can lead to condensation and mold growth. After two weeks to one month, it's advised to freeze uneaten jerky to maintain its freshness.
USDA Jerky and Food Safety Guidelines
- Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water while handling meat
- Use clean equipment and utensils
- Defrost meat in the refrigerator
- Marinate meat in the refrigerator
- Minimum temperature used for drying is 160 degrees to kill bacteria
- Store homemade jerky in refrigerator for one to two months
With minimal prep time and little equipment required, making homemade venison jerky is easy, rewarding and a great way to share your wild game with friends and family. It's a great snack to throw in your pocket on your next hunt or outdoor adventure and a great way to spend a few hours during those months when hunting is limited and time is available.
Homemade Jerky Recipes
Smoky Venison Jerky
- 2 pounds sliced venison
- 1/4 cups soy sauce
- 1-2 TBS Worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 tsp Morton Tender Quick Cure or LEM Cure
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp onion powder
- 1/4 tsp seasoned salt
- 2 TBS brown sugar
- 2 TBS liquid smoke
Mix all together and stir until sugar is completely dissolved. Combine the marinade with the sliced venison and refrigerate overnight. Let venison drain well before drying. Arrange on wire racks, 1/8 to 1/4 inch apart to allow good air flow.
Dry in oven at 200 degrees for 5-6 hours, turning strips over halfway through cooking time. Cool several hours before storing.
Ground Meat Jerky Recipe
- 3 pounds ground venison, thawed in refrigerator
- 3 TBS canning salt
- 1 tsp Quick Cure or 3/4 tsp LEM Cure (LEM suggests 1/4 tsp per pound)
- 1 tsp onion powder
- 2 tsp garlic powder
- 1 1/2 tsp cracked pepper
- 1 tsp liquid smoke
- 3 TBS water
Mix spices, water and cure in a bowl. Add ground meat and mix with spice mixture thoroughly for about five minutes. Pack meat into jerky gun, eliminating air pockets. Shoot the ground meat onto wire racks in strips 1/8 to 1/4 inch apart.
Heat oven to 200 degrees. Place racks on top of drip pan and place pans in oven. After 3 hours, flip strips over and return to oven for another 2-3 hours of drying. Cool completely before storing.