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|TEXASMAC'S LOW COST, FAST, TENDER JERKY
USING GROUND MEAT
By Wayne McLerran
Last update: 12/19/2009
In various forms, dried cured meat has been a food staple for
centuries. The Quechua, a South American tribe of the Inca’s, are
credited with introducing it around 1550. Meat was pounded between
stones and then seasoned, cooked, and dried. They called it ch’arki.
The Spanish later changed the name slightly to Charqui (chär-kē), of
which jerky is a corrupted form.
Closer to home and more recently the North American Indians,
explorers, and settlers made good use of jerky. Readers of western
novels know that a cowboy out on the range wouldn’t be caught dead
without some jerky stuffed in his saddlebag. Today, jerky is sold by
the ounce at just about every convenience store or grocery store as a
low-fat, high protein, snack food, but due to processing costs it’s
The Indians and early settlers smoked and dried prepared meat over
open fires, or hung it in the sun to dry for many days. A quick
Internet search will turn up hundreds of recipes. Most of these are
based on sliced meat dried in a ventilated oven at low temperatures
for several hours. I’d like to share with you my favorite recipe for
making low-cost, tender, excellent tasting, homemade jerky the easy
The main items are a good food dehydrator and an indispensable tool
called the “Jerky Works”. I evaluated several dehydrators and finally
settled on one by American Harvest (NESCO). It has stackable trays,
works great, and is very easy to clean. Additional trays can be
purchased separately to add capacity. Regardless of the
manufacturer, I strongly suggest a fan-powered unit, which works
much faster than convection only dehydrators.
The Jerky Works tool, also made by American Harvest, looks and
functions like a large cake-decorating gun to form ground meat into
uniform flat or round strips of any desired length. I highly recommend
the Jerky Works. It eliminates several steps in preparing the meat. It’
s not as messy as other techniques and cleans up easily. The “jerky
gun” makes it easy to control the length of the strips to fit the drying
trays. Similar “jerky guns” are sold by other suppliers and can be
found a large sporting good stores catering to hunters & fishermen.
The ‘original’ jerky seasoning mix from American Harvest is very
convenient and excellent. Several other flavors are also available to
experiment with. I suggest starting with no more than 1 to 2 lbs of
ground meat until you’re comfortable with the technique and amount
of seasoning mix to use. Using my recipe the American Harvest unit is
limited to a maximum of 1 lb of meat per dehydrator tray.
1) One of the keys to good jerky is using low-fat meat. I prefer
venison, but very lean beef is certainly excellent. Use the leanest
ground beef you can find, or better yet, have lean meat ground up
after first removing all the fat. Most of the remaining fat will melt
during the dehydrating process, collect on the top of the meat and
periodically have to be dabbed off with an absorbent paper towel. In
addition, fat left in the finished jerky will reduce the self-life. Fat
turns rancid, resulting in a bad smell and taste if not refrigerated for
long periods of time (weeks). When the jerky if finished, but still hot
from the dehydrator, press it by hand between a couple of paper
towels to remove excess fat before storing.
2) A good practice to follow when using wild game meat is to freeze
the meat for at least 30 days at 0°F or lower before using. This
precaution kills any parasites that the animal may have carried.
3) As a precaution against the risk of salmonella when making jerky
from the meat of domestic or wild turkey, chicken, or pork, be sure to
heat it to a minimum of 160°F (some recommend 180°F) for at least
30 minutes. This can be done prior to or after the jerky is made. If
done after the jerky is made it will further dehydrate the meat, so
plan for this step when determining how long to leave the meat in the
4) Drying time depends on many factors: thickness of the meat, room
humidity, how heavily the dehydrator is loaded, dehydrator
temperature setting and/or wattage rating, will the jerky be
subjected to additional heating to kill salmonella (in the case of
turkey, chicken, or pork), and how hard you prefer the final jerky.
