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6 Steps To Making Safe Jerky

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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. I see many people put meat on the counter and leave it for hours. This is NOT safe and should NOT be done. Leave yourself ample time to thaw your meat in the refrigerator.

3. Marinate the meat at a temperature between 36-40°F (2°C-4°C). 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°F (74°C) to kill dangerous bacteria. For jerky to be safe, it should be heated to 160°F for beef and 165°F for turkey or chicken jerky BEFORE you dry your strips. 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 160ºF at the start of your jerky making process is recommended by the USDA.

If you have a dehydrator that will heat jerky to this temperature, you can bypass this initial heating stage. I have tested dehydrators and list which ones were able to get beef jerky strips to 160°F, you can check them out here. If your dehydrator does not heat the jerky to 160°F, pre-heat the meat in an oven. As an extra precaution; I ALWAYS pre-heat any turkey or chicken jerky I make, as well as use curing salt, to make sure it is safe to eat. I like being as safe as possible when using fowl.

I have found that to pre-heat 1/4″ slices of beef to 160°F, it takes about 10 minutes in a 300°F (149°C) oven. To pre-heat 1/4″ slices of turkey to 165°F, about 8 minutes at 300°F (177°C) does the job. Not all oven are the same, so wrapping one strip around an oven thermometer while baking is the best way to determine when the jerky strips reach the desired temperature.

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 160ºF 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. I also recommend using curing salt when making turkey or chicken jerky due to salmonella. Better to be safe than sorry! So in short… No jerky recipe NEEDS cure as long as beef is heated to 160°F and fowl to 165°F. 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.

For more information, visit the USDA Webpage on Jerky and Food Safety.


  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?

  16. Bob says:

    Hi Will, Thank you very much, your web is very helpful for making beef jerky well. i have some questions
    1. If i produce commercial jerky, what regulation stand for How about USDA
    2. If i use table salt and vacuum bag for commercial, how long can i keep the jerky safer.
    thanks a lot.

    • Will
      Will says:

      Hey Bob! I don’t make commercial jerky and you would have to get all the regulations from the USDA. I would assume they would require that the jerky is heated to 160F, use a licensed inspected kitchen (can’t use your home kitchen), certified beef…. I am sure there are A LOT of regulations. As per the table salt and vacuum bag, you see many jerky manufacturers NOT using curing salt and still having their product last a while. However, they use celery powder/celery seed instead which has nitrites just like curing salt. So if you are not using curing salt, I would assume celery powder/seed would be an important ingredient to extend the lifespan of the jerky. I just don’t know how much celery to add as an equivalent to curing salt. Vacuum packing will definitely help, or a packaging that is flushed with nitrogen to expel all oxygen from the package. Oxygen absorbers also help. I hope that helps a little, but you are probably going to have to do a lot of research on commercial jerky making.

  17. Kay says:

    Hi Will I have a quick question about heating the jerky up to 160 F in the oven before transferring to the dehydrator….if I’m using a wet marinade and leave overnight…before I pre heat in oven do i pat dry the meat before putting in the oven to remove extra moisture or after removing from the oven and transferring to my dehydrator ..ty so much…trying this tomorrow morning

  18. James says:

    Will, thanks for the informative site and the reviews of the dehydrators. In my research now, I see that Nesco has an updated model: Nesco FD-77DT Digital Food Dehydrator which now has both the timer and on/off switch.
    According to their spec sheet, the FD-77DT model retains the capability to reach the over 160F temps eliminating the need for pre-treating the meats.
    Just curious about your thoughts on this updated unit, thanks.

    • Will
      Will says:

      Hey James, I have not used the 77DT Nesco model before so can’t give you a first hand account on it. I did notice that it only comes with 4 trays instead of the 5 with the the 75A. It also has 500 watts instead of the 600 watt fan on the 75A. However, it does have the timer. The 4 trays would allow you to make about 2lbs pre weight of jerky meat. You can always buy more trays though. It looks like the 75A is a better deal, you just don’t have the luxury of a timer. If you do decide to go with 77DT, please let me know how you like it!

  19. Josh says:

    Do you cure the meat with Prague before or after marinating (I usually use worcester, soy, peppers, those sorts of things), or just put it in with your marinade? Thanks! I have been making homemade jerky that tastes great but am having some trouble with storing it, so want to try curing.

  20. Hassan says:

    When heating the beef to 160(oven temp 300) for 10 minutes does the beef need to lay flat on a baking sheet or can it be hung from the racks like it is during the drying process?

    • Will
      Will says:

      You can heat it while it is hanging, but it might take longer than 10 minutes. I have found that when I use a rack (meat off of the baking tray), it takes longer to heat. I would give it a couple extra minutes to make sure. Using a thermometer would be the best, that way you know when it reaches the 160F.

  21. Jon says:

    Hi Will. Based on your review, and a few others, I purchased the Nesco 75A for dehydrating jerky and other assorted items. I have made 2 batches of ground beef jerky at this point but I have not been able to get the jerky to 160 in the dehydrator. Both batches were dehydrated for at least 8 hours (which was probably much too long) to try and reach the 160 threshold. I was only able to get the temp of the jerky to 145. I was curious how you measured the temps in the dehydrators you tested? I used a Thermoworks Thermapen and measures the internal temp of the jerky and I also stuck the probe in the vent hole on the bottom of the unit and let it sit for several minutes. Neither temp went above 145. Could my unit be defective? Any suggestions would be appreciated. Thanks.

