Consider it low brow if you will, but there’s never been a tastier snack than beef jerky. Outside of its somewhat high sodium content, this protein-rich snack is a healthy detour from much of what people tend to nosh on during events like this weekends biggest event of the year, the Super Bowl. It’s relatively simple to make, requires a small amount of prep, and making it yourself is far cheaper than the pre-packaged, chemical-laced beef strips you find in the grocery store.
I had intended to post this weeks ago and didn’t, but the timing of the post now just seems appropriate, especially since PETAs Super Bowl ad was rejected by NBC earlier this week for being too racy. Gotta hand it to PETA. They may be a bunch of nut cases, but they’re a sexy bunch. Now pass the broccoli.
Here’s what you need to make your own beef jerky:
• 3-4 pounds of London Broil, trimmed completely of all fat
• Sharp non-serrated chefs knife
• Sea Salt
• Cracked black pepper
• Liquid Smoke
Sure, authentic beef jerky is hung to dry in large smokehouses for 12-24 hours, but who in the Hell owns a large smokehouse? Not me, and probably not you either. You don’t cook jerky – you dry it. Putting it in the oven to dry on low heat will dry it out, but not completely. A dehydrator is the best tool for the job, they’re not expensive to buy, and can be found in the appliance aisle of stores like Target, Wal-Mart, Bed Bath & Beyond, etc. Drying it out completely is important, because if it you don’t you certainly risk spoilage over time. The dehydrator works for this because there’s still enough oxygen present which prevents botulism.
What’s important to remember here is that drying meat preserves it. But simply drying it is not good enough to keep it around for long periods of time. This requires curing, and the easiest way to do this is to salt the meat heavily with sea salt or sodium nitrate, and allowing it to sit for couple of days at cold temperatures (the refrigerator works fine). This is also what gives your beef jerky that rich concentrated flavor.
Once you’ve obtained a nice slab of London Broil, trim as much fat off of the meat as you can, place the meat in a large zip lock bag and throw it in the freezer for 4 hours. Yes, the freezer. This is the slickest trick in the book and ensures that you’ll get super thin pieces of jerky. Once the meat is rigid enough to hold without bending, you’re golden. We want it chilled hard, but not frozen completely. When the meat is chilled hard enough to slice through, it allows you to cut very precise, thin slices of meat that would otherwise be a real pain in the ass to achieve if the meat were simply at room temperature.
Begin slicing the beef in strips 1/8′ to 1/4′ inch thick across the grain of the meat. You should end up with strips of beef 1-2 inches wide, 6-7 inches long, depending on the size of the roast you purchased. At this point, they should resemble a “meat bookmark.” Hey, we should think about marketing those. Write that down.
Place the strips on a large flat surface, season heavily with sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Don’t be shy with the salt – salt it well. Nothing tastes more drab than lightly salted dried beef. That may have been OK for the Indians, but it’s 2009 and we’ve got more sea salt than we know what do do with. Next, open the bottle of liquid smoke and gently give each meat strip a very light drop. DO NOT OVERDO IT WITH THE LIQUID SMOKE. This stuff is stronger than seal breath. Too much liquid smoke and you won’t even taste the beef, so take it easy.
Gently place the beef strips into a ziplock bag, squeeze as much of the air out of the bag as you can, close it tightly, and place the bag in your refrigerator for 24-48 hours.
When you’re ready to begin drying out your strips of beef, take the bag out of the refrigerator and allow the meat to come to room temperature before beginning the dehydration process, about 4 hours. Follow the instructions that come with your dehydrator to set it up. All you need to know is that the meat can be placed on the racks close together, but certainly not overlapping. The meat will shrink as the moisture is removed from it, so no matter how close together it is when it’s raw, there will be plenty of space when it’s finished. But overlapping pieces will not dry properly, so be careful.
When your meat is completely dry (doesn’t bend when you twist it) it’s finished. Place the finished pieces in another zip lock bag or airtight container, or enjoy immediately. This beef jerky will last a solid month or longer, but I wouldn’t know. It’s always gone within a few days after I make it. It’s one of the most requested snacks when I’m invited to parties for the “big game” or camping trips with the guys.