Two years ago, for the first time, I tried making jerky. I was going on an overseas trip and wasn't sure what the situation with gluten free food would be on the flight or in general and I wanted to make sure that I had protein to eat that was shelf stable, so I tried out my hand at making jerky. To keep costs down, I used ground beef instead of beef pieces, and got inspired by a bunch of different recipes and kind of made up my own one based on what I saw.
But I flopped it. It was very salty and very spicy and the flavors in general were ones that I wasn't such a fan of. I hadn't taken into account that when I dehydrated the meat, any flavorings would be intensified.
On the trip I forced myself to eat a bit when I had nothing else, but I returned home with most uneaten. Because I didn't want to waste that meat, I added it, a little at a time, to soups and stews and eventually I finished it all.
For our tenth anniversary trip next week I had been trying to figure out what to do regarding food, since I am trying to eat paleo, but most paleo food isn't so travel friendly, especially on days that we have hikes planned, where bringing containers of cooked paleo meals isn't so user friendly. Add to that the fact that my husband not only wants to travel as lightly as possible, he doesn't want me to be spending our vacation cooking (and neither do I) so I figured that jerky probably would be a good idea.
Except, as I said, last time that wasn't so successful and I didn't want a repeat of that.
I attempted to find tried and true jerky recipes but came up with none I liked (most of the flavor profiles were similar to that of the failed jerky- pepperoni style- so wanted something different). So again I made up my own recipes, just taking what I learned last time into account. I didn't use ground beef and I used minimal salt and minimal to no spice, and instead decided to let the main flavor be the meat itself, and have the other flavors just as accents.
A few weeks ago I bought beef heart on sale for $2.50 per pound, cheaper than chicken breast and almost half the price the cheapest beef usually is, which was wonderful since it is all meat and no bone. When searching for recipes for the heart meat, I'm pretty sure I saw a reference to making it into jerky. So after cooking up half the heart into steaks for the family and realizing how delicious and flavorful the meat was, I froze the rest to use to make my jerky. Being strongly and deliciously flavored, I knew it didn't need a lot to make a tasty jerky. However, it is also a little tougher and chewy, which isn't a real problem with jerky since it is meant to be chewy, so I decided to marinate it in something acidic to attempt to tenderize it more.
I sliced the heart into thin pieces, so they'd both absorb flavor better and dehydrate faster, not to mention being easier to chew, and marinated it in wine vinegar. It was already brined so I added no more salt, and to be honest, I don't really remember what else, if anything, I put in. Possibly a bit of garlic powder and I think that may be it. I then let it sit like that in the fridge for 24 hours.
In addition to the heart, I went to the butcher and looked for other beef that could be sliced thin enough for jerky. I don't have a machine that can cut through frozen hunks of the cheapest beef, and the butcher wouldn't or couldn't, so my only choices were either $10.40 or $ 11.70 per pound. I almost didn't buy it, but in the end, upon seeing that I could get 6 beef shnitzels for $10.40 decided to do that, because it didn't work out to be too expensive per serving that way, and would still be cheaper than buying prepared meals while on our trip.
For the beef shnitzels, I marinated them in a mixture of dijon mustard, coconut sugar, a little bit of garlic powder, and salt. Because I was concerned about there being a repeat of last time's overpowering-to-the-point-of-near-inedibility flavoring, I watered down the mixture with water before adding the beef and letting it marinate for 24 hours, and then straining it to remove excess liquid.
In my decluttering, I got rid of my homemade dehydrator since I didn't make it so user friendly and it was taking up valuable space in our tiny house and wasn't being used, so I had to use my oven for this.
I lined my oven trays with baking paper to catch drips, then lay the meat over grill racks above the lined trays. Then I turned the oven to the lowest temperature it would go to, around 160 degrees fahrenheit or so, propped the oven door open so moisture could escape, and left it for a few hours.
The heart pieces, cut thinner, dried after about 5 or 6 hours. The beef shnitzels, thicker, took 10 or so.
If you don't have a grill rack, you can put the meat directly on a lined tray instead, you'll just need to flip it periodically to make sure both sides dry evenly.
In order to know if it's ready, you need to make sure that all the moisture is gone. The color will have changed and the meat turned darker. I've heard that you can dehydrated foods are ready when they make a certain sound when dropped on a hard surface. But I usually err on the side of caution and overdry my stuff. I dry until you can rip apart even the thicker pieces and see that even the inside is dry.
I'm going to have to have a lot of self control if I want there to be stuff left for our trip on Sunday, it's that tasty. Mike and I both are fans, as our the kids that tried it. Resounding success!
Next time I want to try terriyaki flavored.
And then fish jerky.
And if that's successful, maybe ground beef jerky again.
I took some beef jerky as a protein with me today when I left the house to teach a foraging class and it really was the perfect travel food. I think I want to start having some in the house as a backup for trips when I don't have time to prepare food to take along.
Ever make jerky? How do you make it?
Ever have it? What is your favorite flavor for jerky? Does this look like something you'd try?