Learn how to make homemade jerky. It may seem like a complicated and daunting task, but trust me…it’s easy and WORTH it!
One of my favorite anytime-snacks (at home, on the go, hiking, dirt biking, etc.) is jerky. The problem is that jerky can be expensive and it can be chalked full of preservatives and ingredients I can’t even pronounce. Wanting to try and save some coin and wanting to know what I was putting in my body, I decided to make my own homemade jerky.
The only specialty kitchen gadget you will need is a food dehydrator. These days you can find a dehydrator for fairly cheap. I ordered the Presto Dehydro Electric Food Dehydrator for $40 off of Amazon. This is a fairly simple dehydrator with no extra buttons, but it gets the job done, and I can easily store it in my kitchen cabinet when I am not using it. If you are anything like me, I only like to keep things that I actually use, and if I do use them on the regular, they need to have their “spot”. This dehydrator is the perfect size that is big enough to make a decent-sized batch of homemade jerky, but small enough that I can store it in a cabinet when it’s not in use.
Another positive about this dehydrator is that it is only $40. A bag of jerky from the store costs $10-$20. So if you only use it a few times and decide it isn’t for you, you aren’t out too much money.
Pick your Meat
So, you have your dehydrator. Next you will need your meat. Here is where you get to start getting creative because you can use all sorts of meats! My dad is an avid hunter, so I usually end up with venison (elk and/or deer) in my freezer every year and I love using it to make jerky. When choosing a meat, you will want to pick one that is lean. Below is a list of meats and cuts you can use:
- Beef (eye of round, bottom round, top round, sirloin tip, flank steak)
- Venison (elk, deer)
- Pork (loin, tenderloin)
To cut the meat, you will want to use the sharpest knife you own, and get out a big cutting board to make sure you have the space you need.
Tip: Before cutting, freeze your meat for 10-20 minutes. This will make it much easier to cut thin slices. Since I am usually using frozen meat, I will let it defrost about 75% of the way, then start cutting while it is still partially frozen.
Once you have your chosen meat, you will need to trim off any extra fat, then start slicing pieces ⅛ to ¼ inch thick. If you want chewy pieces, you will want to slice with the grain, and if you want not-so-chewy pieces you will want to cut against the grain (I like mine less chewy). Take your time slicing and try to make your pieces as uniform as possible to ensure that they dehydrate at the same speed.
Making the marinade for homemade jerky is my favorite part! My husband and I will usually divide the meat slices in half so we can create our own marinade concoctions then vote one who’s we like better. The beauty of making homemade jerky, is that you can use whatever your heart desires. You can make it sweet, salty, spicey, you name it! I like to go through my fridge and cupboards and pull out any type of sauce, oils, and seasonings that look fun to me. Next, I will “edit” and pick which flavors I think will be the tastiest combined.
Place your sliced meat into a heavy-duty gallon Ziploc bag. Fill the bag no more than halfway to make sure there is enough room for the marinade (use multiple bags if needed). This is also a great way for kids to get in the kitchen by letting them create their own recipe for homemade jerky. Use as many bags as you want to make different marinades.
Below are some examples of ingredients you can use:
- Beef stock
- Black pepper
- Brown sugar
- Cayenne pepper
- Crushed red pepper flakes
- Fresh minced garlic
- Fresh minced onion
- Hoisin sauce
- Hot sauces (Sriracha, Green Dragon, Tabasco, etc.)
- Liquid smoke
- Olive oil
- Onion powder
- Powdered garlic
- Sliced jalapeños (minced) + jalapeño juice
- Soy sauce
- Soyaki sauce
- Teriyaki sauce
- Worcestershire sauce
- Yoshida’s Marinade and Cooking sauce
Once you have chosen which ingredients you want to use, prop open your Ziploc bag(s) with the meat inside of them so you can easily dump in the ingredients. (You can also make your marinade in a bowl then dump it into the bag, but I like to save on dishes, and I can gauge how much marinade I will need based on how much meat I have). Start with the liquids and pour in enough so that your meat is fully submerged. Use your eyes and judgment for how much of each ingredient you put in. The beauty of making a marinade is that you don’t need exact measurements. Once your liquid ingredients have been added, start dumping in your seasonings. Once again, just use your judgment. If you want it extra spicy, add a lot of pepper. If you want it a little sweet, add a spoonful of sugar.
Once you have added all of the ingredients to the bag, seal the bag up nice and tight then massage it, mixing up your yummy marinade and make sure that all of your meat is nicely coated.
Now you wait! Place your bag(s) in your fridge to marinate for 24-48 hours. I like to marinate mine for a solid 48 hours to make sure the meat can suck up as much flavor as possible. You will want to flip your bag every 12ish hours to make sure every little piece of meat is evenly marinating. Your patience will be worth it in the end, I promise.
Now that 24-48 hours have passed, it’s time to dehydrate your jerky. Set up your dehydrator in a place that won’t be in your way since it will be running for a while. Next, you will start laying the meat on the dehydrator trays. Pull the meat pieces directly from the marinade bag and lightly squeegee each piece with your index finger and thumb to remove extra marinade that will cause a mess in your dehydrator. Lay each piece of meat flat on the tray, making sure that no pieces touch each other. Once the tray has been filled up, continue the process until you run out of meat or trays, whichever comes first. Lastly, put the lid on top. If you are using the Presto Dehydro Electric Food Dehydrator like me, all you need to do is plug it in and wait.
Check on your jerky after 4 hours if you are using the Presto Dehydro Electric Food Dehydrator, or follow your dehydrator’s directions for dehydrating time. Depending on how dry you like your jerky, you can pull it off at any time once it has darkened but still pliable. I like to check the “doneness” by taking a piece and ripping it in half. It should still have some flexibility and you should see small white fibers. Once it is done, place your jerky in an airtight container or bag and refrigerate for up to a week. If you are making a lot of jerky, you can also freeze the extra to pull out on a rainy day.
That’s it! Now you know how to make homemade jerky that is perfectly suited to your taste buds (and nicer on your wallet).
- 1 lb meat (beef: eye of round, bottom round, top round, sirloin tip, flank steak – venison: elk, deer – pork: loin, tenderloin)
- 1 cup marinade (see notes above)
- Trim off any extra fat of your chosen meat, then start slicing pieces ⅛ to ¼ inch thick. If you want chewy pieces, you will want to slice with the grain, and if you want not-so-chewy pieces you will want to cut against the grain.
- Place your sliced meat into a heavy-duty gallon Ziploc bag. Fill the bag no more than halfway to make sure there is enough room for the marinade. Get creative! Start pouring/dumping your chosen sauces and seasonings in the bag. Make sure there is enough marinade to fully submerge the meat. Once everything is added, seal and massage the bag to make sure every piece of meat is covered.
- Place your bag(s) in your fridge to marinate for 24-48 hours.
- After marinating, lay the meat on the dehydrator trays. Pull the meat pieces directly from the marinade bag and lightly squeegee each piece with your index finger and thumb to remove extra marinade that will cause a mess in your dehydrator. Lay each piece of meat flat on the tray, making sure that no pieces touch each other. Once the tray has been filled up, continue the process until you run out of meat or trays, whichever comes first.
- Follow your dehydrator’s instructions for dehydrating times.
- Depending on how dry you like your jerky, you can pull it off at any time once it has darkened but still pliable.
- Once it is done, place your jerky in an airtight container or bag and refrigerate for up to a week. If you are making a lot of jerky, you can also freeze the extra to pull out on a rainy day.