Does Beef Jerky Go Bad?

Nothing,and I mean nothing, is more frustrating than opening up a bag of beef jerky and getting that whiff of.. spoiled jerky.

​Don't let that happen to you. I've been there. You don't want bad jerky.

Does beef jerky go bad? You bet it does.​

In this guide I answer the age old question, "Does beef jerky go bad?". As well as advice for making your homemade jerky last longer.

Store bought jerky can last up to 2 years if unopened, but how long can you keep your homemade jerky before it goes bad? We'll get there in a moment.

The answer varies greatly depending on how you make your jerky and how you store it.

Jerky can definitely go bad over time, and you know it's time to throw it out when there is any noticeable change in smell or color.

The fat in the jerky becomes rancid over time, and this causes the meat to spoil.Even within the jerky community there are many misconceptions about the storage of homemade jerky.

Some people only store their jerky in jars on the counter. Others swear by a vacuum sealing process.

Many jerky fans keep their jerky in the freezer, removing it only hours before eating. With all the varying opinions out there, it can be hard to decide what's best.

Understanding the reasoning behind storage methods will help you choose how to keep your jerky fresh for as long as possible.

Beef Jerky Shelf Life

Some of us have never had to worry about how to store our jerky because it gets eaten within a week of eating it.

However, for times when you want to make an extra large batch it is important to know how long you can keep it before it spoils. Because most of the moisture in jerky is removed, there is less room for growth of bacteria.

This means that jerky can last significantly longer than regular cooked meat.

Homemade beef jerky will be good for up to 3 months if stored at room temperature, and up to a year if frozen. Store-bought jerky on the other hand has added preservatives that allow it to last up to 2 years in its original, unopened package.

Once any jerky becomes harder, darker, or different in smell than when it was fresh, it is no longer safe to eat. Read on for the best ways to keep your jerky fresh for a full year after you make it.

Choose a lean cut to start

The best treatment for spoiled jerky is prevention, and that comes in the form of choosing a lean cut of beef to start.

The fat on the meat is what goes rancid and ruins your jerky so the lower the fat content, the longer it will last. Choose a lean cut of beef with as little marble as possible.

Then trim any remaining fat before slicing into strips. If you use ground beef for jerky, choose at least 90% lean beef for best results.

For more help choosing your cuts of meat, check out my article on the best cuts of meat for beef jerky.

Curing the meat for jerky

If you want your jerky to store for any length of time after making it, you must use a cure in your recipe. Cure is a mix of salt and sodium nitrate that prevents harmful bacteria from growing on the meat.

There are several cures available to add to your marinade, like Instacure. The cure is added to your normal marinade and soaked for at least four hours.

Drying your jerky

The drying method you choose can have a small effect on the life of your jerky. If you use a dehydrator or oven to dry your jerky, it will last longer if the temperature is 160°F or higher.

This temperature is high enough to kill some of the harmful bacteria that could grow and later spoil the jerky. This heat actually cooks the jerky instead of just drying it, and is preferred by some people because of this property.

If you are a firm believer of using your dehydrator on a lower temperature, make sure you keep good track of your jerky once it's made. That doesn't mean that it's automatically more susceptible to spoiling quickly, but it does have a small effect on the shelf life.

For more information about jerky drying temperatures and bacteria, check out pages 2-3 of this report.

Vacuum Sealing

One of the best ways to preserve your jerky for a long shelf life is to vacuum seal it as soon as it's ready. For a great mid-range machine, try this one from Hamilton Beach.

Place your jerky inside the provided bags in a single layer, then use the machine to seal.If you don't have access to a vacuum sealer, you can use gallon sized zip top bags.

Suck out the air with a straw or submerge the bottom of the bag into a bowl of water to push the air to the top of the bag, then seal. To create a makeshift vacuum seal with jars, place the jerky into your glass or plastic jars with screw-top lids while it is still hot.

Place the lids on immediately, and the difference in temperature will create a gentle vacuum seal. While these methods are similar to vacuum sealing, they don't offer the same tight seal that a counter top machine does. Sealed jerky will last on the shelf for up to three months.

Freezing your jerky

Once you've placed your jerky in a jar, bag, or vacuum sealed bag you can freeze it to prolong its life even further. Jerky will last about a year in the freezer at its peak quality, but it isn't safe to keep for much longer than 12 months.

No matter how you choose to store your jerky, make sure you clearly label the date on the outside of your package. This takes the guess work out of jerky storage, and lets you focus on enjoying your jerky rather than wondering whether it's safe to eat.


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