Trial and error experimentation is the only way I have found to
determine when to remove the jerky from the dehydrator. My recipe
notes provide some guidelines. One thing I avoid is over-drying the
meat, which will result in brittle and very hard jerky. Expect the
finished jerky to become slightly harder and tougher after it cools
down from the heat of the dehydrator.
5) For additional safety precautions and guidelines please refer to the
attached article below by Mary Bell.
Preparing the seasoning mix: (The following is for 1 lb of meat - use
twice as much for 2 lbs of meat, and so forth):
If using the jerky seasoning mix from American Harvest, the directions
suggest using one package of seasoning and one package of curing salt
per lb of meat. When used with ground meat, I have found that ¾ of
a package of both the seasoning and salt works fine with 1 lb of
meat. For example, if starting with 6 lbs of meat, use 4 packages of
seasoning and 4 packages of salt. Pour the ingredients in a bowl, add
the desired amount of cayenne pepper, and mix thoroughly. For a
light spicy taste add 1/4 tsp of cayenne pepper. For medium spicy
taste add 1/2 tsp, and for hot spicy jerky add 3/4 tsp of cayenne
pepper. Of course, this is to my taste. I recommend that you start
out using 1/4 tsp or less of cayenne pepper per lb of meat.
Using ground meat: (If using game meat see note 2 above)
This is my favorite recipe. It is based on using very lean ground meat
and has several advantages. Meat slicing is eliminated. The
marinating process is not necessary. The finished jerky is very tender,
in contrast to recipes using whole meat. The formed meat strips
dehydrate at the same rate and are uniform for easier packaging and
Using the Jerky Works:
1. Blend the prepared seasoning and ground meat. I mix it by
hand by squeezing the seasoned meat through my fingers for a few
minutes. Expect the meat to turn a darker color during the mixing
process. It will be sufficiently mixed when the darker color is uniform
and there are no areas of brighter red meat. The mixture will also
become smoother and “gummier” in the process.
2. Pack the Jerky Works tool with the prepared ground meat and
squeeze out the strips on the dehydrator trays. Don’t overlap the
strips, but they can be laid out touching each other. As the meat
dehydrates it will shrink and the strips will separate from each other.
3. Dehydrate for several hours (around 4 to 7 hours at 145°F is
usually sufficient - see note 3 above). If the meat has a substantial
amount of fat, check every hour or so and pat the meat with a paper
towel to remove any surface oil that has collected. Depending on the
fat content, it may be necessary to turn over each piece and remove
the surface oil from both sides.
A slower but quite satisfactory method:
Prepare the meat as previously instructed.
1. Place the prepared meat between two sheets of waxed paper.
2. Roll out to desired thickness (3/16 inch to 1/4 inch thick works
3. Remove the top layer of wax paper.
4. Using a sharp knife cut meat into strips of desired length and
width by cutting completely through the meat and bottom layer of
5. Grabbing the ends of the wax paper strips, lay the strips on
the dehydrator trays meat down and peel the wax paper off.
6. Dehydrate for several hours as previously noted.
Some of my results:
Drying time note – my dehydrator is a 550-watt unit. I use the
maximum setting, which is 145°F. Many dehydrators are preset for a
temperature of 145°F but have lower wattage heaters therefore
drying times will be longer. The drying time for a 250-watt unit will
be over twice the times I’ve noted below.
Using 6 lbs of ground venison (the maximum my 6-tray dehydrator will
• 1/2 tsp. of cayenne pepper per lb.
• ¾ package of American Harvest original spice and 3/4 package
of salt per lb. Used 4 packages of each with the 6 lbs of meat.
• Formed meat into two different flat strips (using the hand press
and the jerky gun). Also formed the meat into round strips using the
• Drying time: 6 hrs for the flat strips, 7&1/2 hrs for the round
Results: good taste, pepper just right. I prefer the flat strips using
the jerky gun.
Using 6 lbs of ground venison
• 2 “rounded” tsp of cayenne pepper for 6 lbs.
