It’s time for a change of pace. Usually, we’re happy to bring you the latest and greatest tips and tricks in grilling. Today, we’re throwing you a curveball. The name of that curveball?
As an age-old, tried and true method of meat preservation, we decided that jerky deserved a little bit of the spotlight. Today, we’re going to look at the historical significance of jerky and meat preservation, and then get into some tips on how you can DIY incredible jerky of your own.
Note: you won’t need the grill for this project, so we’re chalking it up as perfect for a rainy day.
By now, we’ve all had beef jerky. But who came up with the technique in the first place? Well, to figure that out, we have to go back pretty far. The word ‘jerky’ comes from the word ‘ch’arki’. Ch’arki is from the Quechuan language of the Incas, and was used to mean ‘dried meat’. This means that the earliest known creators of beef jerky lived in/around the year 1500.
Later, when Europeans arrived in North America, they found the Native people making a dried meat product that never seemed to spoil. The Native American tribes called this ‘pemmican’, and it was typically mixed with dried fruit and animal fat. The Native Americans taught the settlers how to cut and prepare this pemmican for consumption, and Europeans absolutely ran with it. Before long, jerky was the protein source of choice for European explorers.
While the need to preserve meat without refrigeration is mostly long-gone, jerky is great for several reasons. Primarily, it’s absolutely delicious. That’s really all that needs to be said, but the technique has other benefits as well. Because lean meat is needed to make jerky properly, it’s an incredibly healthy source of protein. Lastly, you may notice that we’ve avoided using the term ‘beef jerky’ specifically. That’s because jerky is a hugely versatile technique that can be used for a number of proteins. A few of the less popular meats used in jerky? Goat, lamb, deer, kudu, springbok, kangaroo, turkey, ostrich, salmon, alligator, crocodile, tuna, emu, horse, and camel…to name just a few!
To make jerky, a dehydrator is best, but a regular ol’ oven works, too. You’ll also need some lean meat of any kind. The process of jerky-making is based on moisture evaporation. Fat doesn’t really have water inside of it, so too much fat, and you’ll end up with rotten meat -- not dried, delicious jerky. Make sure you cut the meat into thin, long strips to maximize the protein’s surface area.
We’d suggest finding a great marinade for the meat and letting that sit for about 24 hours. From there, either put it on a dehydrator, or in a 175-degree oven for about 4 hours. When it’s finished, the jerky will be leathery and dry. We’d suggest starting your jerky-making with beef, and then branching out once you’ve got the basics sorted.
While going to the store and picking up a bag of Jack Links is just fine, we guarantee the homemade stuff will knock it out of the park!