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6 Steps To Making Safe Jerky

Jerky Safety Stamp

6 Steps To Making Safe Jerky

When making homemade jerky it is really important to follow strict food safety precautions to prevent any foodborne illnesses. The most common bacteria growths in poorly made jerky are Salmonella and E. Coli. These can be deadly, making food safety extremely important when making jerky. By following these steps, you will prevent bacteria growth and have plenty of safe jerky for everyone to enjoy!

1. Clean your kitchen, utensils, bowls, and all other equipment with water and bleach. Also wash your hands with soap before handling any raw meat.

2. Thaw frozen meat in the refrigerator instead of at room temperature to prevent bacteria growth.

3. Marinate the meat at a temperature between 36-40°F. Do not marinate at room temperature. Keep meat in the fridge while you mix your marinade together. Bacteria can grow fast on raw meat left out at room temperature. After marinating, do not save and re-use a marinade.

4. At the beginning of dehydrating, heat the jerky to 160° to kill dangerous bacteria. Heating the jerky after dehydrating might not kill all bacteria due to it becoming more heat resistant during the drying process. This is why bringing your jerky to 160º at the start of your jerky making process is recommended by the USDA.

5. Use curing salt to help prevent bacteria from growing. In this age where the craze is  only eating Organic Foods, curing salt might not be in your recipes. While I do understand the ‘staying away from preservatives’, be extra careful when not using them when making jerky! When the right amount of curing salt is used, there are no harmful effects that many believe come from using these salts. If you decide not to use curing salts, make sure that you follow the other safety precautions closely. Especially heating the meat to 160º to kill any bacteria and eat the jerky within a couple of days. With that said, I do recommend using cure when making ground meat jerky because the meat has been handled and processed making it more susceptible to having bacteria. So in short… No jerky recipe NEEDS cure as long as the meat is heated to 160F. But it is another line of defense to kill bacteria and allows your jerky to last longer.

6. Store jerky in a cool dry place for up to a week or vacuum seal and freeze for up to 6 months.

That’s it folks! Making jerky is both fun and VERY rewarding. Just make sure to keep in mind these tips on how to keep you and your loved ones safe when making and eating homemade jerky.


  1. Gordon E. Hamley says:

    Hey Will. Read your safety tips on your site. Thanks for the heads up on curing salts(store bought?). And the preheat to 160 degrees.
    First time with dehydrator. Sounds like fun for the tum.
    Gordon in Albuquerque

    • Will
      Will says:

      No problem Gordon, gotta make sure that jerky is made safe! The curing salt I use is bought from Amazon, here is a link to it. Curing salt is hard to find in local stores, a butcher would be your best bet at finding it. I haven’t had any luck finding it here in Austin. The ones I buy online last me a REALLY long time, so I have stopped looking for it locally. Happy Jerky Making!

  2. Daniel S Lane says:

    On the subject of curing salts when adding to your recipes that don’t already contain them should I sub it in for an equal amount of salt or is it added on top of the existing ingredients?

  3. Lee H. says:

    Mr. Will, I am making my first batch of jerky and I am following your rig hand recipe. I have 5 lbs. of beef marinating as I am typing and just seen this page on your site and asking for a little clarification on the 160 degree, do mean to have the dehydrator (nesco professional food and jerky dehydrator) temperature set on 160 setting and start it from the beginning and dry until it reaches that temperature. Or do you pre heat the dehydrator or meat as referred to as the above by Mr. Barkley? I am a little confused, going to dry tomorrow so hopefully I will hear back from you if not I will just go with laying out the meat and start drying at 160 degree setting. PS. I did follow recipe and multiplied it by 5. When it comes the curing salt, on your recipes when you say salt, is that the curing salt or table salt? Thanks Lee

    • Will
      Will says:

      Hey Lee! Thanks for stopping by the site. The Nesco dehydrator will heat the jerky to 160F. Put your strips on the trays and then start the dehydrator with the setting on 160F. Dry the jerky for at least the first couple hours at the 160F setting. If you were planning on dehydrating jerky at a lower temperature (say 145F), you would need to heat the jerky to 160F first to kill any potential bacteria. If I am reading your questions correctly, Jerky is not finished when it reaches 160F. The 160F is only to kill bacteria, the prolonged heat and air flow dries the jerky out which in turn will determine when the jerky is finished. (You just want to make sure the jerky reaches an internal temperature of 160F towards the beginning of the drying process) Jerky is finished when it bends and cracks, but does not break in half. As for the salt… My recipes will say “Prague Powder #1 (curing salt)” if I am telling you to use curing salt. If the recipe mentions just “salt”, that is table salt. Rig Hand Jerky calls for table salt. I hope that answers your question. That was kind of a long answer… Ha.

  4. David Hoehn says:

    Hi Will,

    Ever heard of anyone doing jerky in a Traeger grill? I know that it smokes a lot so I don’t want to smoke it too much or maybe use a milder wood?…But that’s all i got…
    Also there is only one smoke setting for around 160-180 I believe.

    Should I just use a dehydrator with liquid smoke smoke or kick the smoke flavor altogether?

