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How Long Does Beef Jerky Stay Good?

One of the top questions that I always am asked is “how long does jerky stay good?” The simple answer is 1-2 months for homemade jerky and 1 year for commercial jerky. Now with that said, don’t go leaving an open bag of jerky sitting in the sun and expect it to last 2 months.

The reason jerky even came about was to solve a problem of keeping a protein source edible for long periods of time when food was not available. Dehydrating meat removes moisture so that bacterial or fungal enzymes cannot react with the meat which in turn preserves it from spoiling. What started as a Native American process of preserving meat for necessity has evolved into great tasting snack food. Let’s take a look at what impacts the shelf life of your jerky.

1. Lean Meat – Fat is the enemy when it comes to making jerky. Fat will spoil fast and make the jerky go rancid quicker than it would if there wasn’t fat. Purchase lean meat and trim all visible fat before drying.

2. Cure – Most commercial producers use a cure consisting of sodium nitrite to extend the life of their jerky to 1 year. This prevents bacteria that could survive in meat that is only dried and not cooked. It is not a requirement to use a cure and most homemade recipes do not include one. This is why you will heat homemade jerky to 160° F, allowing your jerky to stay bacteria free without a cure.

If you want to include a cure in your recipe, a popular cure you can purchase at your local supermarket would be Morton® Tender Quick®. I personally use Prague Powder #1 which I purchase online. This includes Sodium Nitrite & Sodium Nitrate which will aid in preservation. When using a cure, you will notice that it gives jerky that red color you often experience from store bought products. It will also alter the taste, giving it that beef jerky flavor everyone is familiar with.

Prague Powder #1

3. Drying – The longer you dry jerky the longer it will last. However, over drying jerky will result in it being extremely chewy. So dry jerky to a desired texture and concentrate on the storage techniques listed below to lengthen your jerky life.

4. Storage (lack of oxygen) – One of the main reasons that commercial beef jerky stays good for so long is because they make sure there is no oxygen in their finished product packaging. This is normally done by shooting nitrogen into their packages to flush out the oxygen before inserting the jerky and sealing. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have nitrogen laying around the house for jerky making! So here are the best practices you can do when storing your jerky to keep it fresh longer.

  •  Allow to cool for several hours before storing in air tight containers. -or-
  • Storing for a day or two in a paper bag allows the jerky to expel any existing moisture which will help it last longer. This can be done before storing in an air tight container.
  •  Use vacuum packaging to extract oxygen in order to prevent spoilage. Vacuum sealers can be purchased relatively inexpensive and they work great for storing homemade jerky. If you are a hunter like myself, more than likely you already have one of these in your pantry. I use mine all the time for game meat and fish. It really extends the life of your catch.

FoodSaver V2244 Vacuum Sealer

  •  Store in dark, cool places like a pantry. Do not leave jerky in direct sunlight as this can cause condensation within the bag which could result in mold. A little fogging is okay, but if water droplets appear inside your jerky bag; remove jerky and dehydrate longer. Water droplets lets you know that the jerky was NOT dried long enough.
  • If wanting to keep jerky for longer than 1-2 months, you can freeze it for up to 6 months. Freezing can alter the taste of jerky and I personally don’t recommend it. A better practice is to make smaller batches and eat within a month or two, rather than making a big batch and having to much jerky at once.

If you follow these steps, you can expect your homemade jerky to last between 1-2 months after initial airtight packaging. When stored in ziplock type bags and either a dark pantry or a refrigerator, jerky will last for 1-2 weeks. If you open an airtight bag of jerky, consume that jerky within 1 week. Even though it can last 2 months in a vacuum sealed container, after opening, you are going to want to eat that jerky!

Personally I don’t have a problem with keeping jerky for long periods of time because I eat it fast, real fast! I also do not make large batches as I tend to try new recipes and don’t want to get stuck with 5lbs of jerky that just doesn’t taste great. Unfortunately, not every recipe I try tastes great; but with only 1/2lb of not so great tasting jerky, I don’t mind feeding it to my parents dog and moving on to the next! The recipes put on this blog however are the recipes that passed the delicious taste test and deserved a spot on Jerkyholic.com! I never put bad tasting recipes on this blog!

You Might Also Like:

Best Cuts of Beef for Jerky

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The Best Dehydrator for Making Beef Jerky

 

27 comments

  1. Nick says:

    Hey jerky man,
    Have a quick question for ya. I made some jerky the other day and used bottom round and hi mountain seasoning and cure. Did everything to exact spec and smoked the jerky. My only problem is that it looks like there is still a lot of fat in the jerky. Like there was too much inside marbling. The jerky texture seems perfect but the fat is noticeably not correct. If smoked any longer I feel the meat will become crunchy and dry. Any tips?

    • Will
      Will says:

      Hey Nick, thanks for stopping by! Bottom round should be a pretty lean cut and normally works great for jerky. I am surprised that it has a lot of marbling. Smoking longer will not help get rid of visible fat. The only time you can get rid of that is by cutting it out when slicing the meat before you marinade it. Now if you are seeing more of a glossy look to the jerky (not visible white fat), that is pretty normal. The marinade and fat does come to the surface and needs to be dried off with a paper towel. If that is what you are seeing, just wipe the strips a couple times while drying. If the texture if perfect, the jerky is perfect! Hope that helps man!

