Friday, 10 April 2009

Homemade Snack Food

Homemade Beef Jerky, originally uploaded by kertong.

If you’re like me (J.), you’re a big fan of beef jerky. It travels well, stores in just about any condition, last substantially longer than most prepared proteins, and it’s tasty, of course. It’s also, in my opinion, pretty expensive for what you get when compared with the same weight of unprepared beef.

On the course to buy less and make more at home, I decided I would give jerky making a shot. After all, it sounded simple enough: grind meat, cure and season, dry, eat. During this process, I developed a deeper appreciation for what it takes to make this treat, and also why the high cost could certainly be related to labor intensity if the jerky were made by hand.

Step One: purchase a large, inexpensive as possible quality cut of beef that is fairly lean. Sirloin and top round will work well.

Alternate Step One: Go to Cabela’s, the major US outfitter and purveyor of all things outdoorsy, and purchase a jerky kit. This step is also know as “don’t let you’re significant other know that you are anywhere near this mega-sporting goods wonderland with any amount of money.”

Step Two: Trim the fat. Remove all or as much fat from your meat as possible, as this will cause the jerky to spoil much faster.
From here, there are two methods:
a) slice your meat into very thin strips less than 1/8`` thick. To make it easier to slice, freeze it for about 30 minutes before slicing. You can cut with or against the grain, but some find that strips cut against the grain are easier to chew. Trim the fat as you go along, since fat does not dry and could make the jerky spoil.
b) grind your meat (if you’ve got a grinder) as fine as possible. I ground five pounds, and it was a bloody mess at times. However, it does produce an easier to chew, more evenly flavored jerky product.

Step Three: This step is where the meat is cured. Curing the meat can be as protracted as soaking each strips in a brine of sea salt and cider vinegar from 4-24 hours, or using a powdered cure from a kit that will cure strips and ground beef in as little as 1-3 hours. In the end, you want to have as little moisture as possible so that the jerky won’t take forever to dehydrate. If you’re using ground beef, I would recommend a cure packet as this will more evenly cure the ground.

Step Four: Seasonings. I used a packaged seasoning of pepper and chilies, but I also added a couple of ounces of bourbon for some added flavor. If you’re using strips of meat, let it cure first and then coat the still-wet strips in seasoning. If you’re using a ground product, it can go in the same time as the powdered cure. This is the recipe that I’ll be using next time, since it will be all homemade:

5 pounds of beef (or any meat type)
5 ounces of liquid smoke
15 ounces of Lea & Perrins OR Worcestershire
15 - 20 ounces of teriyaki sauce
15 - 20 ounces of soy sauce
2 - 4 Tb. of garlic powder
2 - 4 Tb. of dark brown sugar
2 - 4 Tb. of onion powder
2 - 4 ounces of molasses OR dark corn syrup
2 - 4 tsp. of cayenne pepper

Step Five: Dehydrate.
Strips of meat: strips can be laid in a dehydrator about 1/8 inch apart and dried for 6-12 hours. Be sure to check for doneness; it should be a deep maroon or burgundy all the way through. Oven safe wire racks can also be used with foil below the racks to catch drippings at about 150-180 degrees Fahrenheit. Just check for doneness. The heat of the oven isn’t actually cooking the meat, rather its just getting rid of moisture.

Ground meat: The only real way to use a ground meat product to make jerky is to use an extruder to uniformly make strips of jerky. I have one of these, and I love it. It works like a caulking gun, distributing about 1 inch lengths of jerky at a time onto your dehydrating rack or oven rack.

In all, the process of making jerky is not nearly as easy as I had previously given jerky makers credit for. It is a lot of fun, and I’m looking forward to experimenting with different flavors and types of meats for N. and I to try. Do you like jerky? Have you ever tried to make it, and would you try it again?