    Your thoughts?


    • Will
      Will says:

      Hey David! I haven’t heard of anyone doing it entirely on a grill but I am sure there are plenty of people that do. You do want to be careful of using to much smoke, it will ruin the jerky. I do know that a lot of people will use a smoker first for an hour or so to get that real smoke flavor and then finish the jerky off in a dehydrator. Liquid smoke & a dehydrator is great, but it will never replace real wood smoke. I would try a combo of both as mentioned earlier! Let me know how it turns out..

  5. Sebastian Leon says:

    Hello Will

    I am making jerky since a while ago. First I heat the beef strips at internal temperature of 160º F in my kitchen oven with a pan of water to keep the relative humidity up to 90%, and then I put them in my Excalibur Dehydrator at 150º F between 4 and 5 hours.

    My question is, if I use a Smoker (Masterbuilt), how can I preheat the meat with 90% of Relative Humidity? I could put a pan of water as well but, what about the drying procces? I am a little confused. I really need some help.

    By the way, I am from Peru and I’m thinking of make it commercial.

    Thank you!

      • Sebastian Leon says:

        Awesome, thank you very much.

        That’s exactly what I’m gonna do with my new Masterbuild.

        So, you say not to put water in the pan when making jerky. And what about that USDA step when they say to heat the meat at 160ºF with 90% of relative humidity? I am confused.

        And, can I use the Masterbuild Smoker indoor with an air extractor? That is because I’m setting a small plant to make jerky indoors.

        Thank you.

        • Will
          Will says:

          If the jerky has been marinated in a wet marinade, you will have plenty of humidity if heating the jerky to 160F in the smoker. When I make jerky in my smoker, the strips of jerky will be “sweating” out a lot of liquid when first heating to 160F. The inside of the smoker will have water droplets on the walls and door (plenty humid enough). After that first heating, I open the wood tray on the bottom slightly and the vent fully on top which then allows the humidity to escape the smoker and the jerky to dry. As for setting one up indoors with an air extractor, I have no idea. I have never thought about having to use a smoker inside before! Let me know how everything goes and good luck with your jerky plant!

          • Sebastian Leon says:

            Thank you Will, thank you very much.

            What I mean having the smoker inside is that, if I want to produce commercial jerky in a small plant, I would have to smoke it inside, as the factories do. I guess they use an air extractor right?

            Thanks for your help.

  6. Rob says:

    Hi Will. I made Jerky in my dehydrator for the first time today using one of your recipes, and it tasted fantastic. I put it the finished jerky in a ziplock bag and kept it on the counter, as my family and I plan on consuming all of it within a few days. I noticed after a few hours condensation was forming on the inside of the ziplock bag. I dehydrated for 4.5 hours at 160F, so not sure where the moisture is coming from.

    • Will
      Will says:

      Hey Rob, thanks for stopping by! So, reasons condensation could happen would be storing in the ziplock bag very soon after finishing dehydrating. Make sure to leave the jerky out at room temperature for a couple hours before storing in a ziplock to allow the jerky to cool to room temperature. If you did allow it to cool and condensation still formed on the inside of a ziplock bag, it means you need to dry the jerky a little longer. Also make sure to keep the bag of jerky out of direct sunlight; either store in your fridge or a cabinet. Drying times vary due to several factors and 4.5 hours could have just not been long enough for your batch of jerky. When in doubt, keep drying for another 30 minutes and check it again. Glad you are enjoying the recipes!

  7. tom brady says:

    Will, is it recommended to either precook (boil for 5 minutes in the marinate) prior to putting in the dehydrator or heat after for 10 minutes in the oven? Is that what I am reading in step #4 above? Just trying to get it rights as this is the first time making jerky

    • Will
      Will says:

      If your dehydrator recommends those steps, I would follow them. I would however boil in the marinade or heat in the oven BEFORE dehydrating. Heating after the drying stage is shown to not be nearly as effective in killing bacteria as preheating. You can’t be too careful when making jerky and reaching an internal temp of 160F at the beginning of the drying process is one of the most important.

  8. Eric says:

    Hi Will,
    Love the site and am excited to try some of the recipes I see. I have the presto basic dehydrator… the one that the review says does not get it to the 160 degree temp. My question is about using the oven to kill the bacteria before the dehydrator. I believe I place the jerky on a cookie sheet and put in oven. My oven only goes down to 170 so how long should I leave it in the oven just to kill the bacteria before putting it in the dehydrator? Thank you

    • Will
      Will says:

      Hey Eric! If you are only going to use the oven to do the initial heating phase, turn the heat up. I would put it at 300F for about 10 minutes. To make sure they get to an internal temp of 160F, wrap one strip around an oven safe thermostat and pull them out when it reaches 160F. Like I said, 10 minutes should do it. After they reach 160F, pull them out and put them in the dehydrator to dry them.

