Jerky (check) Recipe (check) …and even better, Safety

jerky; jerky-recipe; meat-safety

Those Were The Days!

When I was a kid, the month of September was just magical. The first few days of the month were indeed, the lingering, bittersweet, final days of summer vacation from school, but they were also the crowning days of the archery hunting season. For about a week each year, I’d track those huge racks of antlers wearin’ deer! As the season grew nearer each day, I became increasingly more pensive, poker-faced, and preoccupied. You see, the baseball play-offs were also taking place, and between deer tracks and batting averages, my mind was mush for a period of at least ten days. By the first week-end, I had been transformed into some kind of cross between a short-stop double-play champion, and an indomitable, stick-flickin’ paladin – a hunter-killer of the forest! Then, as the opening moment arrived and I crossed the creek and headed for higher country with some type of intrepid gallantry, armed with my bow, a quiver full of arrows, and my hunting knife clenched firmly between my teeth.

I made deer jerky and lots of it! Some years, I jerked an entire deer and carried the stuff around in linen pillow cases. Following the archery season, school began, but I vowed not to let it stop my jerky-chawin’ habit! Contained in my ruk-sack, between the books and my gym gear, no one even suspected I was packin’ real treasure inside a partially-filled pillow case.

Now, in those days, I had a particularly nasty ol’ teacher for Sixth-Period History class. Her name was Mrs. Garner and she rode a Harley-Davidson broom to school each morning. What a sight! That cackling ol’ bat actually wore a pointed hat, had one yellow eye and one gray one. She had one tooth in front that hung over her lower lip, and she laughed like the wicked witch of the west! Hee… heee…. Heee… heeee… It was bone chilling… truly bone-chilling I tell you! And the black smoke trailing behind that broom as she circled around the skies of the Jr. High School, put the fear of medusa into everyone’s souls.

On the first day, precisely at 2:20 P.M., a yardstick crashed down on my desk and everyone jumped two inches from their seats. Mrs. Garner was peering down her crooked nose at me … with her gray eye, as the other one was squinted!

“What have you got in your mouth, young man?” she demanded.

“Nothing, mam! Nothing at all!” I replied meekly. I had swallowed a chunk of jerky the size of my thumb, and was now lying through my teeth. I had always placed a firm “pinch” of jerky between my left cheek and molars during 6th Period History class, and everyone knew it.

The next slap of the yardstick came down across the side of my desk and partially nailed my right buttock. “Yeeeooww”, I yelled as I stood up.

“What was that for, you nasty ol’ biddy?” I screamed.

“What did you call me?”, Mrs. Garner impatiently demanded.

“Now, listen here you ol’ bat”, I replied, “Just who do you think is running this school, you or I?”

That’s when everything went dark. I found myself in the Principal’s office ten minutes later as I regained consciousness. Mr. Anderson, the principal, had found my stash of jerky and was helping himself. Smiling, he said, “Of course you brought enough for the rest of the class, right?”

“Shorrre I did”, I replied as I opened the pillow case.

Oh, and yes… after Mrs. Garner accepted my apology for calling her an ol’ biddy, even she tried a piece of my legendary, Rocky Mountain jerky! Little did she realize I planned to turn my horse loose inside her classroom the following Thursday!

Makin’ Jerky

Historically, jerky is pretty simple stuff. For centuries, cultures have preserved fish and meat by adding 4% or more salt. Of course the meat had to be soaked in water before being consumed, but people realized it hadn’t spoiled. Further, with the moisture removed, it was light and convenient to carry. Later in history, people discovered that by adding between 2.3% – 3% salt, any lactobacillus bacteria as well as the curing-bacteria strains known as staphylococcus and kocuria (micro-coccus), continued to thrive as the lactic acid fermented the meat product.

Please understand, salt does not cure meat. It does, however, limit the water supply “available” to pathogenic bacteria. Most bacteria do not grow jerky; jerky-recipe; meat-safety;at water activities below 0.91, and most molds cease to grow at water activities below 0.80. The USDA has formally stated, “A potentially hazardous food does not include a food with a water activity value of 0.85 or less.”

