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.
Roy Choi's Jerky
Los Angeles-based chef Roy Choi – badass founder of the famous Kogi Korean-taco trucks and darling of every top food critic to make a West Coast swin – has now expanded to opening hotels. But he doesn't plan to leave his passion for jerky, which he writes about in his book L.A. Son, behind. "To this day I trip out on the old containers in the corner [Los Angeles] stores in plastic tubs, just sitting there like it's normal to have meat in a tub next to doughnuts," he writes. "I like liquor stores but I don't like liquor. I like beef jerky but I don't like eating meat. In many ways my life is a contradiction."
Roy Choi's Beef Jerky
- 1 lb. flank steak, cut into large cubes
- 1 cup garlic cloves, peeled
- 1 cup natural rice vinegar (not seasoned)
- 4 serrano chiles, split lengthwise
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 1/2 cups soy sauce
- 2 cups water
- 1 yellow or white onion, sliced
- 1 cup chopped scallions
- Pinch of red chile flakes
Combine all the ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and skim the scum off the surface of the liquid every so often. Cook until the garlic becomes soft and golden brown, about an hour.
Using a slotted spoon or a spider, remove the meat from the pot and scoop it onto a wire rack set over a sheet pan (to catch drips). Let it rest in the refrigerator overnight. Strain the liquid and set it aside on the counter, where it'll stay while the meat is refrigerating.
The next morning, remove the beef and shred it.