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.
The successful startup jerky brand SlantShack was founded four years ago in New York City by a bunch of ambitious young college friends. But they make their jerky with grass-fed beef from Vermont and natural ingredients, and this home recipe brags a blend of unexpected flavors, including ginger and garlic as well as jalapeños and honey. "Jerky was [once] just a means to extend the night from a few hours of hanging out to a weekend long gathering of our extended group of friends," says co-founder and CEO David Koretz. "The best part about home-made jerky is that you don't need to be as concerned with cooking to specific levels of humidity and water activity [as commercial makers], so the jerky is inevitably a bit more moist and fatty which means even more deliciousness."
SlantShack DIY Jerky
Meat Selection: Buy two pounds of meat. Leanest cuts are best: head to your local butcher to pick out a piece of brisket, top round, sirloin tip, or any other lean cuts the butcher recommends (turkey breast is also delicious).
Note: 1 lb of raw meat will yield ~1/2 lbs of jerky
1.5 hours before marinating, trim fat and create 1/2 lbs cuts of meat (try to keep long portions if possible), wrap in saran and place in freezer
Prepare Marinade: Lots of options here. A great starter recipe to follow is:
- 1 cup soy sauce
- Medium yellow onion, diced
- Medium jalapeno, diced with seeds
- 1 tbsp black peppercorns
- 1 tbsp ginger, thinly sliced
- 2 tbsp honey
- 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- 1 tsp onion powder
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1/2 tsp cloves
Adjust any of the above quantities based on flavor preferences or marinade taste.
Add fruit juices (i.e. orange juice; pineapple juice, fresh limes) for a sweeter flavor
Add tabasco, select spicier pepper, hot chilies, chili powder, etc. to increase spice. Also try a small amount of ketchup
Slice Meat: When meat is moderately frozen, slice along the long side of the cuts 1/8" – 1/4" strips. Alternate cutting with and against the grain.
Marinade: Place strips of meat and marinade in a ziplock bag, mix around so that meat is sufficiently covered and place in refrigerator overnight, let marinade for a minimum of eight hours; 12 -20 is best
Cooking: Set oven to lowest temperature possible. As oven heats, place meat strips across oven racks. When all the meat is in the oven, prop oven door open with a fork or ball of tinfoil at the bottom of the oven door, let jerky cook for 4-8 hours (cooking time will vary based on width of strips and oven temperature)
Finished Jerky: When the jerky is stiff and browned all the way through you're ready for fresh jerky snacking. Jerky will keep for months in an airtight container/ziplock bag at room temperature.