How to make beef jerky at home

Jerky is an awesome snack food that can be just as healthy as it is delicious. If you make beef jerky at home then you’ll easily make better jerky than what you can buy in Australian supermarkets. Small-batch jerkies are normally made with excellent ingredients and a lot of care, so it can be very satisfying to get a great finished product. But be warned, this is an addictive hobby than can spin wildly out of control – if you’re anything like us you could end up with a Tasmanian jerky factory!

First: why make beef jerky at home?

This is the first question you should be asking yourself! Making jerky is at minimum a big investment of time, and to get the best results you’ll need to invest ~$500 into a hobby dehydrator. To get into this hobby you’ll ideally love beef jerky, but the important thing is to really enjoy the process of making it too. It can be a lot of work, so it’s really a labour of love. Just think how much jerky you need to make to pay off a $500 dehydrator… We liken it homebrewing beer. It’s a lot of fun the first time, but few people stay motivated in the hobby.

After all that negativity we hope you’re still keen. Making jerky is an awesome hobby, and you’ll be able to make products far superior to what is available in store. One day you might even be described as the “jerky guy/girl” (or worse – it happens to us all the time).

Read on, and remember us when you make an awesome batch (send some to 15a Legana Park Drive, Legana, TAS, 7277 – seriously).

 

How much jerky should I make?

If you’re using an Excalibur 9-tray oven then you should do a 5kg batch. Otherwise, try a 3kg batch. It’s a lot of work to make jerky, so if you’re going to do it, do it properly and GO BIG!

As a general rule of thumb 3kg of “wet” meat will make 1kg of “dry” jerky. Your dehydrator will only hold so much meat, so here’s a rule of thumb: 1 square metre of oven area will hold 3kg of meat.

Example: What is the capacity of a 5 Tray Excalibur Dehydrator

  • Each tray is 0.43 x 0.485m = 0.21 sq m
  • 0.21 x 5 trays = 1.05 sqm
  • 1.05 x 3kg/sqm= 3.15kg of meat

Time required to make jerky at home

  • Slicing: Forever! Avoid this at all costs (see “method” below for details)
  • Preparation: 30-40 minutes
  • Marination: 24 hours
  • Cooking time: 8 hours (This step requires loose monitoring)

Equipment required to make jerky at home

  • A Large mixing bowl
  • Dehydrator (If you don’t have a dehydrator you can be a filthy casual by using a fan forced oven).
  • XL zip lock bags
  • Toothpicks
  • Aluminium foil
  • Knife
  • Chopping board
  • Measuring cup
  • Scale

Beef Jerky recipe

how to make beef jerky recipe

A good jerky starts with a good base

This is an “original” recipe that you can add flavours to. For every kilo of meat you will need:

  • Soy Sauce – 180ml
    • Contains a LOT of salt (important for food safety)
    • Gives jerky a dark colour, and improves texture
  • Apple Cider Vinegar – 35ml
    • Acids can be helpful for food safety. They inhibit microbial growth and keep your jerky safe.
    • They also taste good. Acidity often is the first thing you’ll taste in a food, so it can be a lot of fun to pair acids with spicy (which typically take a bit longer to get going)
  • Water – 35ml
    • This is simply to create enough marinade to completely cover your meat.
  •  Ground Black Pepper – 2g
    • It’s an oldy, but a goodie. This is just enough to have a hint of pepper in the background.

We’ve since written a whole page on beef jerky recipes that you can find here.

Food Safety:

There are risks to overcome when making any food product. There are a few principles you can follow to improve the safety of your jerky:

  • Raw meat contamination: Never mix cooked and raw meat
  • General hygiene: Always wash your hands and the preparation area before and after meat contact
  • 2hr/4hr rule:
    • <2hr: Meat should not be exposed to room temperature for more than 2 hours at a time before being returned to refrigeration
    • 2hrs: After 2 hours it should be cooked immediately (you shouldn’t return it to the fridge)
    • 4hrs: if you meat is exposed to room temperature for more than 4 hours than you should throw it out.
  • Lethality of pathogens
    • When we make jerky at KOOEE! we raise the internal temperature of the meat to 65°C for 10 minutes to kill all living pathogens in meat
    • This is hard (or impossible) to do with a hobby dehydrator, because their heating elements are not very powerful, and they are rarely properly sealed for a “lethality step”. It is also difficult to measure the internal temperature of meat
    • For a hobby cook at home, we suggest cooking the jerky as hot as possible and then use a “post drying heat step” once the jerky is finished. Just put it in a 135C oven for 10 minutes, this should take care of anything nasty that may have contaminated your meat.
  • Make sure your jerky is dry!
    • The jerky needs to be of a certain dryness (or “water activity”) to be shelf stable.
    • You can’t measure this without a very expensive machine, but you should be concerned if your jerky is red in the middle, or seems “wet”.
    • A good “rule of thumb” is to dry your jerky to 33% of its original meat weight (so you get 1kg of jerky from 3kg of meat)
  • Store it correctly
    • See details below