What does this mean to a hobbyist making jerky? Simply that by drying meat past a certain point, harmful (pathogenic) bacteria can no longer live. The dried meat product is safe to eat even stored outside a refrigerator.

Are there other ways to destroy bacteria in meat? Yes, there are. The second-most cost effective method is by the introduction of an acid. When we “ferment” a product, it becomes safe for consumption. You may ask what this method has to do with drying jerky. It is because the government also classifies “dried” or “semi-dried” products in acidulated meats such a salami. Today, the FSIS of the USDA defines shelf-stable, dried meat products as fermented, and smoked, having been nitrite-cured, reaching a pH of 5.0 or less, with a moisture/protein ratio of 1.9:1 or less. Their definition of a “dry sausage” is a product that has reached a pH of 5.3 as a result of bacterial action or direct acidulation reaching a loss of 25% to 50% of its moisture. In classifying “semi-dry-cured sausage”, the FSIS has established that products reaching a pH of 5.3 or less, as the result of bacterial action or direct acidulation, then further dried to remove 15% of its moisture, be contained in this category having a moisture/protein ratio of 3.1:1 or less.

Okay, back to drying the product. Why are there now so many restrictions? Grandpa just hung it on the fence and let it dry… and it didn’t hurt a soul! Hmmmm….. or did it?

A Turning Point

In October 2003, in New Mexico, there was an outbreak of Salmonella that was traced to jerky production in one of the small plants. In response to this outbreak, the Food Safety and Inspection Service initiated a series of policy changes and guidelines. Jerky is usually made from beef and the cooking guidelines for beef products should be observed. Now, the question arises, “Why is drying meat, without first heating it to 160˚ F. (72° C), a food safety concern?” The danger looms when an appliance will not heat the meat to 160° F – “a temperature at which bacteria are destroyed” according to the USDA – before it dries. After drying, bacteria become much more heat resistant. Within a dehydrator or low-temperature oven, evaporating moisture absorbs most of the heat. Consequently, the meat itself does not begin to rise in temperature until most of the moisture has evaporated. Then, when the dried meat temperature finally begins to rise, the bacteria have become more heat resistant and are more likely to survive. If these bacteria are pathogenic, they can cause food borne illness to those consuming the jerky.

What the FSIS has concluded is that it is not enough to follow the time-temperature guidelines, but to also include the humidity factor in the cooking process. It is now necessary to maintain the relative humidity of the oven at 90% or above for at least 25% of the cooking time and no less than one hour. This ruling has started a heated and ongoing debate between the FSIS and small jerky manufacturers who claim that maintaining such high humidity in a smokehouse is difficult and may force them out of business. Another argument is that the humidity requirement changes the quality of jerky. Due to today’s microbiological concerns, particularly E.coli 0157:H7, Salmonella, and Listeria monocytogenes, commercially-made jerky must now be exposed to thermal processing. A hobbyist is not bound by those rules but we believe it is beneficial to know about the latest safety requirements for making jerky products.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has divided jerky into specific categories: 

1. Jerky – The product is produced from a single piece of meat. The product can also be labeled as “Natural Style Jerky” provided that the product name is accompanied by the explanatory statement “made from solid pieces of meat.”
2. Jerky Chunked and Formed – The product is produced from chunks that are molded and formed. and then cut into strips.
3. Jerky Ground and Formed or Chopped and Formed. The meat is ground, molded, pressed, and cut into strips.

It should also be noted that pork and wild game (bear, venison) meat is at risk of being infested with trichinae and should be either cooked or accordingly treated. Commercially made jerky is monitored by inspectors of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. Home made jerky, often made from venison, is often made in a hazardous way. Dried meat will keep for many years if kept at low humidity because bacteria will not grow under such conditions. That does not mean that all bacteria are dead. E.coli was found in dried but uncooked jerky that has been stored at room temperature for more than a year.

Although curing salt (Cure#1) is not required in the manufacture of homemade jerky, it is recommended that it be used. Curing salt offers advantages as it…

1. Stabilizes and improves the color of meat.
2. Contributes to the characteristic flavor of cured meat.
3. Inhibits growth of spoilage and pathogenic bacteria.
4. Slows down development of rancidity of fat.

