Trek to Table: How To Turn Fresh Game Meat to Delicious Jerky

by Madison Miller

The winter hunting season is well underway. This means, hunters likely have a lot of wild game at their fingertips.

The 2020 hunting season has been one of the most popular. This is mostly because more people set out to spend time in the field hunting during the quarantine. Hunting is a socially-distanced, outdoor activity that could keep people occupied in a year where very little could.

Several businesses in the meat processing industry have also reported that they are behind on orders. Some have even been turning down orders entirely. Hunters have been warned that deer processors would be harder to come by this season. They have been urged to call ahead, or, better yet, learn to process their own wild game.

One of the best ways to preserve meat is to dehydrate the meat and make it into a jerky.

So, what are the steps to making long lasting jerky this winter season?

Step One: Cuts of Meat

The very first component to making good jerky is knowing which kind of cuts to use. The best are often the hind-quarter roasts. This would include the top round, sirloin tip, and bottom round.

Jerky will taste the best when you use cuts that aren’t thin. If you use front quarter cuts, there’s a higher likelihood that your jerky will turn out more like chewing gum, with hidden threads of fascia throughout.

When it comes time to cut, it helps if the slab of meat is partially frozen. Use a sharp filet knife or a slicer. Make sure that any of the skin, fat, and connective tissue gets tossed. This will lead to an unpleasant texture and taste in your jerky later on.

Make sure to slice against the grain for less chewy jerky. About a quarter-inch slice should provide the right amount of bite in the final product.

Step Two: Cure the Meat

Unless you’re into having food poisoning, you need to cure the meat before doing anything else. Since meat that is left between 40 and 160 degrees can lead to bacteria growth, curing meat will shut down that process.

The best part of cured jerky is that it can last a couple of months out of the refrigerator. This means your winter hunts will remain with you into the spring session.

The most common way to cure meat is by using pink curing salt or celery juice powder. Pink curing salt is often the go-to for wild game, while celery juice powder is helpful for longer curing meats like salami or pepperoni.

It is important to note that pink curing salts contain carcinogens. If eaten in huge amounts, this kind of cured jerky could lead to health issues in the future.

Measurements are important in making sure your jerky has the best flavor. For one pound of venison, use about .032 ounces of salt. It is important to look up measurements before curing meat. Having a scale handy will also be helpful.

Step Three: Marinades

If you want to make your life easier, just grab a spice packet designed for jerky. Brands like LEM and Hi Mountain will be your best friend.

If you’re going all out this winter and making your marinade at home, since there isn’t much to do anyway, make sure you watch the salt being added. Since curing salts are used adding too much salt to a marinade can lead to an awful and salty jerky.

It is recommended that for whatever spice mix you concoct, don’t make it over 12% of the meat’s total weight.

There are some pretty standout jerky seasoning recipes out there if you’re looking for some flavor inspiration. Consider anything from a tomato soup eggplant jerky to a coconut ground beef jerky to a sweet and sour portabello mushroom jerky this season.

Step Four: Smoking or Dehydrating

When your meat is cured and marinated, it’s time to decide if you want to smoke or dehydrate your meat. Honestly, it comes down to preference. If you’re looking to have a smoky and more infused flavor, go for smoking. However, dehydrating will give you a more consistent texture throughout.

If you’re thinking you can’t do either because you lack a smoker and dehydrator, just use the oven. Put the oven on low and keep the door propped open. Hang the meet from toothpicks across racks. Make sure to rotate frequently and place something at the bottom of the oven to catch drippings.

Step Five: Done and Processed

The jerky should not be undercooked. If it still has a soft texture, it needs more time. If it breaks or snaps, it’s overdone. However, some people like the more leathery texture that comes from overdone jerky.

If you’re looking to replicate a Slim Jim, you’ll need a jerky gun and a meat grinder. Most jerky guns will also let you make the traditional strip shape.

Ground venison should look like a shredded newspaper. It is useful to add pork shoulder meat to the ground mix to produce the best texture.

Step Six: Storage and Enjoying

The best way to store jerky is in a vacuum-sealed bag. This will allow the meat to last for up to two months as long as it’s in a cool, dry place.

If then placed in the fridge, the date will extend several months longer. In the freezer, you’re looking at two to three years as an expiration date.

Snack sticks have a shorter shelf life due to fat content. In the fridge, they’re good for three to six months.

If you’re not a hunter yourself, there are other options for making at-home jerky as well. You could go to the store and buy a top roast, rump roast, or London broil of beef. After cutting off excess fat, the process is pretty much the same.

Jerky is a great low carb, high protein snack. It’s great to bring along on hunting adventures, camping trips, and long hiking days.

You can find a number of dehydrators online if jerky becomes a passion. This is the most convenient way to make jerky year-round.

H/T: Outdoor Life