How To: Beef Jerky Basics

Yes, this is a beefy jerk. We’re talk­ing about beef jerky, though.

Jerk THIS, douchebag!

Beef jerky is one of tho—

Eh? You think the “beefy jerk” cap­tion is a tad juve­nile?

I’m sor­ry. How about I share a lit­tle bit of inter­est­ing his­to­ry and ety­mol­o­gy?

The term jerky prob­a­bly comes from South Amer­i­ca, specif­i­cal­ly the Quechua word ch’ar­ki, which means “dried, salt­ed meat.” 

Some oth­er Peo­ple Who Know These Things™ also say the food, if not the name, comes from South Africa, where they make cured meat strips they call bil­tong, from the Dutch words bil (“but­tock”) and tong (“strip” or “tongue”). So call­ing your beef jerky “ass tongue” or “tongue butt” might keep your friends from mooching so much of—

What’s that? You’d rather go back to sopho­moric jokes about the douchebag in the pho­to?

Okay, fine. Next time you see some­one like that, grab your crotch and say, “I got some beef you can jerk right here!”

Now, here’s how ya make the stuff.

  • Ingre­di­ents:
  • 1 12 to 2 lbs. of beef*
  • Mari­nade (use the recipe below or one list­ed under More Stuff)
  • Time

*What’s the Beef?

What kind of beef? Depends who you ask. Some recipes call for Lon­don broil or oth­er more expen­sive cuts; the Alton Brown recipe this is based on uses flank steak. But any lean beef should work just fine. If there’s much fat, espe­cial­ly if it’s mar­bled, you’ll have some jerky with nasty, pos­si­bly ran­cid, crud on it; if you heat it long enough to get rid of all the fat, you’ll have some taste­less, rock-hard beef on your hands.

I’ve had good results with rump roast: It’s inex­pen­sive and it’s usu­al­ly easy to trim off the fat. Which, no mat­ter what cut you choose, is step one:

  1. Trim off as much fat as pos­si­ble from your beef.
  2. Put it in the freez­er for 1 to 2 hours so it will be eas­i­er to slice con­sis­tent­ly.
  3. Slice it up.
  4. Mar­i­nate for 12 to 48 hours.
  5. Dry it.

Dry It? How?

A smok­er or dehy­dra­tor is ide­al for this, or you can rig up a, um—a Jerk­er? Jerk­i­na­tor? Not sure what to call it, but if you real­ly want to fol­low Alton Brown’s recipe you’ll need a box fan and some bungie cords and air con­di­tion­er fil­ters. No, real­ly.1

If you’re not that ambi­tious, or you don’t have a smok­er or dehy­dra­tor, your oven will do just fine.

Slice your beef up as con­sis­tent­ly as pos­si­ble into strips, trim­ming off any left­over fat as you go. If you want chewier jerky, use thin slices. If you like it soft­er, cut it a bit thick­er or into sticks. You’ll need to exper­i­ment a bit to get it dialed in just the way you like. If you’ve got a mix­ture of thin­ner and thick­er slices, just take the thin­ner slices out ear­li­er so they don’t get too dry and tough.

Put the sliced beef into a bag with your mari­nade and refrig­er­ate at least 12 hours, up to 48, turn­ing it occa­sion­al­ly so all the beef gets mari­nad­ed.

Blot the strips with paper tow­els and place them in a sin­gle lay­er on a broil­er or roast­ing rack.

Set your oven’s temp as low as pos­si­ble; some­where around 165° is ide­al. Try to at least keep it below 200°.

Put the beef strips in the oven but don’t close it: Prop the door open a cou­ple of inch­es with a wood­en spoon or tongs or some­thing; this lets air cir­cu­late and helps it get dry (this will also help keep it from get­ting too hot).

Turn it over every hour or so; remove when it’s done. This might be any­where from a cou­ple of hours to all day, depend­ing on what cut you’re using and how thick it is. If the jerky has any mari­nade on its sur­face, blot it again while it’s still warm.

If you need to store your jerky for a while or send it as gifts or what­not, you can buy sil­i­ca gel pack­ets to keep it from doing unspeak­ably evil things when no one’s look­ing.

Here’s the Marinade!

  • Ingre­di­ents:
  • 1 12 to 2 pounds flank steak
  • 23 cup Worces­ter­shire sauce
  • 23 cup soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp. hon­ey
  • 2 tsp. fresh­ly ground black pep­per
  • 2 tsp. onion pow­der
  • 1 tsp. liq­uid smoke
  • 1 tsp. red pep­per flakes 

This one’s pret­ty sim­ple to pre­pare:

Whisk every­thing togeth­er and dump it in the bag with your beef.

Beef appetit!

  1. I should say, how­ev­er, that dry­ing your jerky at room tem­per­a­ture gives you more con­trol over the final prod­uct, so it might be worth the effort, 12 hours of dry­ing time and all.