The new method of making jerky from a single piece of meat

The USDA current recommendation for making jerky safely is to heat meat to 160° F (72° C) before the dehydrating process. This step assures that any bacteria present will be destroyed by wet heat. Most dehydrator instructions do not include this step, and a dehydrator may not reach temperatures high enough to heat meat to 160° F. After heating to 160° F, maintaining a constant dehydrator temperature of 130˚ to 140˚ F (54 – 60° C) during the drying process is important because: the process must be enough to dry food before it spoils; and it must remove enough water that microorganisms are unable to grow.

The University of Wisconsin has concluded that the following temperatures are effective at killing E.coli 0157:H7 in jerky. These folks recommend that a dehydrator temperature of 145 deg. F (63 deg. C) or higher be used.

Drying Temp. – – – – – Drying Time:
125 deg. F (52 deg. C) 10 hours
135 deg. F (57 deg. C) 8 hours
145 deg. F (63 deg. C) 7 hours
155 deg. F (68 deg. C) 4 hours

Remember, the leaner the meat, the better the jerky. Either fresh or frozen meat can be used. Meat should be trimmed of fat and connective tissue. Partially frozen meat is easier to cut into 1/4” strips, 6” long x 1” wide. Home produced jerky made of sliced meat pieces is usually marinated overnight. Make about 1/2 cup (120 ml) of marinade for each pound of meat. Drain the slices and pat them dry with paper towels. Sprinkle the meat with freshly-ground black pepper and other spices you like.

Basic jerky marinade:
(For 5-7 lb. of meat)

1 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbs. powdered garlic
1 Tbs. black pepper
1 Tbs. liquid smoke (unless you are going to use real smoke!)

This amount of marinade is enough for 5-7 lb. of meat. Did you know that commercially made jerky is not marinated but mixed with salt, nitrite and spices in a vacuum tumbler before it is dried? If you wish to cook the meat to 160 degrees F (72 degrees C) as recommended by the FSIS., simply bring the marinade with strips of jerky to a boil. If you do not have enough marinade to do this, add more water. Another solution is to make a special brine just for that purpose. Bring half of the brine to a boil. Insert the meat pieces, bring the brine to a boil and cook it for 2 minutes. Remove the strips and allow them to dry. Change the brine for the second half of meat and repeat the process.

Begin the dehydrating process immediately after cooking. Dry the meat at 130-140° F (54-60° C) until a test strip cracks but does not break when it is bent. Jerky can be dried in the sun, oven, smokehouse, or a dehydrator.

Real smoke just won’t adhere to wet meat. For this reason, jerky is always dried before being smoked. However, if you are going to smoke very thin meat strips with heavy smoke, don’t do it for too long. If the smudge is heavy and the strips are thin, more than 60 minutes might create a bitter flavor. Keep in mind that sausage meat is encased with casings, which acts as a barrier to smoke penetration. The casings contain millions of tiny holes that let the smoke in. Thin jerky cuts have no protective barrier and accept smoke rapidly. If the smoking temperature is maintained between 130-140° F (54-60° C), there is no difference between smoking and drying and it might be considered one process. Allow it to cool and then place it in a paper bag. For longer storage, seal it in a vacuum sealer.

The New Method Of Making Restructured Jerky – (from ground meat)

Grind the lean meat through 1/4” (6 mm) plate. Add all ingredients to meat and mix them together. Adding Cure #1 is a good idea, as it inhibits the growth of pathogenic bacteria. Develop the “primary bind”.You want the sausage mass to feel sticky, exactly like it would appear during the sausage-making process. You may add some water to facilitate the mixing and spice distribution. Cover the meat and leave it overnight in a refrigerator.

Press the meat into flat strips using grinder attachments for making jerky or jerky gun. Place the ground meat strips on a cookie sheet. Preheat your oven to 325° F (162° C). (Boiling it might break it apart) Cooking it in an oven or in a smokehouse is the preferred method. Heat to 160° F (72° C) internal meat temperature.

