Portable Protein: Homemade Jerky for the Road
If you’ve ever snapped into a certain meat-stick snack, you might have noticed that aside from the taste of its wonderful meatiness, it, like many other meat-based snacks, contains more than its fair share of questionable ingredients—not to mention its prodigious amount of sodium. For those of us on the road, sometimes grabbing a quick snack at a gas station is just what we need to help tide us over until we get to our destination—but at what cost?
There’s no doubt the right snack can rejuvenate a weary traveler for another leg of the trip, but one should also be careful of what exactly that snack contains. One way to control what your body takes in is to carefully read food labels and choose healthy alternatives. Another way is to make what you eat yourself so you know exactly what goes into it.
That brings us to the official snack of the dusty trail: An on-the-go staple, packed full of protein, since even before the wagon trail days, beef jerky is deliciously satisfying and can help fight off hunger. It can even wake you up while you’re driving long stretches through no man’s land.
Instead of buying a prepackaged pouch of jerky, consider making your own. It’s not hard, you control just what you’re eating, you can get creative and invent your own exclusive flavors, and best of all, you’ll save some decent coin doing it, as often times, store-bought jerky can cost you double or more than it would to make it yourself.
The key to successfully making jerky is to not actually cook the meat, but to get its moisture out by dehydrating it properly. There are a ton of recipes and methods for jerky-making that can be found on the internet, using everything from aluminum-foil-wrapped box fans to purpose-built dehydrators featuring meats like beef, turkey and even bison. Take a look around and see which method and meat best fits your use and taste.
In the meantime, our resident jerky fan at Tread shares his favorite jerky-making method and flavor with us. It requires no special tools and has a bit of a kick to it. Our favorite method for making this flavorful travel-friendly snack involves the use of an oven, a refrigerator and some patience.
Prep time: 3 to 18 hours
Oven time: 3 to 5 hours
Total time: 6 to 23 hours
Makes: 3/4 pound of jerky
- Two pounds of lean top-round or flank steak
- 2 tablespoons of kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons of coarse-ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons of brown sugar
- 1 table spoon of red-pepper flakes
- 2 one-gallon sized zip-top bags
- Sharp knife
- Aluminum foil
1. When selecting your piece of beef, be sure to find one with the least amount of fat and silverskin for best results. Remember that you can ask the butcher to trim off excess fat and silverskin for you.
2. To make it easier to cut, place the meat in a zip-top bag and put it in the freezer for about an hour or two. This allows the meat to firm up for easier slicing.
3. When the steak is firm to the touch, take it out of the freezer and slice it up with your sharp knife into thin, long strips. Cut it with the grain into slices that are between 1/8 and 1/4-inch thick.
4. Mix the salt, black pepper, brown sugar, and red-pepper flakes into a mixing bowl. Make sure the dry-rub mixture is mixed well.
5. Generously coat the strips of beef with the dry-rub mixture on both sides.
6. Place the strips into a zip-top bag and place it in to the refrigerator for two hours.
7. Preheat your over to 180-degrees, or to the lowest heat setting it will go. Place a metal rack on top of an aluminum-foil-covered baking sheet.
8. Gently lay the strips of meat on the rack, leaving one-inch in between strips.
9. Place the baking sheet into the oven. We are looking to dehydrate the meat, not bake it, so we want to get some air moving around inside the oven. To do this, leave the door of the oven cracked open about an inch. If your oven wants to close itself, you can use a wooden spoon or like object to prop it open. (Be sure not to use anything metal or anything that will melt or burn.)
10. Check on the jerky after three hours. It’s ready when it can be easily torn. If it’s not ready, let it dehydrate longer. It can take up to five hours or more for jerky to properly dry. Be patient.
After the jerky is dehydrated, allow it to cool before storing it. Homemade jerky lasts up to three months when stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. That is if you can resist eating it all before then!
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the Winter 2016 print issue of Tread Magazine.