Who would have thought that something which was originally intended as a method of preserving and transporting meats in the absence of refrigeration would become such a delicious modern day treat?
The process of drying meat can be traced back to the 1500’s, where it was introduced by the native Peruvian tribes. The end result was known as Charqui which means to burn meat. Americans later adapted this to Jerky. In South Africa, dried meat pioneers called it Biltong.
These days you can buy beef jerky in the supermarket but the finished product is not as good as something you might find in a good butcher where they make their own ( The Stanley Street Butcher in St Ives springs to mind).
You can easily make your own beef jerky at home. Plain, flavoured, thick or thin, you simply need to follow a few basic rules:
1. The meat must be lean. Fat does not dry completely and this might spoil your meat down the track when stored. Feel free to use a cut such as rump or casserole steak.
2. When drying, maintain a constant temperature. Set your oven to the lowest setting possible and leave it alone for the duration of drying. Your product will be more consistent this way.
3. Experiment. There are so many combinations possible with making Jerky. You can use beef, lamb, kangaroo, turkey, fish, whatever your imagination can conjure.
For easy home made beef jerky, you will need:
1. An oven with wire racks or a food dehydrator.
2. 2 packs of pre sliced “minute” steaks from the supermarket. (Alternatively, buy a large rump steak and slice it thinly, about 1cm thickness is fine)
3. Wooden skewers.
4. Spices. Salt and fresh cracked pepper are essential, for marinating I recommend Soy, Fresh chilli and honey but any marinade of your choice is fine.
Begin by taking the wire racks out of your oven then preheating it to 65 degrees Celsius. If using a food dehydrator, take the racks out and turn it on.
Take the meat out of the packaging and trim off as much fat as you can. Sprinkle salt and fresh cracked pepper on both sides of the meat. The salt will begin to draw the moisture out which will aid in the drying process. If you are marinating your meat, make sure you leave it overnight in the fridge so that it absorbs all the flavour.
Take an oven rack and suspend it so that you may hang the meat without it touching any surface. I recommend using 4 similar sized jars, placing them under the sides of the rack. Grab a wooden skewer and thread the meat in 2 places so that the meat hangs without folding back on itself. Depending on the spacing of your oven rack, you will have to use wooden skewers to create “support” beams in between the gaps.
If using a food dehydrator, place the meat on the racks and simply turn it on.
You are now ready to begin the drying process. Your set up may look a little something like this:
One crucial element is to leave a gap in the oven door. A few cm will do fine. You can do this by jamming the handle of a wooden spoon into the door. This will prevent the meat from actually cooking which will ruin your potential jerky.
I left the most recent batch I made in the oven for about 7-8 hours. Check your jerky every 2-3 hours to check for it’s consistency. I like mine more on the dry side, some people prefer it more chewy so you might leave it in the oven for 5-6 hours instead. The thicker the cut of meat, the longer you will have to leave it in. Don’t be afraid to cut a bit off to see where it’s at. Your finished product might look something like this:
Beef Jerky has to be one of my favourite snacks. It’s high in protein and it’s just so tasty. I can’t keep the bag near me or my hands go wandering without me even realising.
So why don’t you give it a go? Remember, it doesn’t have to be beef. It can be fish, chicken duck, or even snails!
Can you think of any marinades that might go well with this? Feel free to leave a comment below.