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 Ever notice how many varieties of jerky that are sold in convenience stores, gas stations and supermarkets? Everyone I know eats jerky. There's nothing better to gnaw on while glassing from a mountaintop or sitting in a tree stand. During the last backpacking scout trip that I went on. There were 12 scouts and each one ate about a pound of venison jerky. If I would have had to purchase 12 pounds of jerky at about $2 per quarter pound, I'd have spend approximately$100. Thankfully, jerky is easy, fun and inexpensive to make.

Originally Printed in North American Hunter 2001

Originally Printed in North American Hunter 2001

The term "jerky" comes from the Spanish word charqui, meaning a cut of dried beef. Drying or smoking meat is one of the oldest forms of food preservation. Cultures from around the world used this preservation method. the Scandinavians cured and dried salmon, and American Indians dried meats and berries called pemmican. In Southeast Asia, meats skewered on bamboo are known as Sate, cooked over a fire and eaten immediately.

The next time that you make jerky, skewer or grill some and eat it while the rest is drying. You might be pleasantly surprised at how good  it tastes. Most jerky recipes can be easily converted into appetizers.

The drying process inhibits the growth of harmful microorganisms and lengthens the meat's shelf life by removing moisture. The utilization of high amounts of salt or sugar for curing and brining the meat, or incorporating an acid in a marinade also prevents the growth of harmful microorganisms. Jerky is best stored in air-tight bags in the freezer unless you live in a dry climate, then you can store it in dry-sealed containers out of direct sunlight.

Jerky can be dried in an oven, dehydrator or smoker. I've used all three, and each works well. Jerky can be categorized into two types: strips and ground-pressed. Jerky strips are best made by using the top or bottom round from the hind leg of game. This results in a tender, yet chewy product. The thickness is important. If you cut it too thin the meat will dry too much, and if it's too thick the inside will be raw. Between 1/8 - and 1/4- inch is the best thickness. I don't use the shank for jerky because it's full of sinew and  connective tissue.  This is a piece of jerky that you can gnaw on for the entire day.  The shank is best used for sausage or braised dishes.

With all the concern regarding food safety, some specialists recommend that the strips be cooked in a marinade before the drying process. This will ensure that all harmful microorganisms are destroyed.

Ground jerky is prepared by grinding the meat, curing it, pressing it, cutting it into strips and then drying it. It takes a little longer, but it will give you a more tender product. Remove all fat; if fat is left on, it will go rancid and ruin your product. If you like a smokey taste, add a small amount of liquid smoke or use a smoker.

Teriyaki Jerky

For great-tasting Teriyaki jerky use this recipe with 1 pound of prepared venison.

Marinate for two hours. Dry in oven, dehydrator or smoker using the same preparation methods for venison strips or ground jerky. Teriyaki jerky can be skewered and grilled, served with a ginger peanut dipping sauce.
 

Venison Strip Jerky

Marinade
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 c. Kahlua
  • 1 T. brown sugar
Method: Combine salt and brown sugar with Kahlua. Add meat and toss. Marinate one to two hours. Place strips across the rungs on a wire rack, dry in oven, dehydrator or smoker. Should take four hours in the oven at 150 degrees. You must constantly check for texture and dryness. 
 
When using ground venison, use the same marinade as above with 1 lb. of lean venison, ground fine.
 
Method: Prepare the marinade by mixing dry ingredients and Kahlua. Using the fine die, grind the venison, add it to the marinade, mix well and let it cure overnight. Using a rolling pin on the bottom of a cookie sheet, roll out the meat between wax paper until it's approximately 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick. Place cookie sheet in freezer. When meat is semi-frozen, remove, slice into 1-inch strips. Invert wire oven rack onto the meat. Make sure that the strips are in the opposite direction to the wire rungs of the oven rack, so that they don't fall through. Invert the cookie sheet, meat and  oven rack. Remove the wax paper. Separate the strips of meat approximately 1/2-inch apart so that there's good airflow for proper drying. Place rack in oven preheated to 150 degrees. Dry for approximately four hours. Remove, let cook and enjoy. One pound of raw meat will yield about 8 ounces of jerky. Remember to remove the oven rack before preheating the oven.
 
Visit venisoncache.com for more recipes and to order my books, The Art Of Cooking Venison, The Art of Barbecuing and Grilling Game  and the dvd, The Art of Backyard Butchering.