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.
Chinese Food Jerky
Side Project Jerky, out of Philadelphia, calls their product "Jerky for Gentlemen," and co-founder Marcos Espinoza likens the Mongolian flavor to a "riff" on "the classic Asian combination of sesame, soy, ginger, and garlic." At first, the team was going for a Korean flavor. "But feedback from our initial tasters said that it was more like Chinese takeout," says Espinoza. "The addition of brown sugar adds a sweetness and glaze to the jerky, and we slice our meat slightly thicker in order to retain a chewy texture rather than settle for something that falls into the rawhide category."
When the company first started testing flavors their idea was to create portable versions of familiar food. "We wanted our flavors to be unique without being 'wacky,'" says Espinoza. "And we wanted to bring something to market that was beyond the garden variety 'teriyaki' or 'hot pepper' flavors you get from the larger producers." All you need to know, though, is that it's now possible to keep Chinese food in your wallet.
Side Project Mongolian Jerky
Yield: Approximately 2 lbs of dried jerky
- 4 to 4 1/2 lb USDA choice top round
- 4 cup tamari or soy sauce
- 1 cup light brown sugar
- 4 tbsp minced ginger
- 4 tbsp minced garlic
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- 1 tbsp ground pepper
- Sesame seeds
The best way to make jerky is using a food dehydrator, and the best ones have fans in them. If you don't have one, an oven set to its lowest temp will suffice.
The best cuts of meat for making jerky should have little to no fat on them. We found our best bets to be top round or eye round. If you're friendly with your butcher, have them put the top round on a meat slicer set at 1/8" thickness. Then slice those slabs into 1" strips when you get home.
Whisk all ingredients together except meat and sesame seeds in a large container with a lid.
Submerge meat in marinade, taking care to separate each strip to ensure a proper soak. Refrigerate for a minimum of 12 hours.
Remove meat from marinade and place in single layer(s) on dehydrator trays or on baking racks in baking sheets if using oven.
Credit: Michael Persico
Sprinkle sesame seeds over meat and dehydrate for a minimum of three hours or until desired texture is reached. In the oven, the jerky will take 10-12 hours at a temperature of 170.