What kind to make?
First, decide on your type of jerky. There are two kinds:
n Ground meat jerky.
n 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. Also 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.
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.
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 a quarter-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 a half-teaspoon per 5 pounds of meat, while other brands may suggest a different amount per pound.