Dehydrators take the guesswork out of making beef jerky, but not for flavoring it or keeping it free of pathogens that can cause food-borne illness. You have as many choices when flavoring jerky as you do when flavoring roasted, grilled or braised meats, so use what you like and you can't go wrong.
Food safety is critical when dehydrating meat, because fat -- which can turn rancid within a day -- doesn't dehydrate, but sort of sits there collecting bacteria. For the safest, best results when making jerky, use lean beef, such as top or bottom round or brisket.
Trim off all the fat and connective tissue from the surface of the meat. Tightly wrap each piece of meat individually in plastic wrap, and place them on a plate in the freezer.
Freeze the meat until it's firm all the way through, one to two hours, depending on thickness. Take one piece of meat out of the freezer and unwrap it.
Slice the meat into 1/4-inch-thick slices in the direction of the grain and place it in a sealable food bag. Trim as much fat as possible from the pieces as you slice them. Repeat with the other pieces.
Set the bag or bags, open at the top, in a shallow dish. Turn down the edges so you can add the flavoring ingredients without having to hold the bag open with one hand.
Add flavoring and marinade ingredients to the meat. For a basic brine that imparts only saltiness, mix 1 teaspoon of salt per cup of water, as needed, to cover all the pieces.
Seal the bag while pressing out as much air as possible. Marinate the meat in the refrigerator for two to six hours, depending on how strongly you want to flavor it.
Dehydrating the Meat
Take the meat from the bag and strain it in a colander. Arrange the meat in a single layer on a tray or plates lined with paper towels.
Dry the meat with paper towels. Then arrange the meat slices on the dehydrator's drying racks, spacing each piece about 1/4 inch apart. Slide the racks into the dehydrator.
Set the dehydrator to 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Dehydrate the jerky until it's cooked through and leathery, about four to five hours.
Transfer the jerky from the dehydrator to a food-storage container. You can store the jerky at room temperature for one to two months if you add a silicon oxygen absorber to the container. Store jerky without an oxygen absorber at room temperature for one month.
You can dehydrate poultry in a dehydrator after cooking it to 165 F, and lean fish after cooking it to 145 F.
For seasoning, you can also use sauces, such as Worcestershire or soy sauce; pungent ingredients, such as garlic and chilies; and aromatic ingredients, such as shallots and fresh herbs.