How To Tell When Beef Jerky Is Done – A Complete Guide

Making delicious beef jerky at home can be very rewarding, but it’s crucial to know when your jerky is fully cooked and properly dried. Undercooked jerky can pose safety hazards, while overcooked jerky can be dry and tough.

Follow this complete guide to learn the signs for determining precisely when your homemade beef jerky is done to perfection.

5 Key Indicators Beef Jerky is Done

Here are the top 5 things to look for when checking doneness of beef jerky:

1. Cook Time and Temperature is Reached

  • Beef jerky needs to reach an internal temperature of 160°F for safety.

  • Follow your recipe’s time and temp. For example, 165°F for 4-5 hours for 1/4 inch sliced jerky.

  • Monitor temperature closely to avoid dips that would require added cook time.

2. Meaty, Appetizing Smell

  • Finished jerky gives off an appetizing smell from the Maillard reaction.

  • This browned, roasted aroma means jerky is nearly done cooking.

3. Dry, Leathery Texture

  • Properly dried jerky has a dry, leathery texture without moisture.

  • Any visible fat should be rendered and golden brown, not white.

4. Bends and Breaks When Flexed

  • Jerky should bend and eventually break when flexed, but not just snap.

  • If jerky won’t break or easily snaps in half, it needs more drying time.

5. Dried Taste

  • Finished jerky should taste dried without noticeable moisture, not like a moist steak.

  • Trust your instincts on taste – if it’s not dried enough, dehydrate for longer.

Checking Doneness Step-By-Step

Follow these steps to properly evaluate when jerky is fully done:

1. Note Cook Time and Temp

  • Carefully follow prescribed cook times and temps in your recipe.

  • For thin sliced jerky, 160-165°F for 4-6 hours is common.

  • Monitor oven or dehydrator temperature to avoid dips.

2. Smell for Meaty Aroma

  • Finished jerky will smell meaty, savory, and appetizing when done.

  • This smell comes from compounds created in the Maillard reaction.

  • If jerky lacks an appetizing aroma, it likely needs more cook time.

3. Check Texture and Appearance

  • Let jerky cool slightly before evaluating texture and look.

  • Properly dried jerky has a dry, leathery texture without moisture.

  • Any visible fat should be fully rendered and brown, not white.

4. Evaluate Flexibility

  • Test flexibility by bending a piece of jerky in half until it breaks.

  • Jerky should bend significantly then break, not just easily snap.

  • If jerky won’t break or snaps too easily, it requires more drying time.

5. Taste Test

  • Taste a piece of jerky to determine if it tastes dried and shelf-stable.

  • Jerky should not taste moist or raw. It needs a dried “jerky-like” texture.

  • If jerky still seems moist, keep dehydrating in 15 minute increments until dried.

Judging Doneness by Meat Cut

The doneness indicators can vary slightly depending on the cut of meat used:

  • Whole Muscle Cuts: Look for exterior dryness plus bend and break flex points.

  • Ground Meat: Cook to 160°F. Test interior dryness and flavor development.

  • Poultry: Cook to 165°F. Check for dried texture and white meat doneness.

  • Fish: Flake flesh after drying. Look for glossy sheen and dried texture.

Dryness Level

How dry you make your jerky depends on personal taste:

  • For pliable “bendable” jerky, dry to around 20% moisture.

  • For brittle “cracker-like” jerky, dry to under 15% moisture.

  • Use the bend test to judge your preferred dryness level.

  • For longer shelf-life, make extra-dry jerky.

Storage Tips

  • Let jerky cool fully before storing.

  • Store at room temperature in an airtight container up to 2 weeks.

  • For longer storage, refrigerate up to 3 months or freeze up to 1 year.

  • Rehydrate overly dry jerky by adding a slice of apple or bread to the storage container.


Underdone Jerky

  • Return to oven or dehydrator if cut test shows jerky is still moist and flexible.

  • Cook in 15 minute increments until dried and shelf-stable.

Overdone Jerky

  • If jerky snapped when bent, it is likely over-dried.

  • Consume quickly before it dries out further.

  • Next time, remove from dehydrator sooner.

Fat Not Rendering

  • Extra drying time helps render fat by cooking it longer.

  • Slice meat thinner and trim excess fat before marinating.

  • Pat off excess marinade from surface before dehydrating.

Safety Tips

It’s critical to follow food safety guidelines when making jerky:

  • Always start with fresh, high-quality raw meat. Do not use old, expired meat.

  • Clean all equipment and surfaces before and during prep.

  • Defrost meat fully before marinating. Do not marinate frozen meat.

  • Marinate meat in the refrigerator, not on the counter.

  • Wash hands thoroughly before and during handling raw meat.

  • Slice meat evenly to ensure consistent drying.

  • Use marinades made with acidic ingredients to help limit bacteria.

  • Discard marinade after using it to prevent contamination. Do not reuse.

  • Dry meat quickly in a dehydrator or oven set above 140°F.

  • Let jerky cool fully before testing doneness and eating.

  • Discard any meat held above 40°F for over 2 hours. Do not taste test questionable jerky.

  • When in doubt, throw it out! Don’t take risks with foodborne illnesses.

Frequently Asked Questions

What temperature should beef jerky reach when done?

Beef jerky must reach an internal temperature of 160°F and above for safety. Use a food thermometer to verify.

How do you know when jerky is fully dried?

Jerky is dried enough when it bends and breaks easily, has a dry texture, and tastes dried rather than moist.

Is jerky done if it still bends?

Yes, jerky should bend and not immediately snap when done. Some flexibility indicates desired chewiness, not underdone jerky.

Can you eat jerky that didn’t fully dry?

It’s not advised to eat jerky that didn’t adequately dry, as it can spoil quicker and be unsafe if moisture remains inside.

Is thick or thin jerky faster to dry?
Thinner jerky strips dry quicker as moisture evaporates from inside the meat faster. Thick jerky takes more time to fully dehydrate.

Can you over-dry jerky?
Yes, jerky left drying too long can become overly brittle and dry. Judge doneness based onappearance and texture, not just cook times.

How long does jerky last refrigerated or frozen?
Properly dried jerky lasts 2-3 months refrigerated and 6-12 months frozen before quality declines. Use airtight storage.


It takes some practice to consistently make great beef jerky with the perfect texture and moisture level. Pay close attention to visual and textural signs of doneness. With the proper dryness, your homemade jerky will have amazing flavor and shelf-life!

When ls Jerky Done-Ronco Dehydrator


Can beef jerky be undercooked?

The Risks of Undercooking Beef Jerky: Bacterial Growth and Spoilage. Under-dehydrated beef jerky poses not just a taste and texture problem but a serious health risk. Raw or undercooked meats can be a breeding ground for harmful bacteria like E. coli and Salmonella.

How long should beef jerky take?

Arrange pounded beef strips in a single layer on the trays of a dehydrator. Dry at the dehydrator’s highest setting until jerky is done to your liking, at least 4 hours.

Can you dry jerky too long?

While most beef jerky recipes call for around 4 to 6 hours of dehydration, it’s crucial to check intermittently. Over-dehydrating can result in a brittle, less appetizing jerky, whereas under-dehydrating can risk bacterial growth, reducing the jerky’s safety and shelf life.

Should beef jerky be hard or soft?

It should be dry to the touch, leather-like in appearance, and chewy but still somewhat tender. Store the jerky inside an airtight plastic container, Ziploc bag, or airtight glass jars. Properly dried jerky will keep at room temperature for about one week.

Leave a Comment