Monday, December 22, 2008

Beef jerky

In the quest to get more protein to keep my weight loss going, I'm going back onto beef jerky. Back during the pre-surgery diet phase, and before that during the being-diabetic phase, I used beef jerky as a good snack: low fat, low carb, and filling. I got worn out on it though. But it's been more than a year and I now find I like it again.

The beef jerky sold in bulk at CostCo is pretty good at a good price, but for variety's sake I'm also trying to make my own. My first batch was good but I didn't keep it well enough and lost most of it to mold. The second batch I've avoided that, but there's more cartilage in it that I didn't cut out, so there's still room for improvement.

It's easy to make your own, and you don't need a special dehydrator (though that probably reduces the energy used). It's easy, it just takes a while, but you do it overnight. Here's how.

You'll need:
  • Cookie sheets with racks (like the ones pictured)
  • A ziploc bag
  • Some aluminum foil
  • Any cut of beef, even a cheap one (just watch for cartilage)
  • Marjoram
  • Lemon juice
  • Other seasonings such as pepper, onion powder, worcestershire sauce, tabasco, etc.
  1. Freeze the meat.
  2. In the morning, defrost it, but not fully.
  3. While it's still mostly frozen, slice it across the grain into very thin slices. Remove cartilage as you go as well as any chunks of fat.
  4. Put the slices into a ziploc bag. Cover (just barely) with cool water.
  5. Add lemon juice generously. For a pound of beef, a half-cup is a good amount.
  6. Add flavorings and seasonings of your choice. You'll want the fluid to be fairly dark, so don't skimp.
  7. Zip the bag up with as little air in it as possible.
  8. Shake the bag well.
  9. Leave the bag in your sink until just before bedtime.
  10. Turn your oven to its lowest setting.
  11. Drain the marinade from the beef.
  12. Lay the strips out on the racks over cookie sheets. They shouldn't overlap but can touch.
  13. Crumple up some aluminum foil into a small ball.
  14. Put the cookie sheets into the oven.
  15. Use the crumpled aluminum foil to hold the oven door just a little bit open.
  16. Go to bed, leaving the meat to dry overnight, 8-10 hours.
The resulting jerky won't be so well preserved that you can leave it out at room temperature for weeks: it could mold up. So keep it in the fridge. You might benefit from putting individual servings into FoodSaver bags too, which is what I did this time (but I'm still keeping them in the fridge anyway, so I don't lose any).

If you've ever tried this and didn't like how it came out, odds are you left out the marjoram or didn't use enough lemon juice. Those are the secret ingredients that give jerky the right taste and feel. People focus on the pepper, teriyaki, etc. but even plain beef will taste good with some marjoram and lemon juice in the marinade.

Incidentally, the same technique should work for other jerky-appropriate red meats like venison or mutton. (I wouldn't try it with pork or poultry, though.)

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