Begin dehydrating immediately after cooking. Dry it at 130-140° F (54-60° C). Place the strips close together, but not touching. Jerky is done when a test strip cracks but does not break when it is bent. (about 8-10 hours). Next, apply the smoke. If the smoking temperature is maintained between 130-140° F (54-60° C), there is no difference between smoking and drying, and it might be considered one process. Allow it to cool and then place it in a paper bag. If it loses moisture too rapidly, place it in a jar with several holes punched in the lid. Place it in the refrigerator. For longer storage, use a vacuum sealer.

If you make jerky from wild game, be sure to pre-cook it to 165° F (74° C). Game meats, especially bears, are often infected with trichinae and other parasites. If the meat will not be cooked, it should be frozen according to the USDA rules. Deeply freezing meat takes care of trichinae but will not eliminate bacteria from the meat.

Please be safe folks.  And if you use a recipe from the internet… be aware that the majority of recipes on the Internet do not mention the fact that jerky should be pre-cooked in order to be microbiologically safe. Some of us will refuse to accept this fact and will never cook jerky.  If so, please use extra precautions that might be implemented to increase the safety of the product:

Good home-manufacturing practices include:
Using at least 2.5% salt.
Using sodium nitrite. (Cure #1)
Dry-curing meat for jerky.
If brine is used, add acidic ingredients into your marinade.
Don’t cut strips thicker than 1/4”. The thinner the strips are, the quicker they will dry.
People who like to decrease the amount of salt or use salt substitutes should pre-cook jerky.

Useful Information
Ingredients that inhibit the growth of bacteria include salt, soy sauce, sodium nitrite, acidic liquids such as vinegar, lemon juice, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, and teriyaki sauce. Jerky strips heated in marinade will dry faster. Slice meat with the grain for chewy jerky. Slice meat across the grain for a more tender, brittle jerky. Be careful when applying liquid smoke as too much may make your product bitter. Worcestershire sauce is often added to jerky marinade. It takes about 4 lbs. of fresh meat to make 1 lb. of dry jerky. Salt prevents the growth of bacteria and helps to draw the moisture out of the meat. Commercially produced and vacuum packed jerky can be stored for only one year. Home made jerky should be refrigerated and should be consumed within 1-2 months as its flavor will deteriorate in time.

Yup pards, many folks will continue making jerky without precooking meat, the way they have always done it. Whether you follow them or make jerky in accordance with the USDA regulations is up to you. Again, I’m certainly no expert, but I do strongly believe that safety is the most important step of any meat processing operation.

Best Wishes,

jerky; jerky recipe; meat safety

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One thought on “JERKY

  1. Jerky Recipes

    Because dried fat becomes rancid, it only makes sense to remove as much fat as possible from the leanest meat you can find. Top or bottom round beef are good choices, along with any other lean cut. I’ve even used the brisket. Jerky may be made from thin strips cut about half an inch wide and only 3/16 or 1/4 inch thick. Or, if you prefer, the meat may be ground and pressed out into strips on a drying screen to make “restructured” or “formed” jerky. You don’t need any casing. Just grind the meat, add spices, mix well and press the raw meat onto sterilized screens to dry. Here are a few variations you might try.

    Robber’s Roost Rawhide
    (Traditional -Whole Strip Jerky)

    10 lbs. lean beef or venison
    2 tspns. Cure #1
    1-1/2 tspns. paprika
    1 tspn. cayenne
    1 tblspn. onion powder
    1 tblspn. garlic powder
    1 tblspn. kosher salt
    3 tblspns. black pepper (cracked)
    ½ cup Worcestershire
    1-1/2 cups soy sauce

    Meat is much easier to slice when it is nearly frozen. As fat in jerky eventually becomes rancid, use the leanest cuts available and trim all fat and sinew away. Top and bottom rounds are ideal for making jerky. Cut meat along (with) the grain for chewy texture in strips ¼” thick and wide as you prefer. Our outfit likes 2” wide strips and in the past, we have not heated the meat. With the new guidelines in place, we now follow the procedures outlined above. The strips are place into the marinade and refrigerated (covered) 24 hours, overhauling them after 12 hours. The meat is patted dry and the strips are placed onto drying screens in a ventilated curing room at 90°F. (32°C.). The strips are covered with cheesecloth. Jerky may also be cured inside a slightly heated smoker at the same temperature. Most electric range ovens are not capable of sustaining the lower heat required to merely dry (rather than cook) the meat. On the other hand, the pilot light inside a gas oven may be just right for supporting the desired lower temperature.

