References to drying meat to preserve it can traced back to ancient Egypt but undoubtedly goes back much, much earlier than that. These days there are two forms of dried meat that are readily available; Biltong which comes from South Africa and the American Jerky.
There are different stories as to the origin of the name jerky. The most commonly referenced version is that it comes from the Spanish word for jerked meat “charqui” and was mispronounced by the English as jerky, some sources say that word “charqui” was derived from an older Native Peruvian word “quichua”. Another less common story is that it is called jerky because the meat was was jerked away from the bones of the animal quickly so as to eliminate many of the sinews making the dried meat more tender.
The original Native Americans would have made their venison and buffalo (bison) jerky by simply hanging strips of meat on racks made of willows to dry in the sun or sometimes in the smoke of the campfire.
More recent methods use salt and sometimes spices to draw moisture out of the meat but this can result in extremely salty jerky.
The conventional method used most frequently nowadays, is to use a solution with a high osmotic content i.e. contains a lot of salts and or sugars which will draw the moisture out of the meat but not lead to over saltiness. These solutions can also contain flavourings which permeate into the meat adding to the taste. Using a marinade like this before drying will dramatically reduce the drying time.
Jerky is readily available almost everywhere these days, but many of the commercial brands contain lots of sugar, as well as preservatives, artificial flavourings etc., so why not have a go at making your own it couldn’t be easier.
Virtually any meat can be made into jerk including poultry and even fish like salmon etc.
This recipe is best suited for beef or venison and is based on some traditional American recipes. Don’t be fooled into using tougher, cheaper cuts of meat. Sinew when dry is almost indestructible, so use the same cuts that you would use for steaks.
- 450 gram lean beef or venison; sirloin, fillet, silverside, rump etc. cleaned of fat and sinew.
- 100ml light soy sauce
- 100ml worcestershire sauce
- 100ml water
- 1 tbsp cider vinegar
- 1 teaspoon garlic granules
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- few drops tabasco
- honey (optional if you want a slightly sweeter flavour)
Place the meat in the freezer for 30-40 minutes to firm up and make it easier to slice.
Meanwhile mix all the remaining ingredients together in a bowl.
Slice the chilled meat a thinly as possible using a sharp knife. Ideally you are looking for strips about 8-10cm long, 2 cm wide and 1-2mm thick.
Place the meat in the marinade and leave overnight. The next day dry on kitchen towel and then place in a dehydrator. Alternatively you can put a cocktail stick through each piece and the hang it from the bars on the shelves in you oven. For safety reasons it is advised to adhere to the following guidelines when making jerky and use a proper thermometer to measure the temperature actually attained in you dehydrator or oven rather than relying on the dial.
Food safety recommendations state that jerky should be dried between 63-68 degrees C for at least 4 hours but ideally 6. It should then be put into a hot oven until it reaches a temperature of 71 degrees C for 10 minutes. Alternatively, you can heat the meat in the marinade up to 71 degrees C (160F) before drying which kills any bacteria and you can then dry at a lower temperature.
Once dry, your jerky should last indefinitely if kept dry in an airtight container….not that is likely to last that long.
“Wildwood Wisdom” by Ellsworth Jaeger
Legends of America Old West Recipes http://www.legendsofamerica.com/we-oldwestrecipes4.html#Venison or Beef Jerky
British Beef Jerky http://www.britishbeefjerky.co.uk/whatisjerky.html