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Hunter's, make your own jerky

 Hunters, Make Your Own Jerky

            Hunting season in Utah provides many households with a surplus of venison (deer and elk meat) that would make some great jerky!  Venison jerky is a nutritious, convenient meat product you can make safely at home, providing appropriate guidelines are followed.
            Jerky is made by drying thin strips of lean meat to about one-fourth its original weight.  Sun drying is not recommended due to poor temperature control and potential for contamination from animals, insects, dust and bacteria.  Outbreaks of illness and recent University studies have indicated that traditional jerky processes do not adequately destroy foodborne illness bacteria Salmonella and Escherichia coli O157:H7.  Several newer, research-tested recipes were created to make jerky drying safer.  The jerky preparation methods given below were developed separately by Colorado State University and Utah State University. 
 
Basic Meat Preparation
Use lean meats such as round, flank and chuck steak, rump roast, brisket and cross rib. Highly marbled and fatty cuts do not work as well.  Remove any thick connective tissue and gristle from meat. Trim off visible fat with a sharp knife. Fat becomes rancid quickly and causes the development of off-flavors during drying or storage. Freeze meat in moisture-proof paper or plastic wrap, until firm, but not solid.
Slice the meat on a clean cutting board while still slightly frozen into long thin strips, approximately ¼ inch thick, 1 to 1 ½ inches wide and 4 to 10 inches long. If chewy jerky is preferred, slice with the grain; slice across the grain for a more tender, brittle jerky. Lay the strips out in a single layer on a clean and sanitized smooth surface (cutting board, counter top, or cookie sheet).  (Food Safety Note: Always wash cutting boards, utensils, and counters with hot, soapy water before and after any contact with raw meat or juices. To make a sanitizing solution, use 1 teaspoon of household chlorine bleach per quart of water or use a commercial kitchen disinfectant.)  Flatten the strips of meat with a rolling pin so they are fairly uniform in thickness. Finish processing the jerky using one of the methods below.
 
Hot Cure Method
            In this method, heat from partial cooking kills illness causing bacteria on the meat.  Create a brine of your favorite jerky marinade recipe.  You may choose to use less water for a more concentrated marinade solution.  If you use a powdered mix, reserve some for dry spicing later.  Bring marinade to a simmering boil.  Place a few pieces at a time into the hot marinade for 1 ½ - 2 minutes.  Remove slices with tongs and place them on a clean cookie sheet.  Using only clean utensils, spread reserved dry spice on both sides of heated jerky strips.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.  The meat strips are ready for drying.
 
Vinegar-Marinade Method
            In this method acid from vinegar is used to kill some or all of the illness causing bacteria. 
Ingredients per two pounds of lean meat slices:
Pre-treatment dip: 2 cups vinegar
Marinade
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon hickory smoked salt
Directions: Place 2 cups vinegar in 9x11-inch cake pan or plastic storage container. Add meat strips to container, making sure vinegar covers all strips; Let soak 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure distribution of vinegar on strips.
Combine all marinade ingredients and place in a 1-gallon re-sealable plastic bag. Add lean meat slices to bag; seal bag and massage pieces to thoroughly distribute marinade over all meat strips. Refrigerate bag 1 to 24 hours. The meat strips are ready for drying.
 
General Jerky Drying Procedure
Remove treated and marinated meat slices from the refrigerator.  Place strips flat, without touching each other, on clean dehydrator trays, oven (wire) racks or other drying trays. Place trays in pre-heated dehydrator and dry at 145ºF for 10 to 14 hours, or until slices are adequately dry.  Oven drying can work if the oven can achieve a drying temperature close to 145ºF. 
Test for dryness. Properly dried jerky is chewy and leathery. It will be as brittle as a green stick, but won’t snap like a dry stick. To test for dryness, remove a strip of jerky from the oven or dehydrator. Let cool slightly, then bend the jerky; it should crack, but not break when bent.
Remove the strips from the drying racks to a clean surface. Pat off any beads of oil with absorbent paper toweling and let cool.
Storage. Place cooled jerky strips in an airtight plastic food bag or jar with a tight fitting lid. Pack jerky with the least possible amount of air trapped in the container. Too much air causes off-flavors and rancidity to develop. Label and date packages. Store containers of jerky in a cool, dry, dark place or the refrigerator or freezer.
Properly dried jerky will keep for approximately two weeks in a sealed container at room temperature. Jerky will keep for 3 to 6 months in the refrigerator and up to one year in the freezer. Check occasionally to be sure no mold is forming.
            For the complete fact sheet on preserving venison, including some great venison sausage recipes, visit http://extension.usu.edu/files/publications/publication/FN_Harvest_2009-01pr.pdf.

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