Looking for Ways to Make Easy, Delicious Beef and Venison Jerky?
The number of American camping trips fueled by venison or beef jerky is lost to history. Going all the way back to the earliest pioneers who explored and settled America, they all camped out, and they all counted on jerky for easily portable nourishment and calories. This type of processed meat has been around for a long, long time all around the world. Before refrigeration, people needed a way to preserve meat.
Drying it and salting it was the method. The fact that removing the moisture also significantly reduced the weight was a wonderful side benefit for anyone on the move – like Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery… and today’s camping family.
At its most basic, jerky requires only lean meat cut into strips thin enough to dry efficiently and salt (either ordinary salt crystals rubbed on the outside or from an ingredient like soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce in which the meat is marinated). That’s it. However, most recipes incorporate more spices and flavorings like black pepper, liquid smoke, etc.
And from there, the sky is the limit! Ingredients for rubs and marinades used in making jerky can range to the truly exotic and phenomenally expensive.
Tip: A simple method for selecting and making jerky seasonings and marinades is to order up a premade seasoning kit like the Cabela's Variety Pack Jerky Makinging Kit
Great Tips for Making Your Own Jerky
As you’re planning for your summer camping adventures, a great way to involve your whole family in the preparation is to make up big batches of jerky for those trips. It’s a fun and educational process for a season when the weather isn’t so conducive to family camping, and it’s one you’ll enjoy twice – during the making and again when you eat it weeks or months down the road.
Here are few basic tips for making safe, delicious jerky:
1. Get your meat from a source you can trust. If you're using beef, find a local butcher shop or grocery that you know will provide fresh, quality meat that’s handled with the strictest standards. If you cut up your wild game yourself, handle it carefully and trim all fat from the meat. In either case, use only fresh meat to make jerky – never meat that’s been frozen and thawed.
- Why not use frozen meat?
- Texture of jerky made from frozen then thawed meat is never quite as good as that made from fresh, never-frozen meat. (It's just like the difference in flavor and texture of fresh fish versus frozen and thawed fish.) Frozen just never produces as good of jerky as fresh meat.
- We can't control the thawing process any given reader will use. Prolonged thawing at too high a temperature can grow bacteria. Because jerky making is more about dehydration than cooking, the meat may not be brought to a high enough temperature to destroy bacteria as normal cooking would.
- If venison, in particular, is frozen with a quantity of fat still attached it will take on a flavor that cannot be erased with any type of cooking or dehydration. It's particularly noticeable in jerky. It's far less noticeable on fresh meat.
2. Make sure your equipment is clean and sanitary. You can find most of the gear and spice preparations you’ll need by going to cabelas.com or basspro.com, then typing “jerky making” into the search bar.
3. Know the guidelines for temperature to which meat must be heated to be consumed safely.
4. For homemade jerky, it’s safest to stick with red meat like beef, bison, and venison.
5. Trim as much fat as possible from any meat you’ll use to make jerky.
6. Cut strips of meat for jerky with the grain of the meat. Cut it about ¼-inch thick and not much more.
7. You’ll come to know when the jerky is done it should be dry enough to still bend without breaking, but it should begin to crack on the surface.
8. You’ll come to know when the jerky is done it should be dry enough to still bend without breaking, but it should begin to crack on the surface.
9. Store finished jerky in airtight containers. In the refrigerator it will last a couple months. In the freezer it will stay in good condition six months or longer.
Jerky Recipes for the ULTIMATE Camping Food
There are literally tens of thousands of jerky recipes to be found out there. They range from super-simple to mind-blowingly complex and ingredient intensive. In choosing how to flavor your jerky think about the seasonings and spices your family likes and look for jerky recipes that include them. There are spicy jerky recipes, peppery jerky recipes, sweet jerky recipes… any kind you can think of!
Here are a few favorites:
How to Make Sweet Jerky
This recipe was adapted from the e-book, “The Complete Book of Making Jerky at Home” by J. Wayne Fears. It’s one of more than two dozen jerky recipe variations he offers in this title.
Ingredients You Will Need
- 2 lbs. beef flank steak, partially frozen, cut into strips or chunks
- 1 cup soy sauce
- 2 tsp. honey
- 1 large clove of garlic, minced
- 1 tsp. ground ginger
- 1 tsp. finely diced onion
Instructions to Make Sweet Jerky
- Place cut up meat in a large, heavy-duty zip top storage bag.
- Heat soy sauce in a small saucepan over medium high heat until warm.
- Stir in honey, garlic, onion, and ginger.
- Allow to cool, then pour over meat.
- Seal bag and turn several times to thoroughly coat the meat.
- Refrigerate for at least eight hours.
- Drain meat and pat dry with paper towel.
- Discard marinade mixture.
- Arrange meat on smoker or dehydrator racks.
- Dry at 150-175 degrees until desired consistency is reached.
- Allow jerky to cool completely; store in an airtight container in the freezer.
How to Make Pressed Jerky
This recipe is made using a jerky press like the Cabela’s Jerky Blaster. However, all of the usual rules for making jerky still apply. Be sure to acquire fresh ground beef – never frozen. And make sure it’s low fat – not the same stuff you’d use to make a delicious hamburger. Follow all the rules for sanitary preparation and be sure to heat to proper temperature for safe consumption.
