Jerky’s got a bad rap. It’s long been synonymous with truckers, gas stations, a hard, nigh-unchewable texture, and dank, fake flavor more akin to the aroma of dog treats than human food. But it’s come a long way from its first iterations, and it’s a pretty perfect road trip snack or hiking fuel, not to mention something to stash in your desk for those hangry moments between lunch and quitting time.
You can find premium versions made from all sorts of meats (and meat substitutes), with countless flavor variations even in chain grocery stores these days, but it’s really easy—and a lot cheaper—to make your own jerky at home. You don’t even need a dehydrator, although if you have one, it’ll come in handy. If you don’t, just use your oven!
There are only a handful of simple tips to keep in mind to maximize your jerky’s flavor, texture, and shelf life. Other than the right meat (or meat substitute), a sharp knife, and an oven, you really only need time to make great jerky.
Test upon test taught us what does and doesn’t work when it comes to jerky. Here are some pointers:
- If not using a dehydrator, use an oven thermometer to confirm that your oven is at the right temperature. (If your recipe only gives instructions for a dehydrator, just set your oven to the same temperature indicated.)
- Check your thermometer periodically throughout the drying process to ensure a consistent oven temperature.
- Work with cuts of meat that are lower in fat, since they will have a longer shelf life once dried. For poultry, that means the white or breast meat; for beef, the top loin, sirloin, or tenderloin. (It doesn’t apply to fish.)
- Get the right amount of meat—it will shrink considerably once dried. Three pounds of meat should give you about one pound of jerky, so plan accordingly.
- When making the rub or marinade, be sure to use salt (or ingredients that include salt), which helps the flavor and extends the jerky’s shelf life.
- Freeze the meat before you slice it (anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 hour ahead) to make slicing easier.
- Use a very sharp knife to cut the meat to keep the strips as even and thin as possible.
- Pat any excess oil from the dehydrated meat before storing it. In general, fat is the enemy of the jerky’s shelf life and will make it turn rancid a lot quicker.
- Let the jerky cool completely on the oven racks before storing.
- Store the jerky in an airtight container. The turkey jerky is fine stored at room temperature, but the salmon and beef jerky should be refrigerated.
See? It’s pretty simple! Here are some recipes to get you started on your homemade jerky journey.
This recipe doesn’t specify a particular meat because it’s good made with beef, pork, or poultry. Generally, that’s true of most jerky recipes, so choose whichever lean cut you like, and put a zesty BBQ spin on it. Get the recipe.
Teriyaki is a classic jerky flavor, and one of the best. If you’re vegan, try this teriyaki seitan jerky to get your fix. For meat eaters, beef, pork, or turkey all take equally well to the soy-heavy seasoning. Get the recipe.
Chile garlic paste and honey give turkey hits of spicy and sweet. Get our Spicy Turkey Jerky recipe.
You can make seafood jerky from lots of different fish (and with various flavors, like this Hawaiian fish jerky), but simple salmon is the classic piscine choice. This salmon jerky has a nice pepper kick. Get the recipe.
Jerky can take on any flavor combos you dream up. Dr. Pepper jalapeño jerky, ginger orange jerky, Kentucky bourbon jerky, and black coffee jerky all (deliciously) attest to that. This Thai-inspired version is one of our favorites. Fish sauce, ground coriander, and honey infuse beef with an irresistible, almost floral flavor. Get our Thai Beef Jerky recipe.
Another Asian-inspired jerky, this one’s made with pork in a classic Korean marinade more often used with beef (so feel free to switch up the meat if you prefer). Get the recipe.
You don’t even need meat to make jerky! This spicy tofu version is savory and chewy, just like you expect from jerky. (You can find Sriracha beef jerky too, of course.) Note that the tofu will get even chewier as it cools, so don’t overbake it. Get the recipe.
It’s hard to make bacon better, but if there’s one way to do it, it’s to add sugar and spice. This candied bacon jerky with brown sugar and cayenne pepper is so good you’ll probably want to make a double or triple batch. Get the recipe.
Firstly, we are talking about mole as in the classic Mexican chocolate-spice sauce, not small-burrowing-rodent jerky. This recipe does happen to use a semi-exotic meat: venison. If you’re a city slicker unable to source deer meat, you can just make the jerky with beef instead. Get the recipe.
Smoked candied salmon is delicious, but it’s not true jerky; it’s much moister, plumper, and softer, thus quicker to spoil. Our salmon jerky is still as addictive as actual candy—caraway and sugar partially cure the salmon before it’s dried, resulting in a sweet jerky with a pop of Nordic flavor. Get our Salmon Jerky “Candy” recipe.
Yes, cauliflower. Technically, you can make jerky out of practically anything, and there are lots of veggie versions: mushroom jerky, eggplant jerky, beet jerky. (There’s even at least one dessert jerky comprised of cacao and chia seeds.) This cauliflower version is deeply savory from tahini and nutritional yeast, and super chewy after 12 hours in the oven. Get the recipe.
Related video: Black Pepper Jerky.
Header image courtesy of Traeger Grills.