Demystifying the Animal Origins of Beef Jerky

Beef jerky is a popular high-protein snack that has a rich, smoky flavor and chewy texture. But despite the name, not all “beef” jerky actually comes from cows. Jerky can be made from a variety of meats, which contributes to its diverse flavors and textures. If you’ve ever wondered exactly what animal your beef jerky comes from, read on.

Beef Jerky Typically Comes from Cows

The term “beef” refers to meat that comes from domestic cattle, or cows. So when you pick up a bag labeled as “beef jerky,” it is generally made from cow meat. Within the broader category of beef, jerky can be made from various cuts like brisket, flank, or round. Choosing different cuts affects the jerky’s texture – for example, leaner cuts make a chewier jerky. But no matter what specific cut is used, beef jerky labeled as such is made from an all-beef product.

Pork Jerky Comes from Pigs

After beef, pork is the second most common source of jerky. Pork jerky has a slightly different flavor and texture profile compared to beef. It tends to be lighter in color. Popular varieties of pork jerky include:

  • Bacon jerky: Made from cured and smoked pork belly
  • Ham jerky: Made from cured and smoked pork leg
  • Loin or tenderloin jerky: Made from lean, tender cuts of pork

The marinades and spices used to flavor pork jerky also differ from traditional beef jerky seasonings. Expect more sweetness from ingredients like brown sugar, maple, honey, and fruit.

Venison Jerky Uses Deer Meat

Venison refers to meat from deer, so venison jerky is made from thin strips of deer meat. It has a rich, gamey flavor compared to beef. Venison jerky often uses juniper berries, rosemary, thyme, and black pepper to complement the natural flavor.

Venison jerky can come from any deer species, including whitetail deer, mule deer, elk, reindeer, and antelope. Hunters who successfully harvest a deer often preserve some of the meat in jerky form. Look for venison jerky from specialty shops or game meat purveyors.

Other Animals Used for Jerky

While the majority of jerky comes from cows, pigs, and deer, almost any meat can be made into jerky if sliced thinly and dried properly. Here are some of the more unique animals used to produce artisanal jerky:

Turkey Jerky

Turkey jerky has a milder flavor than beef or venison jerky. It relies on seasonings like sage, rosemary, thyme, and oregano for flavor. The light taste makes it appealing for those who find straight beef jerky too intense.

Chicken Jerky

Chicken breasts are sliced thinly then dried to make a jerky alternative for those who avoid red meat. The mild taste works well with fruit flavors like peach, mango, or pineapple. Chicken jerky offers a high protein boost without the saturated fat found in beef.

Lamb Jerky

Lamb is less frequently used for jerky compared to beef, but provides a rich, meaty flavor. Leg of lamb cuts are often used. The jerky pairs well with Mediterranean seasonings like lemon, garlic, and red wine.

Rabbit Jerky

Wild rabbit meat makes a delicate, lean jerky. Domestic rabbit raised for meat can also be used. The mild rabbit jerky takes on the flavors of citrus, honey, or teriyaki quite well.

Salmon Jerky

Thinly sliced salmon fillets get the jerky treatment for a protein-packed alternative to red meat jerky. Salmon jerky boasts heart-healthy omega-3s you won’t find in land-animal options.

Alligator Jerky

Exotic alligator meat makes for a chewy, robust jerky. Alligator has a pleasantly mild taste that adapts well to spicy Cajun flavors and hot sauces.

Buffalo Jerky

For a rich, savory jerky, buffalo offers a pleasantly gamy flavor. The low-fat meat has a dense, chewy texture perfect for jerky. Buffalo jerky often utilizes hot peppers, garlic, oak smoke, and thorns for a fiery kick.

Elk Jerky

Elk is another member of the deer family that produces a deliciously lean, protein-packed jerky. For flavor, elk jerky marinades incorporate robust ingredients like Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, and liquid smoke.

Fish Jerky

Just about any fish can be transformed into jerky, including tuna, salmon, trout, and tilapia. Fish jerky boasts an extra hit of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. The jerky is often flavored with ginger, sesame oil, lime, and chili.

Kangaroo Jerky

Kangaroo meat is rich, tender, and mild tasting. This makes it perfect for infusing bold jerky flavors like garlic, black pepper, and hot sauce. Kangaroo jerky offers an exceptionally high protein content.

How to Spot Quality Jerky

With so many animals used to produce jerky, how do you identify great quality? Here are a few tips:

  • Check the ingredients. High-quality jerky relies on simple whole-food ingredients you recognize without a chemistry degree. Avoid jerky with artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives.

  • Seek savory over sweet. The best jerky lets the natural meat flavors shine instead of masking it with sugary glazes or teriyaki. A touch of sweetness can complement the meat but should not dominate.

  • Know your textures. Based on the meat cut and drying method, jerky can range from tender to tooth-breaking. Decide if you want something soft or crispy.

  • Consider the drying method. Jerky dried at low temperatures for longer keeps more flavor. Mass-produced jerky dried quickly at high heat loses complexity.

  • Check for soft spots or white film. Signs of dampness, stickiness, or cloudiness indicate fungal growth. Discard any questionable jerky.

  • Pay attention to smell. Jerky should have a pleasant meaty, smoky aroma. Rancid or sour odors mean it’s past prime.

By understanding exactly what animal your jerky comes from and how it’s produced, you can discover new flavors and textures while ensuring premium quality. So next time you grab a bag of jerky, take a peek at the label to see which creature provided the goods!

Irish People Try Weird Animal Jerky


What part of animal is beef jerky?

Top and bottom round are typically used for commercial beef jerky, not a specific flavor. Short loin is the part of the cow that many cuts of steaks come from, like porterhouse and NY Strip Steak. So, when you are getting steak jerky, it has come from the short loin.

What is beef jerky made from?

Jerky can be made using whole muscles or ground meats; however, for home processing, whole-muscle cuts are recommended because they result in a safer, more traditional jerky product. Essentially, any meat source can be used to make jerky, but typically, lean cuts such as beef round roasts or pork loin are used.

Is beef jerky from deer?

A Brief Overview of Beef Jerky It originates from lean cuts of beef, with the best cuts for beef jerky being the round, flank, and brisket cuts. These cuts are sliced into thin strips, then marinated with an array of spices and sauces to amplify the flavor.

Is beef jerky pork or beef?

Beef Jerky: These products do not contain pork, they are made with 100% beef.

Leave a Comment