People were making jerky before fancy equipment like dehydrators existed.
Like thousands of years before dehydrators existed. Drying meat has been around forever as a way to store meat. It also just happens to be really delicious!
The dehydrating industry probably doesn’t want you do know this, but you need only three things to make really top-notch jerky: 1) Time 2) Mild heat 3) A fairly dry environment.
Luckily, the last two can be provided by a piece of equipment you almost certainly have already: an oven.
Oven beef jerky is really not that hard to make and will save you loads of money if you are a real beef jerky fan.
You can technically make jerky out of any meat, but I do prefer beef. It lends itself well to strong flavoring. When it comes to what cut of beef to use, it’s hard to go wrong. I would recommend using something on the leaner side without a lot of fat and also something that is pretty cheap.
Buying a $20/pound ribeye and making beef jerky isn’t the best idea. Personally, I like to use top round roast for my jerky.
If you have a nice butcher, they will slice your roast thin for you. In fact, I would recommend calling around until you find someone who will do this for you because it’s not easy to do yourself.
Unfortunately, on this day, my town was fresh out of nice butchers so I was left with a three pound roast and a sharp knife. If you find yourself in a similar predicament, you can do it. Just take your time and try to slice the meat as thin as possible. It will be slightly uneven and not perfect, but that’s fine. Just call it rustic.
What’s your beef is sliced the hard part is over. The rest is just time and flavor.
People get crazy when it comes to beef jerky recipes. In my opinion, the best ones are a simple combination of soy sauce, brown sugar, and a few spices. You really don’t need much else. Personally, I don’t like liquid smoke in mine, but feel free to add a bit if you want a smoky flavor.
Once your marinade is mixed up, just add in your beef strips and let this sit in the fridge for at least 12 hours. Any longer than that is kind of unnecessary given how thin the meat is sliced. So if you want to make jerky on Saturday, it’s fine to marinate the meat on Friday night.
When you’re ready to cook, the key thing is to get your jerky as dry as possible. The drier it is now, the less drying your oven will have to do. So lie out a bunch of paper towels and spread out the beef slices. Pat them really dry. Notice the change in color. It will also feel really stiff, which is good.
Once you have your beef skewered, move one of your oven racks to the top level of your oven and set the skewers right on the rack so the beef hangs down from the rack. It’s probably a good idea to lay a few baking sheets under the beef in case they drip some.
Set your oven to warm, or in the 160-170 range. I recommend using an oven thermometer if you have one just to make sure your temperature is constant. In most cases, you will just want your oven set to the lowest possible setting.
Prop the oven open with a potholder so moisture can escape.
There’s no exact time frame for how long your jerky needs to cook. It’ll depend on the size of your oven and thinness of your strips. The good news is you can’t really overcook the stuff. At a minimum, it will need 8 hours, but 10-12 hours is probably closer to perfection.
A finished piece will be dry. You be able to bend it and it should peel a part a bit, like scales almost. It should be chewy in spots and crunchy in spots.
Once your jerky is done, let it cool completely before putting it in bags or it’ll form condensation, which will destroy your drying attempts.
Try not to eat all of it immediately when it comes out of the oven. It will be tough because warm jerky is one of the best things in the world!
I like to store my jerky in the fridge and it will keep for weeks and weeks that way. Not that I’ve ever had mine last that long. It’s so good that it’s normally gone within a few days, honestly.
You might be asking: “Is this is worth it?” Given that I recently saw four ounces of jerky for $8 and I made three pounds of it for about $15, I think that it is very much worth it if you are a serious jerky fan!
Nick ate a skewer of this stuff while writing this post and then another as a reward for finishing this post. Be sure to check out his blog, Macheesmo, his book, Cornerstone Cooking, and check out his Tablespoon profile.