    “Saddle Strings”
    (Restructured Jerky Using A Jerky Cannon)

    Use the recipe (above) for Robber’s Roost Rawhide and mix all the ingredients with the comminuted (ground) meat. Overhaul it in a couple of hours and allow it to remain covered in a refrigerator overnight. Comminuted meat is often pressed into a form or passed through a die to produce restructured jerky (also called formed jerky). Many people, especially denture wearers, prefer its texture. Over the past few years, restructured jerky has become increasingly popular and home hobbyists may now order a “jerky gun” or a larger “jerky cannon” to extrude meat through a plastic die screwed onto the end of a tube. Side-by-side dies, for any geared vertical sausage stuffer, may be ordered through sausage supply companies, making the process even more quick and simple. Extruded meat is placed onto drying screens in “rounds” or “flats”, and many people are simply extruding store-bought, extra-lean hamburger through their jerky guns for the lazy man’s ultimate convenience. We recommend using your own comminuted top or bottom round cuts, having all fat trimmed away. Initially, the meat is prepared by cutting it into one-inch chunks then marinating them in your favorite marinade 12 hours. The meat is allowed to drip dry half an hour before being ground using a ¼’” plate to produce a finer, leaner, grind for the primary bind. Mixing the meat into a sticky “meat paste” ensures proper binding and texture. If you subscribe to the new USDA-FSIS rules regarding cooking, you’ll have to bake the comminuted meat rather than boil it. This may be done inside your kitchen range oven or inside your smokehouse as a little hickory smoke is introduced. Always begin the dehydrating process immediately following the cooking step.

    Minnie Maud Ranch Jerky

    10 lbs ground meat
    2 tspns. Cure #1
    3 tspns. black pepper
    1-½ tspns. paprika
    1 tspn. cayenne
    1 tblspn. onion powder
    1 tblspn. garlic powder
    1 tblspn. salt
    ½ cup Worcestershire
    ¾ cup soy sauce

    New England Jerky

    2 lbs ground meat
    2.26 g. of Cure #1 (USA)
    ½ tsp black pepper
    1tsp onion powder
    1tsp garlic powder
    1tsp salt
    ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
    ¼ tsp ground ginger
    ¼ cup soy sauce
    1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
    ¼ cup water

    Hawaiian Jerky

    2 lbs ground meat
    1tsp salt
    1tbsp brown sugar
    ¼ tsp cayenne
    1 tsp garlic powder
    1 tsp ground ginger
    ½ tsp black pepper
    ¼ cup soy sauce
    ¼ cup pineapple juice.
    2.26 g. of Cure #1 (USA)

    Texas Jerky

    2 lbs ground meat
    2tsp salt
    ½ tsp black pepper
    1tsp chili powder
    1tsp paprika
    1tsp garlic powder
    ¼ tsp cayenne
    ½ tsp oregano
    ½ cup water
    2.26 g. of Cure #1 (USA)

    New Orleans Jerky

    2 lbs ground meat
    ½ tsp black pepper
    ½ tsp cayenne
    1 tsp onion powder
    ½ tsp paprika
    1 ½ tsp garlic powder
    2 tsp salt
    3 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
    ½ cup water.
    2.26 g. of Cure #1 (USA)

    Guadalajara Jerky

    2 lbs ground meat
    ¼ cup BBQ sauce
    ¼ cup water
    1 tsp liquid smoke
    1 tbsp powdered fajita mix
    1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
    ½ tsp chili powder
    ¼ tsp cayenne
    1 tsp salt.
    2.26 g. of Cure #1 (USA)

    Okay gang! Get your jerky recipes together. Soon we’re going to have a “jerky contest” and the members will be the judges. The winner will have a nice prize.

    Best Wishes,

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