In August of this year, I’m planning on a canoe trip in Quetico Provincial Park with my friend East Texas Red. For this trip, I’m looking after making sure we eat well, a job I take seriously. Weight is an issue as we’ll have something like 20 portages on our trip. As well, cans and bottles are not allowed in the park. One of the things I thought I’d prepare is a batch of beef jerky for snacks.
I should say up front, I went into this experiment not knowing a lot about beef jerky. Fortunately, in today’s world, it’s possible to learn to do almost anything by watching YouTube videos. Unfortunately, it turns out not all the videos agree with one another. Here are some of the questions I had. Do you need to make jerky in a smoker? Can you do it successfully in an oven? Can you use a dehydrator? What is the best marinade? How long do you have to marinate the beef before drying? Yesterday I made a test batch.
My plan is to use our green egg bbq to prepare jerky for the trip, but I decided to do a test in the oven to see how good it can be, prepared indoors. According to various YouTube videos, the meat has to be marinated either overnight, at least 4 hours, or for just half an hour. The YouTuber who suggested half an hour claims she has tried various marinating times and can’t tell the difference between jerky marinated for half an hour or overnight. Interesting.
I used outside round. I put it in the freezer for 3/4 hour to firm it up and make it easier to slice, then I sliced it up across the grain into slices less than 1/4 inch thick. After watching several videos, I decided that the key ingredient in a marinade is soy sauce, but the marinade could be varied in any number of ways to your taste. I used soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, a splash of Vietnamese fish sauce (which is an umami enhancer), cayenne, a little Chinese 5-spice, fresh ground pepper, garlic powder and brown sugar. Since I wasn’t using the bbq and I thought it would be good to have at least some smokiness in my final product, I also added some smoked paprika. I wanted to get my test batch accomplished in one day so I decided to limit my marinade time to 2.5 hours. Having tasted the results, I can say with confidence this is plenty of time. I suspect even less time marinating is fine.
A note on meat choice. Most of the videos I watched recommended choosing a lean cut of meat, or at least a cut which does not have large areas of fat. The chunk of outside round I bought was fairly lean, and I trimmed off any fatty areas.
I laid out my marinated beef on paper towels, and patted the meat dry with more paper towels. I don’t know if this step is necessary or not but some of the videos suggested it. I dried/cooked the meat at 180F in a convection oven for 4 1/2 hours.
The result exceeded my expectations. The meat dried perfectly to a leathery consistency. The chew is just right and it tastes great. I expected I would conclude it would be much better made on my bbq but I can’t say that would be true. The jerky made in my oven is as good as I could imagine. The advantage of using an oven is that it is easier to maintain a consistent heat. Our green egg holds a temperature pretty well, but you have to check it periodically as the charcoal burns down. Of course I will also try a batch in the egg for comparison.
Have you made jerky before? How did it turn out? I find the biggest challenge with the batch I made is that it’s so delicious it’s hard to stop eating it.