  2. Jeanne says:

    Hi Will. I’m thinking like a prepper and wanting a jerky that will last a long time so it can be put aside for emergency purposes. Is there any way or thing I can do to make it last longer.

    • Will
      Will says:

      Hey Jeanne! I would follow all of the tips listed above. Definitely use cure, trim all visible fat, and vacuum seal the bag. Store bought jerky has oxygen absorbers they put in their packets to help the jerky last longer. Big Jerky Distributors also shoot Nitrogen in the bag to flush out oxygen when packaging their jerky. Not sure where you can get nitrogen for this, but might be worth looking into if you really want your jerky to last a long time!

  3. Savannah says:

    Hi, my partner has just made jerky and gone out fishing with no reception and I don’t know what to do! The jerky finished in the dehydrator last night while I was asleep. I woke up this morning and it’s still kinda saucy on the outside. I left it in the dehydrator today (he will be back late this afternoon) as I had to go to work.

    So, was it bad that it sat in the dehydrator (automatically turned off after timer ran out) all night?
    Does it matter that it’s still saucy on the outside?
    Should I have taken it out of the dehydrator?
    Will he will be able to put it back in the dehydrator and dry for longer if he wants to this afternoon?

    Thanks!

    • Will
      Will says:

      Sounds like a lot going on over there! So there are a few things that I would make sure of before saying that the jerky is still good. If your partner heated the jerky to 160F close to the beginning of the drying process and the jerky did dry completely, it would be fine to stay in turned off dehydrator for a day. That is what making jerky is all about, having meat that does not need to be refrigerated. When drying, sometimes fat in the meat or marinade will make the outside of the jerky look “wet” or possibly in your instance, “saucy”. This is okay as well as long as the meat is dry on the inside. (This is why jerky is normally blotted with paper towels during drying to soak up extra marinade and fat) You can tell if the jerky is finished by bending a piece. If it bends and you see white fibers, it is dry and finished. So…. If the jerky was heated to 160F and the meat is dried, I would say it should be fine. However, if the jerky never reached 160F and it is not dried and needs to be dehydrated more, I would NOT eat it or dehydrate longer as it has been unfinished for too long. Better be safe than sorry! It is not worth getting sick over! Here is a link to the USDA’s website regarding Jerky Safety. Hope that helps!

  4. David Ranger says:

    Piggybacking on Jeanne’s question, how long will jerky last if a nitrite cure is used, AND you use vacuum sealed Foodsaver style bags?

    I’m a hunter, and would like to jerkyfy (new word) an entire deer, but I’m wondering if a full deer would keep long enough to be consumed. Thanks

    • Will
      Will says:

      Loving the new word (jerkyfy!). The USDA recommends keeping homemade jerky for 2 months so I do not want to recommend anything to much longer than that. If you freeze the jerky after using cure and vacuum sealing I would keep it up to about 6 months. A whole deer is a lot of jerky to make! It might be better to keep some steaks to chicken fry and a roast or two for some Sunday pot roasts. If you do a bunch of jerky, be sure to do several different recipes and use recipes you know you like. You don’t want to make a bunch of jerky only to find out you don’t like that recipe! Let me know how it turns out.

  5. Richard says:

    You mention Morton’s Tender Quick but you do not say how much to use. I am looking to give out Jerky to friends as Christmas gifts and I am not in control how they store it or how long they keep it, I would like the extra safety insurance. As always my Jerky will go into vacuum sealed bags a day after it is done drying.
    Richard

    • Will
      Will says:

      I can’t think of a better Christmas present to friends than a bag of homemade jerky! Yum!!! So when it comes to cures, make sure to follow the directions on the package because not all curing salts are the same. The Hoosier Hill Farm Prague Powder #1 calls for 1/4 tsp per 1 pound of meat. (2 pounds of meat would require 1/2 tsp). Morton Tender Quick calls for 1 tbsp per 1 pound of meat. This was the amount they recommended when I used Morton Tender Quick. I like the Prague Powder #1 better though, and have exclusively used that for years now. Remember, always double check what the package says before using a cure and ONLY use the amounts that product recommends.

  6. Wade says:

    Hey, good article, but… What if you keep the jerky in the fridge? Say, homemade jerky (no curing) in heavy duty ziplock storage bags

    • Will
      Will says:

      I would expect the jerky to last about 10 to 14 days in the fridge without cure. It also depends on how dry you dried your jerky. The dryer the jerky, the longer it will last. Make sure to allow the jerky to cool before storing in the ziplock bags.

  7. Rafi Kristall-Weiss says:

    Hey thank you so much for all this amazing information! I have the nesco snackmaster and was wondering if there was anyway of making biltong in the machine. Thank you for all your help!

