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How do I Jerk Meat?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Jerked meat is meat which has been quickly cured with a salt rub to retard spoilage and then slowly dried. There are a number of traditional recipes for making jerky, and variations on this classic preserved meat can be found all over the world. It is relatively easy to jerk meat at home, but you do need to be extremely careful about spoilage, as badly made jerky can be dangerous to eat. If you do not have a precise thermometer and the proper tools, do not try to jerk meat at home. You may also want to take a class in meat preservation and butchery which will enhance your skills and confidence.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, meat should be heated to a minimum of 165 degrees Fahrenheit (73 degrees Celsius) before it is jerked. This will kill any pathogens in the meat, reducing the probability of making bad jerky. During the curing process, the jerky should be held at 130 degrees Fahrenheit (54 degrees Celsius) at all times, and the humidity should be kept very low. Before you decide to jerk meat, make sure that you have the tools you need to dry it.

There are a number of ways dehydrate meat for jerky. The traditional method involves sun drying in a breezy, dry location, but this can bring on pathogens. If you want to try making more traditional jerky, try building a jerky cabinet with screens so that the meat can be exposed to breezes while it dries, and control the heat with a small fire or charcoal pile. You can also use a dehydrator to jerk meat; this tool is ideal for the purpose, since it is designed to hold the low temperature needed to make jerky. Some cooks just use the oven; use a thermometer to keep an eye on the temperature if you decide to do this.

To jerk meat, start by picking out a lean cut of meat which is as fresh as possible. Trim all of the fat from the meat, as fat can cause the jerky to go rancid. Cut the meat into evenly sized strips, and marinate them in a salt cure, dry rub, or marinade of your choice. A salt cure is traditional, and it will help combat putrescence. Leave the meat curing overnight under refrigeration, heat it quickly to the USDA recommended temperature, and then place it in the drying location of your choice. When the jerky turns dark black and brittle, it is finished. In an oven or dehydrator, this can take as few as eight hours, depending on the thickness of the meat, while outdoor during may take longer.

Homemade jerky may not always be able to stand up to room temperature storage, since it isn't laden with stabilizers. If you are unfamiliar with meat handling and curing, you should store your jerky under refrigeration or in the freezer, and use it relatively quickly. If the meat smells or looks at all questionable after or during the curing process, discard it. It is better to waste money than to get sick from poorly cured meat! Jerky can also be made with tofu and seitan, for vegetarian and vegan wiseGEEKs.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By parmnparsley — On Mar 23, 2011

Wow, Jerk chicken pork shoulder sounds tasty. I have never had jerk. I would love to try to make jerk sometime. I am always grilling meat and this would be something new. Does anyone have an authentic Jamaican jerk seasoning recipe?

By PelesTears — On Mar 22, 2011

@submariner- I love jerk chicken, and I have a recipe for spicy jerky that is very good. You will need a dehydrator or smoker to make this jerky. I made the best spicy beef jerky by modifying a store bought jerk marinade.

I added brown sugar, garlic, a thumb size piece of ginger, a bunch of green onions with the white part cut off, and a handful of habaneros to a food processor. I added a bottle of jerk marinade and blended it all together. I marinated my cut strips of beef in the jerk for a day. After the strips were marinated, I laid them on the racks of my dehydrator and set it to the beef jerky setting. The jerky was amazingly sweet and spicy, making for a great snack to take camping.

By submariner — On Mar 20, 2011

Jerk meat can also refer to Jamaican Jerk seasoned meat. You can season the meat with a wet or dry jerk and cook it over an open flame. Jerk is a combination of sweet, savory, salty and spicy. The rub or sauce calls for plenty of allspice, sugar, salt, herbs, and Scotch Bonnets.

The way my family taught me to make jerk, whether it be goat, chicken, prawns, or pork shoulder, was to marinate or rub the meat down with the jerk spice and let it sit for at least twenty four hours. Things like shrimp, and fish were cooked on a grill at low temperature, allowing the delicate meat to smoke itself to a buttery texture. Heavier proteins were charbroiled on a grill with wood chips for flavoring.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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