Somewhere along the line, consumers decided it was acceptable for manufacturers of cheap, processed meat products to employ the term "jerky" when selling their dried-out goods. But real jerky isn't available next to the gas station cash registers; real jerky – popular in the New World since the height of the Incan Empire – is a gourmet treat. Fortunately, the hand-made stuff is getting easier to find as serious chefs create unique products from high-end ingredients (and sometimes soda).
Here are some of the best jerky recipes for cooks looking to get in on the action. They're hard to find – jerky chefs are protective of their prized recipes – but worth the time. So get the knives, break out your smokers, and pre-heat your oven. The only thing better than cooking a gourmet treat is being able to put it in your pocket before you head out to the bar.
If you eat jerky, you've heard of Jack Links, one of the leading national brands, known for popular and intense flavors like "Sriracha" and "Burrito." But you may have never tried jerky that harnesses the oaky flavor of bourbon and the crisp, sweetness of vanilla or cream soda – what Jack Links' executive chef Wes Castelsky calls a "playful way to work with beef's already delicious umami profile." For a truly experimental jerky, you can create this recipe with root beer. The results has a retro feel and brings out a hint of both the corner bar and a classic candy store.
Cream Soda and Bourbon Beef Jerky from Jack Link's Executive Chef Wes Castelsky
- 2 lbs lean beef top round
- 2 cups cream soda (for other interesting flavors try using dark soda, root beer, cherry cola, or vanilla flavored cola)
- 1 cup bourbon
- 1/3 cup maple syrup
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 1/4 cup liquid smoke
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1 tbsp onion powder
- 1/2 tsp chili powder
Wrap the top round in butcher's paper or plastic film and chill it in the freezer for one to two hours to firm it up before slicing.
Combine all the other ingredients in a mixing bowl.
Remove the top round from the freezer and slice it against the grain into 1/4-inch thick slices. Add the sliced beef to the marinade, mix thoroughly. Place the beef in the fridge and allow to marinate for four to six hours.
Layer tin foil on the bottom of the oven to catch any drippings. Remove the wire racks from the oven and coat with nonstick spray. Pre heat an oven to 175 degrees F.
Remove the beef strips from the marinade and pat slightly dry. Lay the beef strips on the prepared wire racks so they hang without touching each other. Place the wire racks directly in the preheated oven. Cook the beef for four hours.
Prop the oven door open every hour for 15 minutes with the handle of a wooden spoon to allow air flow. To cool the jerky, turn off the oven, open the door and allow the jerky to sit for 30 minutes.
Remove the jerky from the wire racks and store in a tightly sealed container.
*You should have roughly a one week shelf life if placed in an air tight container.