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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

HOW TO: Great beef jerky.

self made beef jerky made from solid strips of...

HOW TO: Great beef jerky.

I've been making beef jerky for about 6 yrs now. In that time I have experimented with different marinade recipes, types of meat, cooking times, etc.

The following recipe is for a dehydrator, but you can also dry jerky strips in an oven, at the lowest temperature (usually 160° - 170°). Keep the door open ajar, like you are broiling, to create the convective looping.

But homemade jerky is SO much better in an actual dehydrator.

Below is a list of essential methods / ingredients to make really good beef jerky, based on my own findings and preferences:

CUT of BEEF: shoulder-- either London broil steaks or a full roast, sliced.
I find shoulder to be far better tasting than top round, the other London broil cut, and it is usually cheaper. I actually prefer the taste of shoulder to basically any other cut of beef (for jerky). It has just the right amount of fat in it (remember, you don't want too much fat in your meat and you want NONE in the marinade.) And it is frequently about the cheapest meat there is. It's perfect!

CUTTING METHOD: across the grain, not with the grain. Shoulder is pretty tender and flavorful. Cutting across the grain means cutting along the length of the steak. I usually cut the steak in half so that the pieces are not too long, then cut in the direction so that if the steak was whole, it would be a lengthwise cut across the whole steak. Cutting with the grain will give you a crumbly type of jerky.

I like my strips about 3/16" of an inch thick. That's less than a quarter inch think.

MARINADE: I play around with different marinades all the time. They really are all pretty good. Marinade is actually the least important element to the jerky process. You just got to have your basics: salt, sweet, acid....but NO fat or oil.

I like Kikkoman Lite soy sauce; honey, maple syrup, or molasses (brown sugar is fine, too); maybe a little sherry or marsala; and, now this is REALLY, REALLY secret ingredient. Balsamic vinegar. LOTS of balsamic vinegar. It is the most essential part of any jerky marinade...and very few people know about it. Balsamic vinegar makes any red meat taste that much more delicious...especially when played against salt and sweet. The only seasoning I add to the liquid is LOTS of garlic powder (but that can always be added later, too). I usually add some water to my mixture, to lessen the saltiness/soyness of the marinade, even with lite soy sauce. Stir very well.

Soak beef strips overnight, about 12-14 hrs. Pull out a handful or two, and place on paper towels. Place on dryer rack or screen. Place them close together. They can be touching, but don't scrunch them together.

Sprinkle the beef strips with your favorite dry rub or dry seasonings. I love crushed pepper, garlic powder and especially the two following ingredients: ginger powder and chipotle. I like to make a batch of jerky that is half chipotle and half ginger, with some or all of the other seasonings mentioned.

But those two are the two main dominant flavors for a jerky profile, and you should not mix them together (unless you know what you are doing :D:).

Hint: when enjoying jerky the night it was made, the ginger flavor is amazing. When eating the jerky in the days following, chipotle is king.

DRYING TIME: Here's the difficult part. It all depends on what type of dryer you have. I have the excellent (but very inexpensive) Excalibur dehydrators. I can thoroughly dry my jerky, at full temp of 155°, and at the above thickness, in about 6.5 to 7 hrs. But all of the models out there vary, I believe.

To test, you want to be able to break the strip in a pliable manner, and have it hold together. If it breaks completely in two, you dried too long (but don't panic-- it will still be yummy).

Store in a paper bag. And it will continue to dry even a little bit more, the paper wicking the moisture and some fat away. If you overdried, then store jerky in a plastic bag.

Enjoy with good friends and good beer.

And don't forget to keep a healthy stock in a ziploc bag (even in the back of the fridge), or just make a ton of it, and store in vacuum sealed bags, for when the poop hits the oscillator.

What you need to know: when the above jerky recipe comes straight out of the dryer, it is simply heavenly. It also makes your house smell awesome, while helping to heat it!!
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