How to Make Beef Jerky with a Dehydrator
If you're a fan of beef jerky, you might want to experiment with making your own. First off, making your own favorite snack is a lot easier and affordable than keeping the pantry stocked with store-bought jerky.
You can dehydrate your own meat, marinate it with your favorite flavor, and store it to ensure it that it has a long shelf life—all at home. You can select the marinade of your choice, and even perfect your beef jerky recipe from the comfort of your own home.
There are plenty of good reasons for wanting to make your own jerky at home. Store-bought jerky comes with preservatives that you might not want to put in your body. The one people most worry about is sodium nitrites, but if you're controlling how you dry and preserve your jerky, you won't have to be concerned with unsavory chemicals.
Beef jerky is high in protein but low in carbohydrates, so it's a good snack to learn how to make. And when you're controlling the ingredients you us, you will also be able to control the amount of cholesterol, something else that is a concern with jerky.
When you make your own jerky, this also means you have control over the kinds of preservatives you use. Homemade beef jerky requires a few steps, but before you take any of them, you'll need to know about how to use a dehydrator.
Why Use a Dehydrator?
Any jerky snacker will tell you that the most important element of beef jerky is that it does not retain moisture. Dehydrators' airflow and raised temperatures dries your beef strips. The dehydrator trays have enough space to hold your beef so that the moisture can properly evaporate. When you're making beef jerky, the primary thing to consider is how well your meat will dry. The best beef jerky has had proper drying time, and the dehydrator will help you in that process.
Is it Safe to Make Beef Jerky in a Dehydrator?
This might be your first time making beef jerky in a dehydrator, but it's important to know that food dehydrators are safe to use. But there are things you should do to know about the dehydrator you purchase.
First off, some dehydrator brands will tell you that they use “BPA-free plastic," but that might not always be the case. Excalibur, for example, uses Toxic Polycarbonate (BPA) in their dehydrators. There are several models that Excalibur makes that fall under this category: Omega dehydrators, Oyster dehydrators, and Presto dehydrators. According to this patent researcher, you might want to avoid using Excalibur brands that use BPA. But the company has stainless steel options that don't present the same risks
Do You Cook Beef Jerky Before Dehydrating?
Before you dehydrate the meat, cook it it in the oven. Take the racks out of the oven, place a single layer of beef strips on the oven racks and place paper towels beneath them on a flat surface. When the meat is in the oven, a good trick is to keep the oven door open a crack with a towel to retain moisture.
Then, heat the beef jerky to 160 degrees Fahrenheit in the oven. Then, once the meat is in the dehydrator, you'll want to be certain that the dehydrator is set at 130 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. This way the food will dry fast before it spoils. The dehydrator's purpose is to remove moisture before enzymes grow on the meat, but cooking beef jerky in the oven before you dehydrate it will make the drying process faster and easier.
The USDA currently requites you to cook beef before you dehydrate it. It's normal for the beef strips to be a different color than other jerky if you precook it. To achieve adequate dryness, let the beef strips dry at room temperature on a baking sheet. If the jerky is dry enough, it will crack when you bend it.
How Thick Should You Slice the Meat Before Dehydrating?You should slice your meat before you dehydrate it—for several reasons. Slicing is essential to removing fats that could potentially go rancid or develop harmful bacteria. You want the meat you dehydrate to be as lean as possible. To achieve more tender meat, slice the beef against the grain. Remember the more evenly you slice your beef the more evenly the beef will dehydrate. Slice the ground beef into thin strips, just like you like your jerky! If you're working with a lean cut, like a flank steak or "London broil", it will be easier to achieve thin slices. This type of cut also takes well to a marinade and holds flavor well. Eye of round, the cut of meat from the rear leg of the cow, is the most tender of the rounds, so it's an ideal cut for jerky. Brisket is also a good option for jerky.
You can purchase a simple slicer on Amazon for $50.
Once you've cut the meat with a slicer, it's time to marinate it. Typical, tasty jerky marinades use teriyaki sauce or juice, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, onion powder, a teaspoon garlic powder, black pepper, and brown sugar. You can also easily achieve a gluten-free recipe with Some jerky-makers swear by liquid smoke in their marinade. Once you've combined all the ingredients in a bowl, then submerge your meat in the marinade in an airtight container. Once it's marinating in the container, refrigerate, and let it soak for eight to 12 hours or overnight. Salt and vinegar are most commonly used for preservatives so that your homemade jerky will be shelf stable. Citrus juices with vitamin A and vitamin C also help preserve the beef.
If you're making venison jerky instead, you'll want to follow the same rules you do for beef jerky when it comes to slicing. Cutting against the grain is always best practice. Because venison is a leaner meat than beef, you'll want to be careful not to cut the meat too thin. If you cut the venison too thin, it will dry out quickly.
Can You Dehydrate Jerky Too Long?
You can over-dehydrate your beef jerky. If your jerky is crumbly, then there's a good chance it's over-dehydrated. You want jerky to be chewy and have a leathery texture. If it's dry on the outside, you'll still want it to be tender on the inside.
If you do think your jerky is too dry, there is a process you can use to re-hydrate it. Add your jerky to boiling water and let it simmer. You can add spices or garnish to taste to help bring out the flavor; when your jerky is too dry it might mean that it's lost some of its flavor. Adding flavor will help soften the jerky and make it tasty.
Snack well and snack healthy!
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