    • Will
      Will says:

      Hey Jon. I think it’s great that you are double checking your unit. The way that I checked can be seen on my dehydrator review page. I too ran the wire through the bottom vent hole and put the probe of my polder thermometer in the middle of a folded over 1/4″ piece of beef. Another way to test would be to put the thermometer in shallow bowl of water inside the dehydrator. It took about 3 hours for my test strip of jerky to reach 160F. I would assume your ground jerky would have reached 160F even faster than a whole muscle piece of jerky. I would make sure not to make the strips too thick, about 1/4″ is just right. If the unit still cannot reach the 160F mark, I would contact Nesco and try to get a new unit.

  22. brian masden says:

    Im getting a white fuzzy mold on my jerky after about three weeks. Is there any other preservative i can use to prevent that? And whats causing that?

  23. Jill says:

    I use the dehydrator and plugged it in at 6:45 am and my son in a hurry unplugged it early at 10:30 am and left the meat in a zip lock on the counter. It will be sitting over 24 hours there. Is it going to be trash or can I put it back in dehydrator to finish the job ?

  24. Prhaas says:

    I am using ground beef. I made first batch with season and cure pack from nesco dehydrator first time. The next time I used 1 pound chuck hamburger meat, 1 teas onion powder, 1 teaspoon garlic powder, 1 tbls mesquite smoke ,1 tbls mandarin terraki saucse and 3 teaspoons of just kosher salt . salt doesnt say cureing salt on it . All i did was mix all ingredients and put in dehydrator at 160 and 12 hrs . I did no preheat because its hamburger and will put it jerkey gun… any info if this will work

    • Will
      Will says:

      It will come out just fine. The Nesco dehydrator is pretty good at getting it to 160F pretty quick though. If not using curing salt I do like to pre-heat it to make sure and kill any bacteria. Shoot the strips on a cooling rack and bake in the oven for about 10 minutes at 300F and then transfer to dehydrator. You can also turn the heat down in the oven, open the door, and finish it off that way.

  25. Rae says:

    Hi Will,
    Thanks for the article! The package on the curing salt says “mix with cold water,” but doesn’t specify the amount of water. What do you recommend?

    • Will
      Will says:

      You only need enough water for the salt to dissolve and will be able to mix easily into ground meat, 1-2 tbsp or so. If you are using cure in a marinade that has liquid ingredients, you don’t have to put it in water first. Simply add it to the liquid marinade.

  26. Kenny says:

    What is your opinion of smoking the meat at 165-180 degrees without heating the meat to 160 degrees first? What is the minimum time the internal temp must reach 160 degrees? Thanks

    • Will
      Will says:

      Great question Kenny. In all the research and reading that I have done, a time is never specified. It is only said “towards the beginning of drying”. I like to get it to 160F within about 2 hours of starting drying. The sooner the better though….

  27. adam says:

    Hi Will, greetings from Austin! thanks so much for putting your jerky knowledge out there for all of us…I’m just getting started (Masterbuilt smoker for Christmas) and follwing your advice for 300 degrees/10 minutes ended up with a cookie sheet full of liquid. didnt think anything of it, but then the jerky had almost no flavor. it was just a dry rub experiment, and I’m guessing it all got left in the pan with the juices. any thoughts on a work around for this?

    • Will
      Will says:

      I would buy some cooling racks (cookie cooling racks) and place the jerky on that on top of a cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil. It might take a little longer for the jerky to reach 160F, but all the juice and water will drip below and the jerky won’t be sitting in it. Also, when using a dry rub it tends to take more because the seasoning is only on the outside and doesn’t soak into the meat like a wet marinade does.

  28. Steven says:

    If using curing salt, do I need to bring the temp to 160? Also, is there any benefit in dehydrating at a lower temp for longer times?

    • Will
      Will says:

      Curing salt will greatly decrease any chances of bacteria even if you do not bring the temp to 160F. With that said, I still recommend bringing the temp to 160F to make sure the jerky is safe to eat. I’ve had food poisoning once (not from jerky) and don’t want to relive that…. If you are dehydrating for long times (+6 hours) having a lower temp can help prevent the outside of the jerky from becoming brittle. A lot of times I will lower the temp to 145F after it has reached 160F, but most of my jerky only takes 4 hours to be finished so it doesn’t make too much of a difference.

  29. Teresa says:

    My recipe did not call for curing salt? I just happen to get on your site and seen the importance of adding it? The deer meat has been marinating for about 2 days already? Can I add the salt to it now? Or should I add it? Your site has been very helpfull. Never knew the proper way of stroing the jerky either. Thanks

    • Will
      Will says:

      I might be a little late answering your question, but yes you can add the curing salt now and mix the jerky well in the bag. However, you do not NEED curing salt when making jerky. It will help kill bacteria and make the jerky last longer, but is not needed. If you do not use cure, make sure that the jerky is pre-heated to 160F to kill any bacteria.

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