Method to make beef jerky

Prepare the meat:

How to make jerky - denuded topside before trimming

Topside – The jerky professionals meat of choice

  1. Select Meat
    • Ideally you will buy “denuded topside”. If unavailable, buy normal fatty topside and trim it yourself, or another lean cut of meat. Bigger is better.
    • Beef is a good choice for your first batch, but you can also expiriment with kangaroo jerky, wallaby jerky, camel jerky, venison jerky, etc.
  2. Remove fat from the whole cut of meat
    • Avoid fat when making jerky.
    • Firstly, you’re not going to make many friends giving away jerky with unexpected chunks of fat
    • Secondly, it destroys your shelf life. Fat will eventually oxidise and cause your jerky to spoil (it will go “rancid”).
    • So, Try to remove as much fat as possible from your whole cut of meat.
  3. Slice Meat
    • Firstly, avoid this step if possible. Beg your butcher to slice the meat for you, because it takes hours.
    •  It might cost a few extra $/kg, but it is certainly worth it!
      How to make jerky - trimming fat 1

      Be sure to trim off all visible fat

    • Slightly chill the meat in your freezer to make it “tempered” (firm)
    • Slice into thin strips approx. 6-10mm
    • Where possible keep all slices to an even thickness to make sure all pieces are cooked to the same dryness
    • For the best results cut the meat against the grain, this will make the meat easier to chew.

Prepare the marinade:

  1. Combine marinade ingredients into a bowl
    • Soy Sauce (or a substitute – but you might need to add salt if you use a substitute)
    • Vinegar
    • Water
    • Spices
  2. Add the sliced meat into the bowl of marinade and mix thoroughly ensuring every piece is soaking in the marinade.
    How to make jerky ziplock marinade

    Marinate meat for up to 24 hours for best results

  3. Soak
    • Place meat into a Zip Lock bag and remove all air
    • Leave meat to marinate 24hrs in the fridge
    • The spice and marinade needs to contact all the meat for the best results – so pick it up at the halfway point (12hrs) and give that jerky a massage through the bag!

Cooking option 1: dry Jerky with a Dehydrator

  • Lay jerky on dehydrator trays (We call this “jerky tetris” in the KOOEE! factory)
    • Put as much jerky as you possibly can on each tray, however make sure that there is a slight gap between each piece (5mm is fine)
    • Ensure that you never have folded or overlapping meat. Everything should be in a single layer so it dries evenly.
  • Dry jerky in your dehydrator
    • Set your dehydrator to 75°C (note: most likely your meat will get nowhere near that hot on a hobby dehydrator)
    • If you notice your jerky is charring or turning biscuity, lower the temperature of your dehydrator and conduct a longer cook.
    • Approx. cooking time: 8 hours, rotate the trays occasionally so that your jerky dries evenly.
  • Monitor
    • It takes some experience to know when your jerky is finished. You should never see any red sections when you break open a piece of jerky, it should look “cooked”. Finished jerky will also be firmer than “wet” meat.
    • Remove the jerky incrementally from your dehydrator to stop it from drying too much. If you jerky can snap then you’ve gone too far.
  • Post drying lethality step
    • Once your meat has dried into jerky you should do a post drying lethality step to ensure you’ve achieved “lethality” (i.e., killed the bugs!)
    • Put your jerky in a 135C oven for 10 minutes, then remove. Read more details here: Post drying heat step
  • Cool and pack
    • Allow the jerky to cool to room temperature
    • See next step for tips on how to store jerky
how to make jerky before cook

Before cook

How to make jerky - partially cooked jerky on tray


Mid cook (2 hours) note the leading edge is drier than the rest of the tray. It is good practice to rotate the trays mid-cook

How to make jerky - cooked jerky on tray

Cook is finished. Notice there is no moisture left. All pieces look the same colour and texture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cooking option 2: Dry Jerky with an Oven (like a filthy casual)

Yep, you can make beef jerky in a household fan-forced oven if you’re not ready to commit to a dehydrator. It’s a bit trickier, but you can still get good results.

  1. Line bottom of oven with aluminium foil
  2. Place toothpicks through your jerky and hang it from your oven trays
  3. Jam a wooden spoon in your oven door to keep it ajar, this will increase airflow resulting in better jerky
  4. Cook
    • Set the oven for 70C
    • Cook the jerky for 3.5 hours, checking occasionally
    • The jerky is finished once it has lost all of its soft spots but can still bend when folded (it shouldn’t snap – that means it is overcooked) it is finished.
  5. Post drying lethality step
    • Once your meat has dried into jerky you should do a post drying lethality step to ensure you’ve achieved “lethality” (i.e., killed the bugs!)
    • Put your jerky in a 135C oven for 10 minutes, then remove. Read more details here: Post drying heat step
  6. Cool and pack
    • Allow the jerky to cool to room temperature
    • see next step for tips on how to store jerky

How to store your finished jerky

The shelf life of your jerky can be extended significantly by storing it correctly. When done improperly, you can expect your jerky to last 3 days. Proper storage will allow it to last up to a year!

