I mentioned in my last post that priorities are shifting slightly now. While I draw up supply orders and accounting for Blue Yonder Botanicals, I’ve got other things to do. Today, it was pulling together some beef jerky at the UUH’s request.
It’s not that difficult — you can do it with an oven, a grill/smoker, a dehydrator, or any combination of the above. There are a couple key points, though. The meat should be as free of fat as possible, which means a lot of trimming and for me, a couple very happy dogs. The next question is whether you put a cure into the brine or the rub. The cure (I use Instacure #1) when used properly, prevents certain bacteria (including botulism) from reproducing during a long, slow, low-temperature smoking and drying cycle. Other people do not use it; the arguments on both sides are easily found in a Google search. The last factor is that you don’t want to heat it up so fast you get a “crust” on the top, which will mislead you about how dry the inside of the meat is. That means lower temperatures.
I usually use some form of bottom round that I find cheapest at the supermarket. I partially freeze it, so I can slice it thinly. This batch went into a marinade of soy sauce, ponzu (for that citrus tang), cure, brown sugar, and sriracha sauce for a slight pepper kick. It sat for 12 hours in the fridge (flip and massage it a few times) and then, after warming up a bit, went into the smoker for 3 hours at 120 to 150 degrees over hickory. We want to smoke and dry it, not cook it.
After the smoke, it goes into the dehydrator (mine is the boss Excalibur 9-rack, called The McGuffin) for as long as it takes at the 155F setting. A lot depends on how thickly the meat is cut (most jerky makers recommend 1/4″ slices at the thickest) and how big they are. This batch took about 4 hours after the smoke. When the pieces are dry on the surface, and bend and then crack, you’re probably done. Moist spots are no good — put those dudes back in the dehydrator. Like most nifty alchemist things, jerky takes as much time as it needs.
This batch turned out well — a tender and delicious balance of sweet, smoke and salt, with a little kick of sriracha flavor at the end.
During the entire process, you lose more than half (at least) of the poundage of the meat you start with; the process is labor and ingredient intensive; and it takes time and attention to tend and test. But man, is it worth it in the end for the sheer, though ephemeral, happiness of this stuff.