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.
"We've always taken a global approach to our flavors, from Korean BBQ to Mexican Molé," says King's County Jerky Founder Chris Woehrle. "For this recipe, we took inspiration from North Africa, where spicy harissa paste is a staple." Harissa is powerful and hot, but has a sweet, fruity taste that brings out some of the subtler flavors in the meat. Woehrle recommends taking a dry approach at first, because wet jerkies can become rancid if fat isn't cut away correctly.
North African Harissa Jerky
- 2.5 lbs grass-fed beef (eye of round or bottom round)
- 2 tbsp kosher salt
- 1 tbsp brown sugar
- 1 tbsp ancho chile powder
- 1 tbsp smoked paprika
- 2 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 tsp coriander seeds
- 1/2 tsp caraway seeds
- 1/4 tsp cayenne
Place beef in freezer for about 2 hours until firmed up for easier slicing. While beef is freezing, preheat a pan on medium heat, then toast cumin, coriander, and caraway seeds for a few minutes, shaking the pan frequently until toasted and aromas are released.
Grind the toasted spices in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle. Mix the spices in a bowl with the salt, brown sugar, ancho, smoked paprika, garlic powder, and cayenne.
Once beef is firm, remove from freezer and trim off exterior fat and the silverskin. Slice beef along the grain into desired sized strips, at 1/4" to 1/8" thickness.
Using your hands, rub beef strips with spice blend to coat. Lay spiced beef strips on wire mesh racks on baking sheets. Let sit 12 hours in refrigerator, then remove and let sit at room temp for 30 minutes.
Set oven to 225 F (or lowest setting), position oven racks evenly from top to bottom, and place racked beef strips into oven. Prop open oven door with wooden spoon or wine cork (make sure it's a natural cork and not plastic) to allow moisture to escape.
Allow jerky to dry 3-4 hours. Rotate and switch the racks every hour and flip the jerky strips over after 2 hours. You're looking for a texture that's dry and firm but pliable when you bend it.
Let the jerky cool at room temperature, then store in a heavy-duty zipseal bag or airtight container.
Keep refrigerated for best flavor.