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Handling Wild Game Meats
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How to Make Jerky
  by Susan Brewer

Meat Preparation

Muscles from the round or leg are most often used. It is recommended that muscles be removed from the carcass and made into jerky the day after the kill to prevent unnecessary bacterial growth. However, aged meat can be used. Meat which has been frozen and thawed can also be used satisfactorily.

Freezing meat for a month before jerky is made insures that it will be free from live parasites which are sometimes found in game meat. In order to have freshly made jerky during the year, many people freeze meat which is to be made into jerky. The meat is then thawed in small quantities and made into jerky as it is needed.

Meat should be trimmed of fat and connective tissue and then cut into strips 1/2 inch thick, 1 inch wide, and up to a foot in length. Cut with (not across) the grain. Small muscles, one or two inches in diameter, are often separated and made into jerky without being cut into strips. These thicker pieces of meat take longer to absorb the sale and seasonings and longer to dry, but with these exceptions, no changes in the jerky recipes need be made. Some recipes call for drying jerky in the sun. Because of sanitation problems this method is not recommended. If sun drying is used, the jerky should be cut into strips 1/4 inch thick or less.

Slicing of meat to be used for strip jerky is best accomplished when meat is slightly frozen. Slice 1/8" or 1/4" thick with the grain (parallel) of the meat. Ground meat of less than 20% fat should be used for hamburger jerky (if you have wild meat processed, use ground meat with no fat added for jerky).

Strip jerky is usually marinated in a solution of spices for 2 to 12 hours to enhance flavor; seasonings are "kneaded" into ground meat jerky then mixture is allowed to stand for 1 hour for flavors to mix. Strips may be dried either on a rack or tray or hung over the rungs of the oven rack with a pan below to catch drippings. Ground meat mixture is spread 1/4" thick by placing mixture between two sheets of waxed paper and rolling with a rolling pin to a uniform thickness. Top layer of waxed paper is then removed and meat on lower layer is placed on try. Trays or strips are placed in oven at 140-150ºF to dry until brittle, strip jerky should be turned occasionally and drip pans should be emptied.

Cooled jerky should be stored in airtight containers in the refrigerator.

Color of the finished jerky ranges from a light brown to black. Color variations depend upon the recipe used, the species of animal, and the age of the animal. The latter two factors are related to the myoglobin concentration in fresh meat. Myoglobin is the pigment in meat responsible for color. Higher levels of myoglobin result in darker colored jerky.

A Jerky Maker's Check List

  1. Use fresh lean meat that is free of fat and connective tissue.

  2. Slice the meat with the grain, not crosswise.

  3. Add the correct amount of seasoning. If you do not have a scale, use approximate equivalent measures for the jerky recipes as shown in Table 1.

  4. Cure the meat the correct length of time at refrigerator temperatures. Salted meat should be placed in plastic, wooden, stainless steel or stone containers.

  5. Keep the drying or smoking temperature in the smokehouse or oven at 120ºF or below (use a thermometer). Gas ovens usually maintain the proper temperature when the pilot light alone is on.

  6. If an oven is used, line the sides and bottom with aluminum foil to catch the drippings. Open the door to the first or second stop to allow moisture to escape and to lower the oven temperature when necessary.

  7. Use any hardwood for smoking. Do not use pine, fir or conifers.

  8. Remove the jerky from the smokehouse or oven before it gets too hard for your taste. Five pounds of fresh meat should weigh approximately 2 pounds after drying or smoking.

  9. Store jerky in clean jars or plastic bags, or wrap it in freezer paper and freeze it. Although jerky will last almost indefinitely at any temperature, its quality deteriorates after a few months.

  10. Seasonings and smoking or drying times can be altered to suit individual tastes. Examples of spices which could be added to 5 pounds of meat in the previous recipes include: 2 tablespoons chili powder, 2 tablespoons garlic powder, 2 tablespoons onion powder, 1 teaspoon ginger, 2 tablespoons coriander or 1 teaspoon all spice.

Jerky Recipes

Simple Dry Cured Jerky

  1. Prepare 5 pounds of meat as described above (1/2 x 1 inch strips).

  2. Spread out meat and sprinkle on 2 ounces salt (3 tablespoons), 0.08 ounces ground pepper (1 teaspoon) and 1 ounce sugar (2 tablespoons).

  3. Put the meat in a pan or dish and let is stand 24 hours in a refrigerator.

  4. The strips of meat may be dipped in liquid smoke 1-2 seconds for added flavor or this step may be skipped.

  5. Spread out meat in the top half of a kitchen oven on a rack to dry. Open the oven door to the first or second stop. Heat at 120ºF (lowest temperature) for 48 hours or until the desired dryness is reached. Use an oven thermometer to make sure the oven does not get hotter than 120ºF. Higher temperatures result in hard, brittle jerky that crumbles when it is eaten.

Strip Jerky

1 1/2 lb. lean meat, partially frozen
1 tsp garlic salt
1/2 c soy sauce
1 tsp pepper or seasoned pepper
2 tbsp worcestershire sauce
Liquid smoke (if desired)

Remove all visible fat, slice meat 1/8" to 1/4" thick with the grain. Mix soy sauce, worcestershire, salt and pepper. Marinate meat 2 to 12 hours. Lay strips over oven rack rungs or on cookie sheets. Brush with liquid smoke. Dry for 5 to 12 hours at 140°F- 150ºF until meat is hard and brittle. Pat off any oil beads with paper towel. Store refrigerated in an airtight container.

Hamburger Jerky

1 1/2 lb. extra lean ground beef (20% fat or less)
1/4 c soy sauce
1/2 tsp garlic salt
1/2 cup Teriyaki sauce
1/2 tsp pepper

Mix all ingredients and "knead" well. Allow to stand 1 hour in refrigerator. Spread wax paper on flat surface. Divide mix into thirds. Place ball of mixture on waxed paper. cover with another sheet of waxed paper and roll to 1/4" thick with rolling pin. Remove top sheet of waxed paper and place meat mixture on tray. Dry at 140-150ºF until dry and brittle. Store refrigerated.

Table 1. Seasoning Amounts
Salt 10.5 ounces (298 grams) = 1 cup
8.0 ounces (227 grams) = 3/4 cup
2.0 ounces (57 grams) = 3 level tablespoons
Sugar 5.0 ounces (141 grams) = 2/3 cup
3.5 ounces (100 grams) = 1/2 cup
1.0 ounce (28 grams) = 2 level tablespoons
Ground Spices 0.5 ounce (14.3 grams) = 2 level tablespoons
0.08 ounce (2.4 grams) = 1 level teaspoon

References

Field, R.A., 1970. How to Make Jerky. Ag Extension
Bulletin B-586R. University of Wyoming,
Laramie, WY.

Field, R.A., 1973. Aging Big Game, Ag Extension
Bulletin B-513R. University of Wyoming, Laramie,
WY.

Gaida, U. and Marchello, M. 1987. "Going Wild. A Guide
to Field Dressing, Butchering, Sausage-
Making, and Cooking Wild Game and Fish."
Watab Marketing, Inc.: Sartell, MN.

  1. This document is EHE-733, a publication of the Cooperative Extension Service of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

  2. Susan Brewer, Ph.D., Foods and Nutrition Specialist, Illinois Cooperative Extension, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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