Making beef jerky at home is simple, but requires careful handling to avoid contracting food poisoning. Drying meat removes the moisture responsible for the enzymatic action that causes spoilage. By drying it into jerky, you can extend the shelf life of the beef while eliminating the need for refrigeration and creating a tasty snack.
When it comes to choosing a cut of beef for making jerky -- the leaner, the better. Although fat generally gives meat a richer flavor, it typically develops a rancid, off flavor during the jerky's storage. For this reason, it's crucial to trim all visible fat from the meat you use. According to the book, Jerky, the best cuts of beef have minimal marbling and include:
- Flank steak, also sometimes called London broil. This thin piece of beef comes from the belly and cuts easily into strips.
- Skirt steak, which comes from the diaphragm of the animal.
- Round steaks and other meat that comes from the hindquarter, including top and bottom round, and tip sirloin.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture urges careful preparation of beef -- and any other meats being used to make jerky -- to safely kill any parasites and bacteria in the meat. Likewise, to prevent contaminating the meat, University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension recommends wearing gloves or using tongs to handle the meat.
Deep freeze the beef at 0 degrees Fahrenheit to kill parasites. Freeze meat 1-inch thick or less for a minimum of 1 month. Meat with a thickness greater than 1-inch should be frozen for 2 months or longer.
Slice the meat while it's partially frozen. For chewier jerky, slice the meat with the grain. For a tender, but brittle jerky, slice it against the grain. Slice the beef into strips no thicker than 1/4-inch.
Marinate the beef by letting it soak in a flavorful mixture of salt, seasonings and an acidic ingredient such as lemon juice or vinegar for at least 1 hour or overnight in the refrigerator. Season it with the flavors you like best. Some ideas include soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, chili paste and brown sugar.
Alternatively, you can dry-cure the sliced meat by dabbing it with a mixture of liquid smoke and water, and salting one side of the slices. Let the beef cure in the refrigerator for a minimum of 6 hours.
Heat the beef by steaming or roasting it to an internal temperature of 160 degrees F. This is the minimum temperature necessary to kill bacteria such as E. coli, salmonella and listeria. This step is essential no matter how you plan to dry the beef -- whether you dry the beef in a convection oven, conventional oven or in a dehydrator.
After dry-curing or marinating the beef jerky, pat the strips dry and arrange them on racks placed in baking sheets. Once it's fully dried, let the beef jerky cool and package it in airtight containers. Homemade beef jerky keeps for 1 to 2 months.