When made correctly, jerky will “go off” because of lipid oxidation. This means that the fat in the jerky goes rancid and will smell bad. To prevent this you need to keep your jerky away from oxygen. Here are two ways you can store your jerky:

  1. Store in an airtight bag or container
    1. You can simply put your jerky in a zip lock bag or plastic container
      How to make jerky - finished jerky in zip locked bag

      Only use a ziplock bag if no other options are available

      If you don't have a hobby sealer, try storing the jerky in an air-tight jar.

      If you don’t have a hobby sealer, try storing the jerky in an air-tight jar.

      How to make jerky - vacuum sealed bag

      A Hobby sealer is the safest option for jerky storage

    2. oxygen will slowly leak into the bag/container, but it should last a couple of weeks
  2. Vacuum pack it
    1. You can buy a hobby vacuum sealer and some “channel bags” to do some DIY vacuum sealing. It might also be fun to use the machine for some sous vide if you’re an aspiring home chef!
    2. Vacuum packing your jerky will make it look ugly, but will allow you to keep it for up to a year

There are also several product qualities that will improve the shelf life of your jerky. To improve your shelf life you might consider:

  1. more salt and sugar
  2. dryer jerky
  3. less fat

Other things to think about on your way to jerky greatness

What other flavours can I make?

There is no limit to what Jerky flavours you can create.

  • Meat – this jerky recipe will work on any type of appropriate meat
    • Kangaroo jerky: Good choice. Kangaroo and Wallaby are both ideal meats for jerky because they are so lean. They are also very high on omega 3s.
    • Venison: You’ve got some venison? Send it to us in Legana, Tasmania! Jokes aside, you can make incredible jerky with venison.
    • Camel: There is not enough quality jerky in Australia, and far too many camels. Do your fellow citizens a favour and try making some camel jerky.
  • Sweetness – Not necessarily good for you, but sweetners can help bring out the flavour of meat, improve texture, and increase shelf life. Try:
    • Honey (we’re partial to Tasmanian leatherwood honey)
    • Fruit juice (try Spreyton Apple Juice)
    • Teriyaki sauce
  • Acidity – adding vinegars give your flavours a boost, but go easy, as too much will ruin surface texture
    • apple cider vinegar
    • red wine vinegar
  • Spice – A fan of heat? Add something special to make your jerky a talking point
    • Wasabi
    • Habanero
    • Carolina reaper

What about presentation?

Humans eat with their eyes! A natural way to bring an attractive colour to your jerky is to use paprika spice. Also, we recommend adding something chunky to your marinades to add visual character to your jerky. Play with sesame seeds, chilli flakes, herbs, and anything else you can get your hands on.

Alternatives to Soy Sauce?

Soy sauce is used in Beef Jerky to add flavour and salt. The salt content helps preserve the meat and the flavour gives the jerky a familiar salty flavour. Soy Sauce is cheap and readily available which makes it extremely popular. However, it does contain gluten due to the wheat content. There are alternatives that can be used for the gluten intolerant/Coeliac population as well as Paleo friendly options.

Coconut Aminos is a coconut based sauce made from the sap of coconuts. It is a gluten-free alternative to soy sauce however it can be expensive. It can be found in specialty grocers or ordered online. If you cannot locate Coconut Aminos, Tamari can be used as a substitute for soy sauce however check the labeling as not all brands are gluten-free. And, depending on who you ask, Tamari sauce is not paleo-friendly.

What is water activity?

Water activity relates to the pressure of water in a substance. Water activity is extremely important when it comes to cooking jerky. A level <0.85aw must be obtained to deem jerky safe for consumption. Failure to do so can result in a liveable environment for pathogens such as salmonella, listeria, etc, to live on the jerky and make the consumer sick.

At KOOEE! we test every single batch with expensive equipment to ensure it is safe for consumption. Do not even consider making jerky commercially if you don’t have a way to measure water activity. At home, the best ways to ensure your jerky is safe are:

  • dry it to 1/3 of its original weight
  • Do a post-drying heat step (detailed above)

If you are considering making jerky commercially we would be happy to recommend a water activity meter for you.

What does “with or against the grain” mean?

Meat, similar to wood, has a grain. This grain is made up of the muscle fibres of the animals. A great backyard barbeque master knows that the direction of cut can make or break an awesome cook up. Slicing with the grain results in a very chewy steak that will leave you with lock jaw! Slicing against the grain results in the tender steak you know and love.

With jerky, there is ongoing debate about whether to cut with or against the grain. Many friendships have been destoyed after arguments on this important topic. What you need to know is:

  • Jerky cut with the grain will be hard to chew
  • Jerky cut against the grain will be easier to chew

At KOOEE we cut our jerky against the grain, which makes it much easier to chew. Our rationale is that our jerky is made for active people to eat on the go.

Which dehydrator should I buy?

A 9 tray Excalibur. Read about it here.