Ingredients to Make Pressed Jerky
- 2 tsp. canning salt
- 1 tsp. chili powder
- 1 tsp. garlic powder
- 1 tsp onion powder
- 1/4 tsp. ground ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 pinch cayenne pepper, or to taste (optional)
- 1 lb. extra lean ground beef or venison equivalent (no fat added)
Instructions How to Make Pressed Jerky
- Stir salt, chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, ginger, black pepper, and cayenne pepper together in a large bowl; add ground beef and mix well.
- Pass beef mixture through a meat grinder set with the finest blade.
- Preheat oven, dehydrator or smoker to 250 degrees F. Place wire-racks onto baking sheets if using oven.
- Place 1/2 ground beef mixture between two sheets of heavy plastic on a solid, level surface. Firmly roll beef mixture to a thickness of 1/8 inch. Remove the top layer of plastic wrap, invert beef mixture onto prepared baking sheet, and remove the bottom layer of plastic wrap. Repeat for remaining beef mixture.
- Alternately spoon mixture into a jerky press like Cabela’s Jerky Blaster and follow instructions to press onto racks for drying.
- Bake beef mixture in the preheated oven with the oven door slightly ajar for 2 1/2 hours. Rotate the baking sheet. Bake until jerky is cooked through, another 3 hours. Remove jerky from oven and cut into strips while warm.
- In dehydtrator like the Cabela's Deluxe Dehydrator or smoker, dry until jerky is cooked through, but not too dried out.
From venison to beef, you can smoke nearly any kind of meat that your heart desires. The most popular is beef, based on taste and availability, but getting adventurous and using unusual meat is half the fun.
Type of Meats Best for Smoker Jerky:
- The cuts of meat that you will likely use are flank steaks or top round cut to one-fourth-inch thick slices. Based on the shape of the top round, you get larger pieces that can either be cut to bite sized chunks after smoking or eaten whole. With beef cuts, you will likely have your butcher cut the slices for you; simply tell them what you are using them for.
You can buy pre-made jerky marinade mix at pretty much any grocery store. But, sticking with the spirit of do-it-yourself jerky making, starting from scratch allows you to customize the flavor. Experiment with combinations that you wouldn’t find in an off-the-shelf mix. Below you’ll find a list of ingredients that are commonly combined to make the meat marinade. The basics of Worcestershire, soy sauce, and garlic and onion powder are common but you can add spices and seasonings to fit your taste.
Ingredients to Season Smoker Jerky
- 2 tsp. garlic powder
- 2 tsp. onion powder
- 1½ tsp. cayenne pepper
- 2 tsp. red pepper
- 2 tsp. ground black pepper
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup soy sauce
- 2 cups Worcestershire sauce
- Something sweet (sugar, honey, brown sugar)
Instructions How to Make Smoker Jerky Meat
- Don’t overlap the jerky steaks when arranging them on grates.
- After you combine all the ingredients in a large Tupperware or a heavy duty zip top plastic bag, thoroughly coat each cut of meat and let sit in the refrigerator overnight.
- The next morning, take each jerky steak out of the marinade and dry them as much as you possibly can. Paper towels work well for this. Removing any excess moisture is the key step to making amazing jerky, so take your time and pat dry each steak.
- Keep the smoker between 150°F and 175°F for 6-8 hours. The easiest way to do this is adding lit coals to a base of briquettes already in the smoker. This allows the lit coals to slowly spread to the base coals, helping to maintain a consistent temperature for a longer period of time.
- Add chunks of hardwood such as oak or pecan. Use larger chunks to prevent the wood from catching on fire and producing large flames.
- Throughout the 6-8 hours, adjust vents on your smoker to maintain the temperature range of 150°F to 175°F. Closing the vents will cool down the smoker while opening them will increase air flow, thus increasing the heat.
Basic Jerky Recipe
Most recipes go far beyond this with additional marinades and spices, but this is all it takes to make basic jerky and experience the style of jerky American explorers and pioneers like Lewis and Clark ate.
Ingredients to Make the Basic Version
- 2 lbs. beef flank steak, partially frozen, cut into strips or chunks
- Fresh ground black pepper
- Liquid smoke
Instructions How to Process the Basic Version
- Trim all fat from meat.
- Cut meat with the grain into strips about ¼-inch thick.
- Salt and pepper meat to taste.
- Brush both sides of strips with liquid smoke.
- Cover bottom rack in oven with aluminum foil or baking tins to catch drippings.
- Skewer each strip of meat at one end on a toothpick and suspend so it hangs down over the foil from the top oven rack.
- Turn the oven on to 175 degrees or lowest setting.
- Use something nonflammable to prop the oven door open at least ½ inch.
- Dry for approximately 6-8 hours. Start testing consistency at 5 hours to make sure you don’t dry it out too much.
- When done, turn off oven and remove jerky.
Store in zipper top bags in refrigerator for up to six weeks or freezer up to six months.