Thursday, January 7, 2010

Homemade Beef Jerky, you'll want to read this one

I've been making beef jerky for quite a few years. I don't remember when I first made it but it must have been sometime back in the late 70's or early 80's. I've never had a smoker or dehydrator, I've just used the kitchen oven on a low setting to dry out the meat after I've marinated it.
I've made lots of different jerky recipes over the years. In fact, I doubt I've ever made it the same way twice. Partly this is because I keep trying new things and partially because I always have different ingredients available in the cupboard. I've never made a batch that wasn't snapped up immediately upon offering it to folks. I don't know if this is because of the way I make it or the fact that few meat eaters will turn down free beef jerky. Whatever the reason, I get pretty good reviews.
Wait a minute. Now that I think about it I did get one kind of negative reaction to my "recipe." In an internet forum I visit once in a while someone asked about beef jerky recipes. I posted up how I make it and thought that would be the end of it. Shortly thereafter someone else kind of chastised me for putting all the stuff into the marinade. Seems this individual thought dried meat should be made the way the native folks made it with nothing added to it, or just a bit of salt added. Well, that's fine and I'm sure some people like it that way. But I didn't think that's what the original recipe seeker was looking for and it's not what I'd be looking for if I was asking about jerky recipes. I'm not drying meat as a survival food or to see me through the winter, I'm not making it as an exercise in paleo cooking. I'm making it because I like to eat it and enjoy sharing it with my friends, and most of us like some seasoning with it.

Ok, enough of that! Let's make some kick butt Clan Taylor Beef Jerky!

Meat - I just get what's cheap. When the London broil cut comes on sale, that's what I use. I've used flank steak and brisket before and both work great, but they are a little costly. The London broil is a good slab of meat, relatively free of fat, and it goes on sale fequently. Remember, I almost always buy my meat when it's on sale.
Marinade - For convenience sake I generally get a big jar of teriyaki marinade to use as my base. I've also used soy sauce with great results. If you choose soy sauce you may want to consider mixing it with water so it's not too salty. I don't generally have that issue with teriyaki.
Spices - Use whatever you want.
No, seriously. Use whatever sounds good to you. I tend to pick the spices I use in two ways: it sounds good or I'm tired of looking at it in the cupboard.
I usually like to make my jerky a little (or a lot) spicy. I've used chili powder, salsa, fresh chilis, taco sauce, Tabasco sauce... it's all good.

Here's what I used this time.
Teriyaki marinade, onion, fresh garlic, black pepper, granulated garlic, Tabasco sauce, ground chili powder, cayenne powder, oregano, coriander seeds, dried chili flakes, Jamaican jerk seasoning, Vietnamese hot chili sauce, liquid smoke flavoring.
Here's an example of how I arrive at some of my seasonings decisions:
  • The ground black pepper has been in the cupboard for a long time and I don't use it since I started grinding it fresh, use that stuff up.
  • I've got four bottles of Tobasco, let's use one up.
  • Can't have too much garlic, let's go for fresh and granulated.
  • Coriander is used on South African biltong, must be good - in it goes.
  • Jerk sauce is seriously good stuff, can't miss that.
  • Vietnamese hot chili sauce... oh, yeah. 'Nuff said.

I'm going to toast the coriander seeds in an iron skillet to bloom out their flavor.
After toasting the seeds I crushed them with the bottom of a jar. Seriously fine smell in the kitchen at this point.

To bring all the flavors together I'll simmer the marinade for a short time. First picture is all the dry stuff, the second is with the marinade added.
Hmm, I may have went overboard on the coriander.

Here's what I got for meat. Two good pieces, not a lot of fat to trim off and lose. If the fat is left on it can go rancid after a bit. On the other hand, a little fat does taste good. I'm not really picky when I trim the fat. I get the big stuff off but I don't worry about small pieces.

The meat needs to be sliced into somewhat thin strips. Partially freezing the meat will make it easier to cut but I've found that good sharp knives make this pretty unnecessary.
The sweeping blade design of these knives is great for cutting slices. I can get a whole slice off with one motion. Sawing back and forth with the wrong knife or a dull knife will give ragged edges on the meat. The jerky will still taste great but won't look quite as nice.
I got that bottom knife at a flea market or in a junk shop somewhere. It's good quality carbon steel and takes a fine edge. It's a seriously big knife and I don't use it very often, but when I reach for it it's the best tool for the job and a real pleasure to use.

If you cut the meat across the grain, like these pieces have been, the jerky will be more tender for chewing.

These pieces were cut with the grain. They'll be a little tougher to chew but won't fall apart if I have them in my pocket while I'm hiking or hunting.
Really, either way will work fine.

Here's what I got from those two pieces of meat. This should make a pretty good amount of jerky.
There's that ugly green bowl again... still taking donations for a prettier one. I'm up to $ .75 ( found it in the washing machine).

