Sunday, March 13, 2011

Beef Jerky

We bought ourselves a dehydrator this winter with the aid of Pierrette's parents (Christmas present). We've used it for a bunch of things, from vegetable flakes to "raw" crackers, to home-made yogurt.

One of the things I've been using this for is Beef Jerky, dehydrated on wire racks. It's pretty simple, and I like it. I'm still pretty new at it, so I'm not going to get into details like marinades that I'm still experimenting with, but the jerky itself is worth quickly describing.

Basically, you find a cut of meat that's reasonably lean and cut it into strips. Cutting against the grain makes the jerky more tender, although slightly more fragile. Cutting with the grain makes the jerky chewier:

I'm still working on finding cuts that I'm happy with, but since fat doesn't dehydrate as well and spoils more easily, you want to keep the fat to a minimum. Large strips, especially on the outside, can be trimmed off, but marbling is too spread out to be removed:

Grass-fed beef is probably better than grain-fed, here, and alternative meats like Bison might be worth further investigation. These are fruitful paths of investigation for me. It's often easier to cut your meat thinly if you cool it to near-freezing in advance, which makes the meat more firm, and thus easier to slice.

You can marinate it at this stage, although simply adding some salt and pepper and letting it cure a little overnight is tasty. I've experimented a little with marinades, but it's too soon to form strong opinions. After that, you put it in the dehydrator at 155ºF and give it 4-6h.

When it's done, it should be pliable and not brittle. I'm still working out the details on exactly when it's done. Taking it out sooner tends to make the jerky more tender, but if you take it out too soon, it won't be thoroughly dehydrated and will spoil. Getting that balance right can be tricky.

Once you're done, pack it up, store it and eat it. If you're new to jerky, refrigerating some of it is probably not a bad idea. If some of it spoils, you won't lose the whole batch.



OptimumMom said...

Oh, cool, you got the stainless steel racks. How does PJ feel about the flesh being in the same dehydrator? Keep having fun. Kale chips is one of our favourites... but a big clean up.

Geoffrey Wiseman said...

Well, she's the one who suggested I get the metal racks, so I guess she's ok with it. ;) We only have two of the metal racks so far -- we'll see how consistently I make jerky and what kind of volume would make sense before going any farther.

I've never had kale chips that I actually liked -- although I haven't had that many so far. I'll have to try with the dehydrator sometime. Is there a particular recipe you're fond of?

OptimumMom said...

I just tend to whip up something... but the most basic seems to be the safest: olive oil and some pink salt massaged on is a pleaser for the kids :) You could go beyond that and make a nut sauce to massage on. Have fun!