Jerky is one of the best ones from cured meats because it can be made with different types of meats and spices. Similarly, it can be consumed in so many ways, and when it is dried correctly, you get the right flavor that stays for weeks without any issues. Historically, humans have been preserving animals that were too big to consume all at once using different drying methods.
Each method comes with its safety, flavoring, and nutrient qualities. However, today some advanced methods get the job done much quicker than the traditional methods. Here we will discuss everything you need to know about jerky drying methods.
Prerequisites of jerky drying for a richer and safer experience
Before jumping into different drying methods, you must meet a few essential prerequisites for making jerky. These start with the preparation of meat, where you need to remove fat from the meat and then cut meat on the grain into slim strips.
Next comes the marination phase, where you must add all the spices to the meat and marinate it for around 2 hours. Lastly, heating is required before moving to the dehydration phase to kill any bacteria that can be harmful to our health. After this, you can move to the dehydration phase.
Top 5 jerky drying methods
The following are the top 5 jerky drying methods, including the quick modern methods and the slow traditional methods. Here are the details about each of them:
Using a dehydrator
The first piece of equipment you may use is an electric dehydrator. You need to set your dehydrator to 140 degrees Fahrenheit and let it maintain a constant temperature throughout the process. Take your meat strips after letting them heat at 160 degrees Fahrenheit and carefully place them on the drying racks without touching them to keep germs and bacteria away.
You must avoid touching pieces or overlapping them, or they won't dry perfectly. If your dehydrator has multiple layers of drying trays, keep switching their levels after half-hourly or hourly intervals to maintain balanced dehydration. It is also recommended to lower the heat to 10 degrees in the last 5 or 10 minutes to avoid scorching your meat.
If you don't have a dehydrator, you can still use the baking oven as an alternative to it. You don't need to make your baking oven work at higher temperatures, and keeping heat settings as low as possible is better. Additionally, there is no need to use the boiling element as the lowest bake setting will work for most ovens.
Ovens have different ways of providing heat, and to make your jerky dry in the best way, you can place a piece of aluminum foil (heavy duty) or a cookie sheet on the top shelf. Doing so will deflect heat better. Another thing is to leave the door of your oven open slightly using a wooden spoon.
Place a fan blowing towards the oven to encourage air circulation for better dehydration. Ensure you are not overloading your oven, as you want the process to finish quickly.
The Sun drying method is among the traditional methods, so it is not that efficient and does not work for most types of jerky. Some types of jerkies for which you may use this method include:
- Lean beef
- Young lamb
So, start with heavily salting your meat strips and leaving them to dry naturally under the sun. This process needs you to be in a hot and airy location with some good breezes that keep the meat from absorbing moisture from the humid atmosphere.
Usually, sun drying does not include using pre-heating the meat to kill bacteria, so it can cause a potential health risk that is not worth the time and effort you put in. Sun drying is only suitable for the above-listed meat types, and you must refrain from using fish jerky or poultry.
Next up is the smoker method; it is also one of the traditional methods for curing meats. However, here we will not use traditional smoking techniques. Instead, you will need smoker equipment to maintain at 140 degrees Fahrenheit. It is not the most convenient way of drying jerky as the process will take a long and maintaining temperature constantly at 140 degrees will be painstaking.
Similarly, you don't have a lot of choices with wood types as you cannot use pine, conifer, fir, or other softwoods. However, if you go for this method to dry your jerky, you will love how it gets a smoky flavor, unlike any other method, even if you add flavorings.
The last one is microwave drying, which can be done at home. However, microwave ovens provide uneven heat, so it is not recommended. You may dry your jerky, but the results won't be as good as the other methods mentioned above. Even though it is not the most recommended method, it can be a great alternative if you don't have access to other drying methods.
How to check for dryness, and what do you do afterward?
Once you think the dehydration process is complete, you can take one strip and cool it at room temperature for 5 minutes. Try bending it from different parts; if it cracks, it is perfectly done. Otherwise, it would help if you dried the jerky further.
When all the moisture from your jerky strips is removed, you can move to the storage phase, where it is a good practice to use a paper towel to absorb any grease from meat. Once done, you must pack it in airtight containers like sealable bags or glass jars so that the meat does not absorb any moisture from the atmosphere.
Keep it away from light and moisture; you can easily store it for 3 weeks in the refrigerator or more in a freezer.
When there were no preservation chemicals or refrigeration solutions, humans marinated meat with spices and dried it to preserve it for a longer time. Jerky is one of those meat types, and the drying process in its making is essential to get the combination of crispiness and chewiness. If you plan to make your jerky yourself, you can use any of the above methods, considering your resources and requirements.