Why is Beef Jerky Expensive?
We’ve all heard the wisdom: good things cost money. But that doesn’t always line up with our experience. There are plenty of great, cheap products. Lean beef isn’t always expensive. Flour at the supermarket doesn’t have a high price tag. Buying frozen pounds of meat can often be cheap. So what explains beef jerky?
The answer is a little more subtle than you might imagine. Let’s explore the price of beef jerky and why one of the most convenient-to-eat foods is also—dare we say it?—a little pricey.
Reason #1: Beef Jerky Requires More Pounds of Meat Per Pound of End-Product
If you buy a steak at the store, you know what you’re getting. Right on the label, you see everything you need to know. USDA status, the exact poundage, the exact total price, the total cost per pound. All of that, plus you can look right at the steak to gauge whether it’s top-quality or not.
With jerky, it’s not so simple. Jerky undergoes a lengthy and complicated process. It gets dehydrated. It often gets soaked in marinade. There may be additives for flavor and preservatives to help extend shelf life. Add it all up, and the amount of meat that goes into a small batch of beef jerky might surprise you.
Let’s get specific. According to the Handy Reference for Making Beef Jerky, “Four pounds of fresh, trimmed meat will yield 1 pound of jerky, a lightweight dried meat product.” That doesn’t mean this exact ratio will always be the case, especially if you make it at home and choose some of your additives and methods. But the best beef jerky may indeed pack a wallop of protein and flavor into a relatively small product.
It makes sense. After all, meat is fundamentally a “fresh” food—if you don’t store it properly, it spoils. Turning fresh food into something that preserves isn’t easy. And while it can add convenience and even delicious flavor, there are drawbacks. One of those is that dehydrating meat will help keep it but lower the weight of the end product. That’s how you get many cuts of meat, making up a smaller portion of beef jerky.
Reason #2: Time Is Money
If time is money, then processing food can potentially add up to costs in the end product. This isn’t true for some foods made primarily of carbs, which are fundamentally cheap and relatively easy to store. But when you’re talking about jerky, you’re also talking about a fresh product that was once part of a living, breathing animal. The long transformation from cuts of meat to potential gas station snack food will take some time.
Jerky makers are happy to use this time to their advantage. That may include a prolonged marinade period, for example. When making jerky at home, jerky makers use prolonged, low temperatures in the oven to dehydrate the meat. In the Handy Reference linked above, the drying process can even take up to 14 hours! That’s how patient you have to be to handle your beef jerky. And keep in mind that this is just one stage in the process.
People don’t often think about “cuts of beef jerky,” but you do have to remember that despite how beef jerky ends up looking in the end, it’s still made with cuts of beef. The same type of beef you might buy in the grocery store can end up in beef jerky—but it’s the time spent marinating, dehydrating, and drying out that fundamentally changes the flavor and texture of the beef.
Reason #3: Shopping
When you go shopping for a bag of beef jerky, it can be easy to overlook the reasons above. You might only compare jerky beef products to other beef jerky products. Flavors like brown sugar, BBQ, teriyaki, and derived from other quality ingredients, seem like different additives that you might find in the chip aisle.
But shopping for beef jerky often causes people to overlook what’s involved in creating a good beef jerky. Beef jerky is partially more expensive than other types of snacks because it involves high-quality meat. By buying your beef jerky ready-made, you’re paying for the labor involved with the entire process, from drying out during the dehydration process to flavoring the jerky.
If you’re the type of shopper who buys entire pounds of beef jerky at a time, you know that it’s a unique snack. It’s a finished product. You’re not purchasing raw beef, which requires less labor-intensive processes to put to market. Instead, you’re shopping for ready-made convenience food that’s been preserved for you. And that convenience—opening up a bag of meat and being able to enjoy it without preparation —is often worth paying from a place like Red Truck Beef Jerky.
Reason #4: Labor
And speaking of having work done for you: do you want to make your beef jerky? If you’re like most people, probably not. Sure, jerky brands are popular, but there are also plenty of people out there who enjoy making beef jerky at home. They buy the raw beef and process it themselves.
They may enjoy beef jerky, sure. But people making their jerky may also enjoy the journey from taking a good cut of raw beef into something that they might be able to take on a hike. It’s a time-consuming process. It requires calculating shrinkage, buying up all the ingredients and equipment necessary for jerky production, and then coming up with a unique, flavorful recipe that people will enjoy in the end. This process may even require extensive tinkering until someone gets a recipe precisely right.
When you buy jerky from the store, it’s a different story. That labor has resulted in a completed product that you’re free to pick up, purchase, and enjoy. The only difference is, now you know what went into creating that—and why so many people are willing to pay for the convenience.
Red Truck Beef Jerky is a small, family-owned business that sources all premium cuts of meat in the USA. Some more prominent beef jerky players say “packed in the USA,” which means that the meat is probably from overseas. With us, you are supporting a family business and keeping the quality right here in the USA.