Long before refrigeration methods were invented, people looked for ways to preserve meat, especially from an animal too large to consume at one meal. For today’s home cook, jerky is probably the easiest preserved meat to prepare. Homemade jerky is also vastly superior in texture and flavor to the store-bought product.
Classic Beef Jerky
3 pound eye of round, top round, or bottom round beef, trimmed of all exterior fat
2⁄3 cup soy sauce, preferably tamari or fermented
1⁄3 cup Angostura or orange bitters
2 teaspoons Liquid Smoke (optional)
1–2 teaspoons hot-pepper sauce
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
Slicing the meat. Place the meat on a baking sheet and freeze for 45 minutes. With a long, flexible, very sharp knife, cut the meat into slices 1/8-1/4 inch thick (comparable to thick-cut bacon). For traditional jerky cut the meat with the grain, or for jerky that’s easier to chew, cut across the grain.
Marinating the meat. In a large, sturdy, resealable plastic bag, combine the soy sauce, bitters, Liquid Smoke (if using), hot-pepper sauce, pepper and garlic and onion powders. Add the meat slices in batches, massaging after each addition to coat both sides of each slice and distribute the marinade evenly. Squeeze out most of the air from the bag and seal. Refrigerate for 6 hours but no more than 8 hours. Turn the bag and massage it every 2 hours, moving the slices around. Drain the slices in a colander and discard the marinade. Blot both sides of each slice dry with paper towels.
Drying the meat. Line the floor of the oven with heavy-duty aluminum foil, covering it completely and folding up the edges of the foil to form a rim that will help contain the drippings. Spray the oven racks lightly with nonstick cooking spray. Arrange the slices directly on the racks, spacing them about 1/4 inch apart. Set the oven temperature to 170 degrees. Use a folded kitchen towel to prop the oven door open by just under 1 inch. Turn the slices and continue to dry them for 1-2 hours more. The timing will depend on the moisture content of the meat, the ambient humidity and the temperature of the oven. When the meat is done, it should be firm and dry, but still flexible.
Storing the jerky. Store-bought jerky will keep at room temperature because it contains preservatives and has been dried very thoroughly for optimum safety. Homemade jerky is moister and is best stored in a resealable bag in the refrigerator. Inspect the meat frequently. Because the center of the jerky dries more slowly than the exterior, you may see wet spots within the first few days after the meat was dried. If you do, open the bag and leave it in direct sunlight for 1 h our or so to finish drying. If any green mold develops, or the meat smells spoiled, discard it.
The jerky should be consumed within 6 weeks. Makes about 1 pound.