Monday, May 12, 2008

Jerk Me - The Hunt for Beef Jerky

It hit me like a train. I'm sitting down typing up my job performance review at the home office while snacking on some carrots. Those were quickly gone as the mind-numbing'ness of doing these reviews causes me to burn calories at a horrific rate (ha, yeah right!). Anyways, next up in the cupboard was some beef jerky. I've always loved this stuff...don't know why.

Well maybe I do know why. But first some background. Growing up with vegetarian parents you'd think beef jerky would be one of the last things you'd see lying around our house. But for some reason when Dad would pile the family in to the RV for trips to the Oregon coast, low and behold, there was always a bag of beef jerky in the vehicle. I never really asked what the stuff was, just trusted that if it was good enough for my dad then it was good enough for me. And the fact that it tasted better than any other fake vegetarian meat I had tried probably sealed the deal.

Anyways, as I'm stuffing my face with jerky and thinking to myself, "Hmm, this won't bode well for my health..." I decide to actually check out the nutrition label. Twelve grams of protein, 1 gram of fat and only 90 calories per serving. After some quick math it hit me...this stuff is for real.

Time to go research me some tasty beef jerky options. My sister introduced me to a restaurant in Portland last year that made their own homemade jerky. Pretty tasty! I'm sure there are some local Bay Area places that do the same. If you've got a recommendation let me know.


bbElf (a.k.a. panda) said...

I recommend getting a food dehydrator & making your own. Mmm.

Tall & Manley said...

Good idea. I grew up with one of these and the ole vegetarian parents had me do my fair share of drying out fruit, primarily plums and apples from our trees. Do you know of any good recipes for jerky? What's the best cuts of beef to use?

bbElf (a.k.a. panda) said...

Not offhand, but I'll ask my mom for her recipe. I was too young to really help when they were making it.

I'd imagine any lean cut sliced pretty thin would work.

bbElf (a.k.a. panda) said...

Okay, here are the basic instructions (finally). Choose a lean & relatively flat cut (London broil, flank, round). Stick it in the freezer for a while so it hardens up to make it easier to slice, then slice it to your desired thickness.

Mix up a marinade that tastes good to you (you can use storebought sauces like teriyaki or thinned-down bbq or mix your own combo) and marinate the sliced beef for a few hours or overnight, depending on how strong you want the flavor. Dehydrate the slices in a food dehydrator. My mom said the dehydration always went faster than she expected (a matter of hours, not days), so check it every few hours until it's almost there, then more frequently 'cause it can go from chewy to crispy pretty quickly.

Once it's dehydrated to the texture you want, let it cool & store airtight. If you want to take a little extra precaution you can double-wrap it in plastic bags, making absolutely sure there is no moisture in the bags, and freeze it for 24 hours to kill any bacteria that may remain. If there's any moisture in the bags then the jerky will get soggy, so really make sure it's cool & dry before you start. I was told this step is optional, but that's from someone who served up half-cooked chicken on a regular basis during my childhood ("no, Mom, I don't think chicken is a meat you can serve rare...").

Obviously there's a lot of fine tuning involved based on your ingredients & dehydrator, but fortunately jerky is a forgiving food & any "bad" batches should still be edible.