• Mixed 4 packages of spices and salt with 6 lbs of meat (3/4
package per lb) Used a mixture of American Harvest spices consisting
of 1 Cajun beef, 1 pepperoni beef, and 2 original flavors.
• Formed meat into flat strips using the jerky gun. In order to
have enough room using 6 trays I had to make sure the pieces were as
close as possible.
• Drying time was 7 hrs.
Results: good taste, pepper just right. I prefer the original flavor by
Weighing the prepared meat and resulting jerky from several batches,
ground up venison will yield around 42%. Therefore one should expect
approximately 2.5 lbs of jerky from 6 lbs of lean ground venison.
Expect the yield to be less if using lean ground beef, likely in the 35%
range. Of course the yield depends on several factors such as fat
content, moisture content and how long the jerky is dehydrated.
By Mary Bell
This article was copied from THE DRY STORE Internet site (http:
//www.drystore.com/book-just-jerky.shtml), which is no longer in
IS IT OK TO EAT?
Jerky is generally raw meat that’s been flavored and dried. This often
raises fears that are usually unfounded. If the plan is to stuff
unrefrigerated meat in a backpack, jerky is safer to eat than cured
ham, smoked turkey breast or a roast beef sandwich.
Once the internal temperature of meat reaches 145°F. and stays at
that temperature for at least ten minutes, salmonella, E-coli and
trichinosis are no longer threatening, according to Dr. Art Maurer,
professor of poultry products technology at the University of
Wisconsin-Madison. Maurer says jerky has an overlap of three safety
factors going for it. First, most dehydrators--and most means those
capable of sustaining a temperature of 145°F are hot enough to
kill most bacteria. Second, salt levels in jerky are higher than in other
uncooked meats. Third, the drying process eliminates more than 90%
of the water, the medium that bacteria needs to grow.
Although rare, trichinosis has been found in pork products and game
meats such as bear and walrus. To eliminate the parasite trichinosis, a
constant temperature of 135°F for five to 10 minutes is sufficient.
Freezing also destroys the parasite if the raw meat is held at -20°F
for six days.
Making jerky engages the senses. You smell the marinade, feel the
meat’s texture for dryness and, to ensure shelf-life safety, you rely on
sight. If jerky is not dried enough, it can develop mold, though. When
mold is found onjerky, all foods stored together in the same container
must be discarded. Don’t confuse a white ash on the surface of dried
meats as mold, though. During the dehydration process, liquid
components come to the surface and dry. That white ash film is apt to
be crystallized salt, which is not a hazard.
A teaspoon of salt added to a pound of meat is no more than
flavoring. However, when the meat is dried, that teaspoon of salt
inhibits bacteria. Salty ingredients such as soy, Worcestershire,
pickling and curing salt become preservatives. It’s best to use pickling
and curing salt rather than table salt. Avoid rock salt, which contains
too many impurities. Table salt has iodine, which may cause an
avoidable chemical reaction if the meat marinates in an aluminum
According to Maurer, the shelf life is dependent on moisture content,
packaging and storage temperature. The water activity in dried jerky
will be very low, so most bacteria, yeast and many molds will not
grow. The better the package, the longer the shelf life. The colder
the temperature, the longer the shelf life. So it appears that a
properly dried jerky product with good packaging should have a room
temperature shelf life of at least half a year, Maurer says.
Like any other dried food, jerky lasts longest when stored in airtight
containers in a cool, dry place. Airtight containers include jars with
tight-fitting lids or sealable plastic bags. Even though our ancestors
dried meat and fish and kept it from year to year without
refrigeration, I recommend storing jerky in the refrigerator or freezer,
especially if you want to keep it longer than one month. Storage life
can be affected by humidity and temperature of the storage area.
