The Ultimate Guide to Making Beef Jerky at Home

I grew up listening to my Papaw's stories at our family butcher shop, and came to develop a great understanding and appreciation on different methods for preparing meat. This grew into my passion for making beef jerky at home.

In this guide I am going to share everything I've learned over the years on how to make jerky.

Choosing the right cut of beef for jerky

Best Meat for Beef Jerky

When it comes to choosing meat for beef jerky, the most important thing to keep in mind is a low fat content.

The leaner the beef, the better your end result will be because extra fat makes the jerky more prone to spoiling.

I wrote an entire guide on picking the right meat for beef jerky here.

Marinade vs. Dry Rubs

When you're making beef jerky, seasoning for your jerky is what gives it that delicious, mouth watering flavor.

Yes. Dehydrated beef jerky can be mouth watering if prepared properly!​

There are really two primary options when it comes to seasoning: marinades and dry rubs.

Using Dry Rubs for Beef Jerky

Using a dry rub gives you the chance to use your favorite mix of spices as-is. You can add your favorite barbecue dry rub to jerky for a familiar taste with a new texture.

Here are some advantages and disadvantages for using dry rubs for making beef jerky yourself.

Advantages

  • Punch of flavor without adding wet ingredients
  • Drying time dramatically reduced

Disadvantages

  • More difficult to evenly flavor the meat
  • Dry rubs don't contain a cure (to prevent bacteria from growing while drying)

Remember: When adding a cure to a dry rub, the taste can become very salty, so pick a rub with less salt to begin with.


Using Marinades for Beef Jerky

Marinades involve soaking your meat in a liquid mixture, usually overnight, to absorb flavors. While dry rubs are exactly what they sound like, adding dry seasoning to dry meat directly.

Marinating involves a mix of spices in a liquid, typically soy sauce, Worcestershire, or a pre-made marinade.

Most marinades involve either a small amount of vinegar to cure the meat or a special curing agent added to the mix.

Advantages

  • Super easy! You can use pre-made mixes or make your own blend
  • The flavors are more uniform, you won't have any "dry post" without flavor
  • Easier to cure meat in a marinade as most curing agents need to be on the meat for 12 hours to be effective

Disadvantages

  • Using a base of soy sauce or Worcestershire may put some people off.
  • Easy for the meat to become too salty if left in the marinade for too long. Be sure to follow recipes as time varies greatly (anywhere from 6-24 hours)

Should you cure beef when making jerky?

You also want to consider whether you would like to cure your meat, and what your preferred method is. Straight up: Many different home jerky makers will argue on whether or not this step is actually needed. I'll leave that up to you. Try both ways!

Curing is the process of adding a salt, sugar, and sodium nitrite mixture to the meat to prevent bacteria such as botulism from forming.

Botulism thrives in low-oxygen, low-heat environments. If you are going to use smoke or temperatures below 140° F to dry your meat, you should use a cure to keep bacteria from forming.

However, if you're using a higher temperature either in the oven or in an automatic dehydrator, you can get away with not using a cure.

When in doubt, always opt for the cure for safety. Nothing ruins a good batch of jerky like a case of botulism.

Cooking Methods

Now that your meat is properly seasoned and cured, you're ready to cook!

It is possible to cook jerky using a smoker if you have one, but for those of us without, you can choose to cook your jerky in the oven or use a beef jerky dehydrator.

No matter the method you choose, your jerky should be monitored throughout the process to prevent over-drying or burning.

Cooking jerky in the oven

Cooking in the oven requires no extra equipment and takes less time than using a dehydrator. This method will actually cook the meat rather than simply drying it.

Advantages

  • Cooking in the oven takes far less time than a dehydrator. 2-3 will prepare your jerky in the oven compared to up to 16 hours with many dehydrators.
  • You already have the equipment in your home, so there's no added cost.

Disadvantages

  • The texture will be slightly different from dehydrated jerky because the meat is cooked as well as dried.
  • Using the oven can use a lot of energy when compared to a dehydrator.

Your oven space might be limited so you can only prepare one batch at a time.


Cooking jerky in a dehydrator

Using a beef jerky dehydrator gives you the chance to make racks of delicious jerky on your counter without adding heat to the meat.

Advantages

  • Most jerky fans prefer jerky from a dehydrator because of its texture and taste when compared to the oven cooked variety.
  • You can easily prepare larger amounts of jerky on the several racks.
  • The longer drying time for a dehydrator makes it easier to check on the progress without risking burned jerky.

Disadvantages

  • Dehydrators can take much longer to prepare your jerky.
  • There is an added cost to purchase your dehydrator, so it might not be the choice for those new to making their own jerky.

If you want to learn more about what dehydrator to choose, be sure to check out our guide!

However you choose to dry your meat, remember that no recipe is exact in its cook time.

Every oven and dehydrator varies slightly, so you'll want to check on your meat every 30-60 minutes starting 2/3 through the cook time (at 2 hours if the recipe says 3 hours total).

This will prevent you from cooking or drying the meat too much. Make sure to turn the meat over throughout the process as well, for a more even result.

Making Beef Jerky can be easy and delicious

After reading this guide, do you feel ready to start making beef jerky at home?

These are all of the tricks of the trade I've picked up over the years, and they should be all you need to get started.

If you've enjoyed this guide on how to make beef jerky, please share it with your friends who are looking into the jerky world. Feel free to leave any questions or comments below. Thanks for reading!

Jimmy
 

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