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Developing a sustainable lifestyle and eating truly organic, “farm-to-table” food is a rising trend all across the country. Whether people are actively trying to protect the environment or prepare for a catastrophic world event, they all know that they must cultivate their skills of growing and harvesting their own food in a correct and ethical manner in order to survive. As a result, many non-hunters have turned to hunting as the source for their organic meat, an undeniably important part of a sustainable lifestyle and the most ethical means to approach it.
If you’re looking for a step-by-step guide to making mouthwatering jerky with this year’s harvest, then you’ve come to the right place.
From field dressing your animal to properly storing the finished product, this guide will tell you everything you need to know about the process of making delicious jerky right at home.
Harvesting the Meat
To ensure quality meat and great taste, you want to field dress your animal immediately and cool the meat down as soon as possible. A great way to prevent losing meat, especially in the early season, is to use a game cart so you can quickly transport your harvest back to camp where you can get the meat off the bone and in the freezer.
Choosing the Cut
There are certain cuts of meat that work best for making jerky, but at the end of the day, the cut you choose is based solely off of personal preference. Make sure you cut away all of the fat and silverskin from the meat; fat can go rancid quickly, so the less fat you have on your meat the better. Luckily, most big game animals are very lean compared to the meat you buy at the store, so your jerky is going to come out with a better taste and texture.
When making jerky it’s vital to use the correct size cut of meat in order to ensure properly cooked jerky. A cut too thin will dry up and harden, where a cut too thick can quickly go bad. Keep in mind you want your slices of meat to be 1/4-inch wide, never wider than 1/2-inch, otherwise you run the risk of making jerky that won’t keep.
Pro Tip: If you’re using the hind roast, you’ll have an easier time cutting the meat if you freeze it for 30-45 minutes first.
Brine & Bard
Now that your meat is cut up, it’s time to make a brine for the jerky to soak in overnight. The brine not only gives the meat flavor, but it adds moisture so the jerky doesn’t dry out. Below is a great brine recipe that doesn’t take long to whip up if you have all the correct ingredients.
- 1 cup water
- ½ cup soy
- ¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 3 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon Insta Cure No. 1
Once the brine is finished you should soak your meat for as long as possible. The longer it soaks, the more salt the meat absorbs, and the more salt the meat absorbs, the longer your jerky will last. Soak your meat for at least 24-48 hours for the best results.
If your meat is particularly dry, or your cuts are a little too thin, don’t worry. There are a few tricks you can use to help retain the moisture needed for delicious jerky. Consider either injecting brine into the meat before and during the dehydration process or wrap the cuts of meat in foil after a couple hours of cooking so the moisture from the meat can no longer escape.
There are a few different ways to go about dehydrating jerky, but regardless of your method, there is one thing that always stays the same, the internal temperature of the meat needs to reach 180 degrees and stay there for at least an hour. Some people dehydrate their meat at a lower temperature, but they run the risk of bacteria ruining the jerky; so unless you’ve done this before, always aim for an internal temperature of 180 degrees in order to kill bacteria and break down any tough and chewy chunks in the meat.
The age-old adage for making jerky is low and slow, so if you’re using an oven (best if it’s a convection, the fan helps the drying process) set the oven to the lowest temperature and crack the door. You can also use a smoker or dehydrator to make jerky, but the rule of thumb stays the same, the meats internal temperature needs to reach 180 degrees.
It will take a few hours for the meat to dehydrate depending on how thick your cuts are and if there’s good air flow. The best way to check your meat during this process is to bend it. If it bends and starts to crack you can pull the jerky out. Typically, you want to dehydrate meat for at least 2 hours per pound of meat.
Storage & Tips
If kept in an airtight bag,jerky can be stored for months in the refrigerator or freezer. If kept at room temperature, jerky will only keep for a few weeks.
If you want to add anything to your jerky while it is dehydrating, avoid anything sugary. Most sauces and glazes contain sugar, which turns into a sweet, burnt crust; in order to avoid this, only add sugary sauces within the last 20 minutes for added flavor.