How To Make Jerky
By Cole Daniels
Some people just don't like the taste of wild game. I have a few recipes for top notch venison & waterfowl, but at the end of the season I seem to have an endless supply of meat. My wife will only eat so much of it and I don't put a ton of effort into cooking for myself. One of my favorite ways to utilize the bounty of my seasons is by making jerky. Goose jerky, duck jerky, turkey jerky, venison jerky... they are all tasty ways to celebrate hunting season all year long. People don't realize how easy it is to make your own jerky.
To make ground jerky, simply take your meat and run it through a meat grinder. Hand grinders are very inexpensive and for small jobs like making jerky or just making a few packages of burger, they are more than adequate. After the meat is ground, it's time to mix in the seasonings. Again, there are meat mixers on the market but for making jerky hand mixing in a bowl will work just fine.
I prefer steak jerky. For sliced or steak style jerky, you'll need large pieces of meat. The leaner the better since most of the "gamey" taste is derived from the fat. Goose breasts & chunks of a deer's hind quarters work really well for making jerky. Use a filet knife to slice meat into ¼-inch thick strips. You want the strips thin, but wide the other way. I usually cut the strips about an inch wide. Keep in mind the meat will shrink considerably during dehydration. Once the meat is cut, place it in a plastic bag with your preferred seasonings and shake the meat and seasonings together. It's also a good idea to rub the seasoning in. With the mixture in a bag, your hands will stay clean through this process.
There are a wide variety of jerky seasoning mixes available for purchase from sporting goods stores or online. The flavors offered are wide ranging from peppered to cajun, to teriyaki. Some prefer to make their own seasoning with spices, garlic, soy sauce, wine, salad dressing, Worcestershire sauce, or Tabasco sauce. If you are making steak style jerky, I like to let the meat marinate over night before dehydrating. Italian dressing is one of my favorite marinades.
Before dehydrating, spread the meat out on a pan or grate, depending on the equipment used. For steak style jerky, simply lay the meat out flat with a little room between pieces for circulation. For ground jerky, a jerky gun makes preparation fast, easy, and clean. Stuff the gun with your meat & seasoning mixture and lay the strips down in the size you prefer.
There are a few ways to dehydrate jerky. Some use a smoker. Smoking adds even more flavor to the meat. Electric smokers that utilize bisquits have made smoking meat easy for anyone. Wood chips from apple, cherry, hickory, & mesquite bring a unique taste experience to jerky. For those using classic smokers with traditional chips, be sure to soak the chips in water for 24 hours before beginning the smoking process.
The conventional way to make jerky is with a food dehydrator. Once the meat is ready, you simply flip the switch and the dehydrator does the work. I recommend dehydrating for eight hours at 130 degrees, but each machine is different and everyone's taste is different. Experiment and figure out what's right for you. After a few hours, try a sample every half hour until the meat reaches your desired moisture content.
Back in my college days, I didn't want to invest in a dehydrator or smoker but still wanted to make jerky. I used my oven. Set the heat low (250 degrees) and bake on a baking rack over a cookie sheet for four hours. This method works well for instant jerky if you are in camp as well. When it's ready, the jerky is nice and warm and oftentimes it doesn't even leave the kitchen before it is gone.
If you plan to make a lot of jerky and keep it throughout the year, a vacuum sealer would be a great investment. If the jerky is stored properly in a vacuum sealed bag it will last a year or more in the freezer. Even my non-hunter friends enjoy jerky and I often bring it along to poker nights or sporting events. To dress up the packaging I make my own labels. It's pretty simple to do with photo editing software. Once your design is done, print it off on adhesive paper and you've got yourself a custom, professional look. Be sure to mark the label “Not For Sale”. Your nice looking label could cause law enforcement to believe you are trying to sell your jerky. Selling wild game meat is illegal in most states. Making the labels the same size as mailing labels will make them easy to peel when you are packaging meat.
If you plan to eat the jerky in the next week or so, just place it in a zip seal bag and keep it in the fridge. You should be able to store it at room temperature for a few days, but I like to stay on the safe side and refrigerate.
Turning your game meat to jerky is an easy, rewarding way to share your hunting season with friends and family. Jerky is a low-fat, go-anywhere snack that is sure to satisfy.