Many hikers today routinely enjoy beef jerky as a part of their trail-side meals. But, it wasn't that long ago that you'd have to make your own jerky. Now that jerky is so common in any backpacking store, and even at convenience stores, the making of jerky is fast becoming another "lost art."
Indians of the Americas used to build stick platforms about four to five feet high for making jerky. (In South America, this was originally called "char-qui"). The meat was cut into long thin strips and placed on the platform, being careful that no two pieces touched. In the arid Southwest, the sun was sufficient to dry the meat. In cooler Northern climates, a small fire would be built under the drying rack to help dry the meat. In most cases, a smoky fire was started as soon as the meat was hung on the rack so that the meat could "seal" and be protected against blowflies depositing their larvae.
Today, we can still make jerky with the sun, or our kitchen oven or food dehydrator. Beef, deer, elk, bison, antelope, turkey, and fish can all be used to make jerky. It makes little difference what part of the animal is used, as long as it is raw and red. All fat must be trimmed off. A little bit of fat will contribute to the jerky's flavor, but those oils will become rancid unless the jerky is refrigerated.
Some popular cuts of red meat to use for jerky include brisket, a thick round, and a large, lean rump roast.
Put the dissected game animal or the beef chunk into your freezer until it begins to firm up. Then take a sharp knife and slice the meat into strips a quarter of an inch thick, ideally cutting with the grain of the meat. This cutting is the most difficult part of the entire process.
If you choose to season the meat, now would be the time to do it. Though there is much debate about which seasoning is better, keep in mind that this is all a matter of personal preference, and that seasoning is not essential.
Some people prefer to salt their jerky. However, in the old days, salt was not used because salt attracts atmospheric moisture. This could cause mold to form on the meat, and ruin a batch of jerky.
One seasoning mix contains the following ingredients: 26 oz. box of table salt (optional), 1 tablespoon onion powder (not "onion salt"), 1 tablespoon celery powder, 1 teaspoon garlic powder, 2 tablespoons paprika, 4 tablespoons black pepper, 2 tablespoons white pepper, and 2 tablespoons of powdered dill weed. My advice is to skip the salt. This powder can then be shaken onto the meat, or the powder can be dissolved in water and the meat soaked in this liquid for an hour or so. You can create your own seasoning mixes to suit yourself, or simply do without seasonings. I prefer simply soaking the meat in a hot salsa mix for about two hours. I also like soaking the meat in a bath of sliced jalapenos and jalapeno juice.
Now the meat is ready for the drying process. You can hang the meat outdoors on racks on hot, dry, slightly windy days.
If you use your oven, coat the racks with oil and place foil in the bottom of the oven to catch any drips.Set the temperature at 100 to 110 °F., but no higher. The door need not be left ajar, since ovens are ventilated. The jerky will take 12 to 18 hours to be finished. Turn over all the meat pieces after 6 to 9 hours.
You can also use a food dehydrator, which will generally take about the same time as using your oven.Again, if your dehydrator has a temperature control, do not set it any higher than 110 ° F.
The jerky is done when the strips are dark, nearly black, and there is very little interior moisture when broken. If the moisture is right, the jerky will break only if cut across the grain, otherwise it will bend.You'll be surprised at the amount of shrinkage that takes place when you dry meat. With five pounds of fresh meat, you'll end up with about one pound of jerky.
Incidentally, in the Old Days, people rarely ate large chunks of meat, as is commonly done in the United States and other "advanced" countries. Meat was dried because that was the most efficient way of storing it. People used to use a small amount of jerky, crushed, and added to soups and stews.This would increase the protein content of dishes, and add flavor. Today, our way of consuming meat contributes to high blood pressure, high cholesterol count, and heart attacks.