The cooled marinade is poured over the meat and everything is mixed well. Now it's into the refrigerator for an overnight marinade.

Here's what it looks like the next day.
At this point I can't begin to describe how incredibly good this smells.

Just so the meat isn't quite as drippy as I get it into the oven, I've poured it into this colander to drain a bit.

A very rare self-portrait of the mad chef. Would you eat food from this character?

To prep the oven I've removed one rack and moved the other to the top position.
The bottom of the oven has been lined with aluminum foil. Until the meat reaches a particular levl of dryness the marinade will drip onto the bottom of the oven. Without foil down there to catch the drips I'd have a heck of a mess to clean up.

This step can be a little messy so I do the work over the bowl and have a paper towel down to catch other drips. Each piece of meat has a toothpick poked through one end and it is then hung on the rack. The meat dangles below and the toothpick keeps it from falling down.

Alrighty, the meat is all hung to dry. The oven is put on the lowest temperature. If you have an older oven with a pilot light that's probably just about perfect. Ours is temperamental so I go for the lowest setting and leave the door partly open so it doesn't get too hot inside. Remember, you're drying the meat, not cooking it.
I'll probably leave this in overnight. It should be done in the morning and I'll continue with this then.

One thing I'm interested in is the yield from this meat. I've saved the meat package information so after the jerky is done we'll be able to see how much I've ended up with as well as how much it costs per ounce to compare with store bought jerky.

Thanks for reading!

Ok, the night has passed and the jerky is done.
I had a little bit of a challenge last night. Our old stove was being persnickity and wouldn't hold a low temperature. By the time I realized this the jerky was a little dry already. I turned off the stove and put a 75watt light inside with the door closed. That seemed to do the trick for the rest of the night because the jerky looks great today.

Out of the oven, toothpicks removed, and in that old green bowl. They don't stack well in the bowl but that's still a pretty good sized pile of jerky.

It turned out to be 27 oz.

The meat was $1.99 lb for a total of $8.32.
Supplies for the marinade were about $7.00. I didn't keep good track of how much I used of what spice so I'm guesstimating on the generous side.
Total of $15.32. I am not going to factor in the cost of gas or electricity.
We're looking at $ .57 per ounce cost for the jerky. Last I looked, store bought jerky was quite a bit more than that so this looks like a pretty good deal financially.
This can also be a great family activity, especially if you have kids.
Besides, how cool is it to make your own beef jerky?

Happy cooking and thanks for reading.


Lady Arwen of the Silver Rose said...

I just tried some of this and OH BABY is it spicy. You'll need a drink in one hand and the jerky in the other.

Then again, I'm a light weight.

Guy Taylor said...

Tastes do differ...
I find this batch of jerky to have a pleasantly mild spicy bite with just a touch too much coriander.
Luckily, the coriander can be simply brushed off before eating.
I'm always surprised how mild the jerky comes out, especially considering the hot stuff I put into the marinade. Jamaican jerk sauce is seriously spicy stuff, as is the Vietnamese red chili sauce. And you'd think the 1/2 bottle of Tobasco would have done something?
This is a great snacking jerky. Beer drinkers will love something like this. For a trail food, it's probably a little too spicy.

Lady Arwen of the Silver Rose said...

I guess we'll just have to pass it around and take votes on it.

Guy Taylor said...

Good idea. The Pasadena bow making and primitive skills get-together for January can be my test subjects.
Hope you guys are up to it!

Anonymous said...

hey Guy don't know if ill be able to make this jerky, but ill be coming back to the gathering as long as you have jerky.

Iliana said...

Guy, this looks amazing on the photos! I think I may try it here, at the other part of the Globe! :) We tasted jerky for first time in the States and Vlad and I loved it! I bet yours tastes much better then the jerky they sell in the stores!

I make a similar calf meat-thing :) at home, in Bulgaria we call it "pastarma". Just we let the whole piece of meat dry on air (when I say "let it" I have to tell you, we never had the patience to wait long enough and have it really dry :)). The whole process takes about two weeks and well, we make this in the winter, when it is cold outside and there there are no flies.

Yours is much faster and looks amazing! Yumm ... I have to try making it!


Guy Taylor said...

Anonymous, thanks very much for your comment. I can't promise I'll bring jerky to all the PaleoPlanet gatherings as it will get a bit expensive. But I do try to bring some kind of snack when I can.
Iliana, I think every culture has their own dried meat of some kind. Some, like beef jerky in the US, have developed into more of a snack food than its original intention of preserving meat when no refrigeration was available. Some, like South African biltong, is still used by people for meat preservation, as well as a modern snack.
Ryahovska Pastarma seems very similar to what our beef jerky originally was. Now, with jerky's use as a snack food, we tend to flavor it with more than just salt and take short cuts like using the oven for drying it.