One of the best snacks for camping and hiking, beef jerky is also a great addition to any BBQ. Here are 5 simple tips on how to tell when your beef jerky is ready.
I think my love for smoked beef jerky started when I was 14, when I first tasted it while hiking in Yosemite Park, California. Since then I cannot leave.
Hiking and camping are one of the perfect situations to gobble up jerky. There is a long tradition between this way of traveling and the food. Jerky provides plenty of on-the-go protein and is a nice pick-me-up on long drives.
More importantly, they’re absolutely delicious and a pack is light enough to pass in your bag on the go without weighing you down. Hell, if you’re like me you can even save multiple packs.
As with so many foods, jerky is far healthier and cheaper to make at home. Store-bought varieties tend to be high in salt and sugar, which you can avoid, especially with a meat product.
Luckily, making it at home couldn’t be easier, and once you try it, you’ll be addicted to making batch after batch. You save a lot of money while having direct control over the salt, sugar and fat content of your beef jerky.
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Dehydrators are really easy to come by and provide a great entry point for users who are new to the world of beef jerky.
The big challenge in making jerky is knowing when it’s ready. It’s not always easy, and if you screw up, it can spell disaster for your beef jerky: too soon and it’s still susceptible to spoilage; too late and it gets too hard and dry. Either way, storing it safely or in the East will be a nightmare.
Here are 5 simple tips to know when your beef jerky is ready.
Get a food thermometer
Any meat prep is better when done with a food thermometer, and jerky prep is no different. A good thermometer will give you control over how long you need your meat to be, and with a method where the drying time is absolutely dry this is invaluable.
Preheat your dehydrator to 145 degrees Fahrenheit and let it sit for an hour before putting food in it. This will help kill any harmful bacteria before you serve meat.
It’s also important to reheat beef to an internal temperature of 165°F before dehydrating. This helps kill bacteria in the meat.
After you preheat your dehydrator, the temperature will be 130-140F, which is an ideal target dehydration temperature.
Pay close attention to the time
As with cooking, the drying time depends largely on how thick or large the cuts of meat are. Larger cuts of meat will take longer to cook than smaller, leaner cuts.
For beef this can range from 4 to 12 hours, but in most cases 10 hours is a good mark to test for beef jerky.
The dry test
The real test, however, WILL come when YOU can touch and actually taste the meat.
Use tongs to remove the jerky from the dehydrator one at a time. Cool on a drying rack or paper towel for a few minutes, allow to cool to room temperature.
Once the jerky is done, try to fold it in slightly. The shape and structure we aim for is a strip of flesh that can be easily bent but not broken. This is the ideal level of dryness that we expect from our jerky. If it breaks in half, dying means it’s not dehydrated enough yet, while if it breaks, it’s too dry.
Check the surface
Pay close attention to the appearance of the jerky’s surface. If it looks greasy and feels soft, it needs more time in the dehydrator. The ideal cut of beef jerky should feel dry and look very leathery.
Check the mouthfeel
What makes jerky so delicious and great for eating is its hard, bubblegum-like texture when eaten. It wouldn’t be as satisfying to eat if it melted like chocolate or immediately crumbled into a powder.
If the jerky just falls apart in your mouth, it’s definitely overcooked. We also don’t want it to be so hard that it quickly becomes impossible to chew. We need it to maintain a certain level of smoothness. It may be a fine line to walk, but that’s what jerky is all about.