I have kept jerky in a jar on the counter for several months. It doesn’t
taste as fresh as when I keep it in the refrigerator or freezer. This is
especially true for thicker pieces of jerky. When jerky contains fat, it
has more potential to turn rancid and shouldn’t be stored at room
Moisture content is jerky’s biggest contamination factor. There’s
greater surface contamination with poor packaging. Botulism is very
rare, although it’s found in fish once in awhile, says Maurer. However,
botulism only grows in the absence of air. Jerky is not prone to
botulism unless it’s vacuum packed improperly, then not refrigerated.
Many commercial jerkies are vacuum packed.
When making jerky, it’s always a good idea to label jerky packages
with name and date of drying process. I write the type of jerky on
masking tape, put it on the marinating container, and then transfer it
to the drying trays. When the jerky is dry, I put this same label on
the storage container.
When packaging jerky that feels oily, wrap it in paper towels and let
cool for a couple of hours. The toweling will absorb excess oil. Discard
the oily paper toweling and wrap again in clean paper towels. Place
the wrapped jerky in a container. This will help prevent rancidity and
encourage longer storage. If it smells rancid or if mold forms in the
container, discard it.
All raw meats must be dried at temperatures of 145°F and above. The
internal temperature of the meat pieces must remain at this
temperature for at least 10 minutes. Check to make sure your
dehydrator runs continuously at the same temperature. If you have a
dehydrator that does not have a temperature control, you can still
use it to dry jerky. However, once the jerky is dry, it’s a good idea to
put it in the oven at the lowest temperature setting. When drying
precooked foods, temperature isn’t as important.
Jerky generally dries in 4 to 20 hours. Time varies depending on the
type and wattage of the dehydrator or oven. Many factors must be
taken into consideration: the amount of jerky you’re making, the
number of trays in a dehydrator, water content of wet jerky, size of
pieces (generally 1/4-inch thick and 4 to 5 inches long), humidity in
the air and the temperature used. Faster drying can be accomplished
by increasing the temperature. If jerky becomes too crisp, it was
dried too long or the temperature was too high.
If your dehydrator doesn’t have a temperature control and there’s no
way to determine the drying temperature, as a safety precaution you
may want to precook foods to be made into jerky.
Cooking includes steaming, braising, baking or simmering. Strips of
meat or fish, including ground meat strips can be placed on cookie
sheets, put in the oven for 20 minutes at 150° F then dried in a
dehydrator or smoker.
Benefits of cooking prior to drying include:
Cooking releases moisture, which shortens the drying process. Cooking
helps eliminate fat. Cooking lengthens the storage life. Cooked jerky is
a more stable product. Cooked jerky reconstitutes faster and has a
better texture. Jerky can be made from leftover cooked meat and
fish. Cut up cooked Thanksgiving turkey or Easter ham into cubes or
strips and place in a drying environment.
IS IT DRY YET?
Jerky darkens and shrinks when it’s dry. One pound of raw meat or
fish generally dries to between 1/3 and 1/2 pound of jerky. When
testing for dryness, always feel cooled pieces - warm pieces feel more
pliable. It’s safer to over dry than to under dry.
"Dry" has many different meanings to people. Here’s a look at how a
variety of sources describe their methods for knowing when jerky is
- Squeeze a piece of dried jerky between your thumb and forefinger-
you should not feel any moisture or soft spots in the jerky.
- Dry until firm, but not as crisp as a tortilla chip, and not so dry that
- When folded in half, jerky breaks.
- Jerky bends like a green willow.
- It won’t snap clean like a dry stick.
- Jerky is hard to cut with a regular knife. A serrated knife or kitchen
scissors work better.
Fat or oil does not dry. During the drying process, it beads up on the
surface of the jerky. That’s why it’s important to cut off as much fat
as possible when preparing meat and fish to make jerky. When making
jerky from pork, it must be cooked and the fat removed before being
dried. When you remove fat, you help eliminate more of the gamy
Dog, chum and pink salmon are the least oily salmon and are best for
drying in a dehydrator or oven. Any oil that beads up during drying in
a dehydrator or oven must be patted off.
Enjoy your jerky,