      • Neil says:

        Hi Will,
        You replied to me with this same response on the recipe page and asked that I follow up on the results. So I am doing so here instead.
        Well, I was able to get my hands on some cure so I skipped the 300F for 10 minutes step. Sorry, but I endorse your advice on min temp for safety and intended to follow until got the cure salt.
        The problem came from when I added 1 tsp of cure to the ziplock with liquid and spices. I sprinkled it in and I had 2-3 lbs of deer STEAK. It came out safe but very salty, but yet edible. Ideally with a cold drink.

        Lesson gleaned: Know your cure to meat ratio or risk serious salt. I think i used 5lb recipe amount for 2-3lbs.

        next up here: Deer Roast cut jerky. Thinking nuggets. Your Maple Syrup recipe is calling to me.
        My name is Neil and I’m a jerkyholic.

  9. tkc says:

    If I’m not keeping the jerky around for long can I skip using a cure? The batches I’ve made so far haven’t lasted more than three days due to being eaten or thrown out because I managed to shoe-leather it. I’m still very new at this.

    Any comments on using a ‘wet’ marinade. I made some teriyaki jerky using World Harbors marinade overnight and it came out great.

    • Will
      Will says:

      You can see my take on using cure under . The jerky will get better the more you make it! Almost all of my recipes are “Wet” marinades, just pat dry before dehydrating.

  10. Barbeque Jim says:

    iv maid a lot of jerky but this time I forgot the cure #1 damit.i have 3 3# batches of deer jerky 1”x1” can I just heat it in its marinade on med heat until it hits 160 then put it in the smoker with no smoke at 145-170 and be safe to eat.thanks.some people say not to use the old marinade make new but can I just heat the old that I made it with.need to know soon thanks.

    • Will
      Will says:

      You can use the marinade it’s been marinating in, no need to make a new marinade. I would go ahead and heat it; but make sure the jerky strips internally reach 160F, not just the marinade itself. So the marinade will be hotter than 160F. Many meat and jerky books recommend bringing the marinade to a boil. Hope that helps and I hope it turns out great! I’m about to process a deer I harvested a couple days ago. Can’t wait to make some deer jerky!

  11. Barbeque Jim says:

    if you guys love jerky try my recipe you will love it.one bottle of teriki sauce purple top lachoy 1 cup honey 1 cup br sugar 7 garlic cut up 1 tb red pepper flakes 1/4 c water tsp cure per 5 lbs meat.heat it just a little to thin out the honey pour it over your meat rest in fridge 2-3 days.pull let rest on racks until glazed over in smoker 130 2 hrs 150 2 hrs 170 until it hits 152 or you can go to 160 again if you want I stop at 152 never got sick because of the cure.enjoy my friends.before you put your meat into the marinade take a taste it will open your eyes its the best

  12. Leslie says:

    I followed your instructions for chili lime jerky in the oven, but it took 2 hours for my test strip to reach 160 degrees. Will this batch be safe to eat? At this point it has been in with oven set at 175 degrees for 3 1/2 hours and seems about to the right dryness, but I am concerned about the safety. This is my first attempt at making jerky. It will be eaten within a week and I could refrigerate it if that would help. Thank you for any guidance you can give.

  13. MIKE says:

    Hey Will,
    I have one quick question do you after its finished in the dehydrator to you put yours in the oven afterwards for about ten minutes, thank,


    • Will
      Will says:

      No I do not. I make sure that the strips are either heated in the oven BEFORE drying or that my dehydrator heats my jerky to 160F towards the beginning of the drying process. You want to heat the jerky to an internal temp of 160F at the beginning, not after your jerky is finished.

  14. Jonathan says:

    Hey Will. I just started making jerky a week or so ago. Im a little confused as to the best way to ensure my jerky is safe. I heated my first 2 batches in the oven after drying at 275 F. I’ve heard conflicting opinions about that method. I just tried boiling my jerky in its marinade, but that just seemed like it cooked it too much. We’ll see how it turns out. I have the same Nesco dehydrator that you have, and it heats to 160, but I’ve read that the meat needs to be 160 BEFORE it starts drying. Idk, Im just a little confused on the whole subject. Any tips would be greatly appreciated.

    • Will
      Will says:

      Hey Jonathan, welcome to the jerky world! You want to heat your jerky to 160F at the beginning of the drying process, not after. The Nesco will heat the meat to 160F, but does take a while. If you are not using a cure, I would heat the jerky in the oven at 275F for 10 minutes (or until the meat reaches 160F), then dehydrate in the nesco.

  15. Wayne says:

    If making the jerky in an oven should I add a pan of water in the oven? I don’t have a dehydrator and want to be safe and end up with a good product. Thank you

    • Will
      Will says:

      If you marinate your jerky in a “wet” marinade and not a dry rub, you do NOT have to put a pan in the oven. If you used a dry rub, it’s good to put a pan of water in the bottom for the first 1.5hrs.

      • Wayne says:

        Thank you much! My first time making it and I don’t want to get anyone sick. Your page is very helpful. I feel like I sliced my pieces to thick. I am going on 4.5 hours and they are just now starting to shrink up.

    • Will
      Will says:

      I figured I would respond to this comment separate from your other comment. I have never used an air fryer nor have I heard of anyone making jerky in one. Have you been making jerky this way? Does it turn out pretty good?

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