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Jerky Safety Stamp

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. 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.

Storing Beef Jerky

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 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.
  • Add food grade oxygen absorbers to your plastic bag or canning jar. Eliminating the oxygen in your package helps prevent bacteria growth, extending the shelf life of your jerky.
  •  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 in a dark pantry, jerky will last about a week; In 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!

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

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!

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Best Cuts of Beef for Jerky

One of the most important decisions when making beef jerky is the cut of meat you are going to use. The right cut of meat makes all the difference when making great tasting beef jerky, and here I’ll show you which ones are the best!

The Best Cuts of Beef for Jerky

You can’t start making jerky until you know what cut of beef you are going to use to make your jerky. The simple answer is, a cut that has the least amount of fat as possible. Fat will spoil and ruin jerky, avoid at all costs!

Don’t worry, I won’t leave you with such a vague answer though. Let’s narrow down your choices to some inexpensive and great cuts of meat for jerky.

There are several types of cuts you can try during your search for your favorite one. The list below refers to beef; when making wild game jerky, such as deer, you will find that the meat is VERY lean and great for jerky!

Before we get into specific cuts of beef, there are some ground rules that will apply across the board. When shopping for your choice of meat, make sure to follow these tips:

  • Never purchase old or expired meats
  • Purchase the correct amount of meat. After drying, jerky will lose about 2/3 of its weight. If you buy 3lbs, you will end up with a little over 1lb of dried jerky
  • Inspect each specific cut to find the one with the less fat
  • Ask the butcher to slice the meat for you – Many butchers will slice the meat to your specified thickness at no cost. This saves a lot of time!

Below is a list of cuts of meat that work very well for beef jerky. You can also make beef jerky out of lean ground meat. Try several different cuts and decide for yourself which one is your favorite! Once you do, check out my Beef Jerky Recipes Page to find your favorite flavor of jerky!!!


 

BeefRoundCow

Eye of Round – Going to be the most popular cut for making jerky. The most tender of the Rounds. This is a single oval muscle in the rear leg. This is my go to cut of meat when making beef jerky.

Eye of Round Roast

  • Lean
  • Little interior fat
  • Need to trim the fat cap
  • Grain runs the length of the cut for easy slicing with or against the grain
  • Economical (relatively inexpensive)

Bottom Round – Another great choice for making jerky. It is the outer muscle of the upper rear leg. This is the least tender of the rounds. Even though it is the least tender, it makes great jerky!

Bottom Round

  • Lean
  • Possible interior marbling
  • Flavorful
  • Economical (relatively inexpensive)

Top Round – Very similar to bottom round. The top round is cut from the inside leg muscle, opposite of the bottom round. This cut is more tender than the bottom round and less tender than the eye of round.

Beef Top Round

  • Lean
  • Flavorful
  • Economical (relatively inexpensive)

Sirloin Tip – Most tender of the rounds. Not as popular, but still a very good piece of meat for making jerky.

  • Very Lean
  • Most tender
  • A little more expensive

 

BeefFlankCow

Flank Steak – More expensive than the rest but still a great meat for jerky. If sliced with the grain, your jerky will be extremely tough. Better to slice against the grain when using this piece of meat when making beef jerky.

Flank Steak

  • Lean (need to trim some fat)
  • More interior marbling
  • Flavorful
  • Can be a tougher jerky

Ground Meat – If making jerky with ground meat, make sure to choose a lean package. Many people like ground meat jerky because it is easier to chew and less harsh on your teeth. The texture is VERY different from whole meat jerky though, so keep that in mind.

Midewest Ground Beef Jerky Lean Beef

  • Makes easier to chew jerky
  • Choose the leanest ground meat available (at least 90% lean)
  • Requires a jerky gun or flattened and cut into strips
  • Visit my page on How to Make Ground Beef Jerky for more information

Deer Meat – Deer meat is GREAT for making jerky! Venison jerky is some of my favorite. It tends to be very lean meat and very tender. If you harvest your venison yourself during hunting season, it is also about as organic as you can get!

Venison Roast

  • Very Lean
  • Very little interior marbling
  • Organic
  • Great Game Flavor
  • Tender

 

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask your local butcher. I am sure they will be more than helpful in getting you what you need.

Check Out Our Reviews on the Best Dehydrators for Making Beef Jerky

The Best Dehydrator For Making Beef Jerky

Don’t forget to visit our fantastic Beef Jerky Recipes Page!

Beef Jerky Recipes

Learn how to slice meat for jerky! Like a chewy jerky? Soft Jerky? I’ll show you how to get the jerky chew that you want!

Slicing Meat for Beef Jerky