Tracing the history of jerky is somewhat difficult because people have been salting and drying meat for centuries. However, the word jerky has a direct line back to the ancient Incas: sometime around the year 1550. During that time, the Incas would cut slices of llama meat, rub it with salt and dry it in the sun or over a fire. When the Conquistadors arrived, they continued this tradition and called it Charqui, and when they later invaded the Americas they noticed that the natives were doing a similar process with meat from buffalo, deer and elk. The Native Americans began using the same term — only with their accents they pronounced it jerky.
Jerky allowed people to consume high protein fuel that was readily available and eat it when food was scarce. It became a staple food item for early American pioneers and allowed for Western expansion. Over the years people discovered that the meat could hold more flavor if certain spices and tastes could be added and they began to create it for flavor, not only as a survival food.
Contrary to popular belief, beef jerky is actually a pretty healthy snack. It’s a great source of protein, is low in fat and calories and has minimal carbohydrates. Yeah, the sodium content is through the roof, but hey, it’s salted meat.
And remember, jerky is not just a snack food. Jerky is dehydrated meat which means it can be rehydrated again when placed in hot water so you can use it in chili’s, stews, at home or while camping or hiking.
But here’s the thing. The cost of commercial jerky is downright ridiculous.
Let’s use the Jack Links brand of beef jerky as an example. This brand resale’s for $5.99 for a 3.25 ounce bag. So, if we take $5.99 and divide it by 3.25, we find out that this jerky costs $1.84 an ounce. And since there are 16 ounces in a pound, that means the cost of this jerky is — $29.44 a pound.
That’s thirty dollars a pound for — beef jerky.
- Lobster is currently running around $12.00 a pound
- Filet Mignon is $19.00 a pound
- And Prime Rib is about $17.00 a pound
But beef jerky — that you buy at the gas station — is thirty dollars a pound.
Now add to this, the comparison between the taste of homemade jerky and the prepackaged kind, and it’s not even worth comparing. The jerky you can make at home tastes worlds better, hands down — and will not contain any strange chemicals, preservatives or nitrates.
Now marketers jumped on this fact a few years ago and starting producing small commercial dehydrators to dry your meats and vegetables, at home. They created infomercials, bought television time and dominated the shopping channels, stating what a crime it was for you to pay so much for beef jerky when you can make it yourself. But they would like you to make it at home — with their two hundred dollar dehydrator.
Now, that’s just plain silly.
Why would you pay two hundred dollars — for something that is basically a little heater and fan? And why would you pay any amount of money for a device that can do what the Incas did in the 1500’s with just fire and the sun?
Because everything you need to do to dehydrate — herbs, vegetables, meats, anything — can be done in your kitchen oven and can be done for pennies.
And it doesn’t matter what type of meat you use. You can use beef, venison, turkey, salmon, tuna or something even more exotic. And you can cater each batch to different tastes — make sweet, smoked or spicy.
HOW TO MAKE JERKY
- Cut meat in strips. You’ll want these to be about the size of a slice of bacon. And the best way I’ve found is to get your butcher or meat department in the supermarket to cut the meat for you.
- Prepare marinade. Here is a real simple marinade that works well.
- 1 part Worcestershire sauce
- 1 part Soy Sauce
- 1 tbl Honey
- 2 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 tsp liquid smoke
- 1 slice of onion
- 1 squeeze of lemon
- Place meat in storage dish, cover with foil and refrigerate anywhere from two hours to overnight.
- Preheat oven to 160°F
- Place a cookie sheet, wrapped with aluminum foil, in the bottom of the oven. This is to catch all the dripping from the jerky, because you are going to place the jerky right on the oven racks.
- Allow to dry in the oven for anywhere from 6 to 12 hours.