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.