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Making Jerky Pt. 1

Jerky is actually the end result of the most primitive methods of meat preservation ever used by human beings, so why not give it a try? And why pay thirty bucks a pound for something you can make at home for maybe a tenth of the cost?

An average roast will do just fine, and believe it or not, making it from regular old hamburger is a doable thing as well.

So there you are in the XYZ convenience store or perhaps even walking down the aisle in the local Mega Mart, and there on an “end cap” hang dozens and dozens of enticing plastic encapsulated products brought to you by “Billy Bobs Jerky”, and you cannot resist the temptation. All normal human motion ceases as your eyes become fixated on the incredible array of offerings. This isn’t just “Jerky” anymore, it is a connoissuers dreamscape of offerings, each pack complete with its very own dessication pack and a myriad of unpronounceable chemical additives to help retard spoilage. There’s Beef and Buffalo, sometimes even game-farmed Elk, and to further tempt you they are available with flavoring choices of Teriyaki, Hickory and Mesquite. Invariably, every single one is produced from the “Finest Quality Steak” available.

“Billy Bob” has to be a busy boy. And with a name like “Billy Bobs”, well, you just know that every single mouth-watering strip was made out in a native tree and shrub lined back yard tucked back deep in a secluded “Holler” somewhere by Billy Bob and his extended family. Surrounding them are a bunch of primitive meat smokers taking up every square inch of space on the place that isn’t occupied by the half dozen 1965 Dodge Power Wagons 4X4’s sitting on it and the Still out behind the shed, Jed. They’re out there, the whole lot of them, from grandpa and grandma all the way down to the youngest grandchild slicing and curing the meats, chopping different kinds of woods into little chunks and feeding the smokers. In a minor surrender to the U.S.D.A., they acceded to adding all those additives to keep that stuff all “fresh” and “safe”, with the end product costing the consumer darn near thirty bucks a pound.

Yup! That’s the marketed image we get for jerky sans the additives, even though in real life that overall-wearing “Billy Bob” actually wears a three-piece suit, drives a Mercedes home to his McMansion, wouldn’t get caught dead in a 1965 Dodge Power Wagon, and his name isn’t “Billy Bob.” In fact, “Billy Bob” doesn’t even exist except in your mind. Ninety nine times out of one hundred, the jerky that your salivary glands are signaling to your mind that you can’t live without it is made by “Food Conglomeration Inc.” in a gigantic building with dozens of smokers or dehyrators twice the size of your house running three shifts 24 hours a day.

So why not just make it yourself?

This is hardly rocket science here. Humans have been drying meat for eons and smoking it almost since we discovered that fire has multiple uses. Jerky is actually the end result of the most primitive methods of meat preservation ever used by human beings, so why not give it a try? And why pay thirty bucks a pound for something you can make at home for maybe a tenth of the cost?

An average roast will do just fine, and believe it or not, making it from regular old hamburger is a doable thing as well. If you either don’t want to or can’t stick a smoker out in the yard next to your Power Wagon and the Still, a food dehydrator works just fine. This is just too easy, earning a “degree of difficulty” rating of “1”. For you lawyer types, that’s “One.”

Here’s how you go about this operation. Instead of spending a pile of money on a bunch of sirloins or New York Strips and such, buy a regular old run-of-the-mill roast. Think “Savings!” Simply slice it as thin as possible and trim off all the fat and any strips of gristle that may be present in the meat. If you don’t want to bother with the slicing yourself, take the roast up to the butcher counter and ask him to slice it for you. Tell him you are going to “jerk it”, and then he’ll ask “How thin do you want it?” Wisely, I always take the path of least resistance and say to him, “You be the judge.” Once he has finished I ask him “How thin did you slice it?”, and without hesitation he will give me the answer. I end up with an important factoid to file, and since I deferred to his years of unionized meat handling expertise, I helped with both his ego and our relationship. Best yet, he will slice it for free. Free!

More in the next post!


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Making Jerky Pt. 2

Dehydrate until they are dehydrated, but not to the point of being dessicated. None of that “The Mummy Returns” stuff here.

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