    • Will
      Will says:

      Glad I can help! I have never made Biltong before but have seen it in a couple of my jerky books. In the books I have it mentions that you CAN dry it in a dehydrator. Since it is very thick, it does take longer to dry and is not dried all the way through like American jerky. You can check out more information on Biltong, including some recipes, in Pamela Braun’s book : Jerky Everything

  8. dave says:

    Thanks for all the info. Learning all I can be I start. How do you test for the 160 degree? I get doing it with the hotdog, but on a thin cut of meat? A temp gun maybe?

    • Will
      Will says:

      Great question. So one way to test if the meat has reached 160F is by putting a thermometer between a folded piece of beef/jerky. This is the best way I know of testing the internal temperature. I would assume a temp gun would only tell you the surface temp of the meat, not the internal temp. Hope this helps!

  9. Jesse says:

    Hey Master of Jerk!

    I’m looking to jerkyfy some lean moose meat (sliced in a smoker) and some even leaner caribou meat (ground meat, in a dehydrator). I’m kind of on the fence about using anything with sodium nitrites for curing – the whole “use too little and bacteria can grow and use too much you can poison someone” thing is freakin me out a little. Is there any substitutes I can use along with plain salt in order to get a longer shelf life out of my homemade jerky?

    • Will
      Will says:

      Hey Jesse. I wouldn’t worry about poisoning anyone when using curing salt. As long as you follow the directions on the product; which is normally something like “use 1 tsp per 5lbs of meat” you will be fine. It’s kinda hard to mess up. Using cure is actually a lot safer when combating potential bacteria than not using it and only drying with salt. The only other substitute I see companies using to help preserve jerky is celery powder. Celery powder is high in Nitrates, just naturally occurring. That is why you see store bought jerky say “no nitrates or nitrites added” but then have a statement directly under it stating “except those that naturally occur in celery powder”. I am not sure how they measure how much to use though when making jerky. I would recommend just going with FDA approved cure such as the Prague Powder listed above, and follow the directions.

  10. Jim D says:

    Hi Will. I’m a brother oilfield hand, retired after 36 years as a directional driller. Most of my career was international, but am now at home here in Point Venture, just up the lake from you I like your blog! I have made several batches following your recipes, and all have turned out awesome. I generally don’t have to worry much about how long I can store it as it never lasts long enough to spoil…. My question is: ever tried fish? I have smoked stripers and they were great. Now considering drying some good old lake travis bass. When I was in west africa, they used to dry fish by catching small ones and tossing them whole up on the tin roof to dry in the sun. That was a mess, but they ate it and liked it. I don’t want to go that route, so wondering if you have any insights. Stay good. Jim

    • Will
      Will says:

      Hey Jim, thanks for stopping by and I’m glad you like the recipes. It’s always nice hearing from a fellow Oilfield hand. I have not tried fish but am hoping to very soon. I went fishing in Alaska with my father this year and have some Salmon in my freezer I am hoping to make into jerky. (I Had some amazing salmon jerky I bought at a local farmers market near Anchorage) All the research I have seen on fish jerky is that it is best to do in a smoker. I am going to try and make it like I do beef jerky in my smoker. I will document and take pictures when I make the fish jerky to put on the site. I agree with you, I will NOT be tossing it on my roof to dry in the sun… Ha.

  11. Craig says:

    Will,

    I like my jerky more moist. I brine eye of round or strip steak for 24 hours, then transfer it to a 30 inch masterbuilt at 210 degrees for 2 hours. I smoke it mostly closed. It makes for a great tender and moist jerky, but how long will it be good in the fridge/freezer for? I keep the jerky in the fridge since it has more moisture, but how long would it be good sitting out for. (say at an event, etc) and after sitting out, would it be fine to put back in the fridge and eat over a few days?

    • Will
      Will says:

      I would think that even though it has a little more moisture, as long as you keep it in the fridge it should last about a week. I also wouldn’t think leaving some out for a couple hours at a party for people then putting it back in the fridge would do much harm. Just make sure to look for mold when making moist jerky, it will grow A LOT faster than if you had really dried jerky.

  12. david p. says:

    I have used ziplock bags to store food for years. But I use one extra step. Lay the bag flat on the counter and get as much air out. Then stick a straw in one corner, zip it up to the straw and suck out the air and pull out the straw quickly and seal the bag. You will be amazed.

    • Will
      Will says:

      I do not put them in my bags when I vacuum pack my jerky, but I do use these Oxygen Absorbers when I am just storing shortly in ziplock bags. You have to keep the unused packets in either a sealed mason jar or vacuum seal the container again.

  13. Leroy Terry says:

    Have been making jerky in a smoker for a long time. Trying to copy taste of Jack Lund’s Teriyaki flavor. I have got it down pretty close. I do differ with you on drying time in my Master built smoker. I smoke at 170 for only 2 hours, (smoke for only one). It comes out tender and perfect. I went 4 hours once and had to throw it out. I have checked and my temp. Is correct. I use eye of round.

    • Will
      Will says:

      Wow, I am very surprised that your jerky is done in 2 hours. Mine normally takes anywhere from 4 to 7 in my Master Built Smoker. As long as it is to your liking and tastes good!

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