What is Beef Jerky Made Out Of? A Look at the Meat and Process

Beef jerky is a popular high-protein snack made from strips of flavorful dried beef. While traditionally jerky was simply made by air drying thin pieces of meat, today’s commercial jerky employs more advanced processes to create a tasty shelf-stable product.

This article looks at what cuts of meat are used to make beef jerky as well as the steps involved in seasoned, drying, and cooking the beef.

Cuts of Beef Used for Jerky

The specific cuts of beef used can vary, but in general the most common are:

  • Round – The rear leg area is lean and provides good jerky meat. Top round and bottom round are common jerky cuts.

  • Sirloin – This area between the rump and short loin provides lean jerky cuts like tri-tip.

  • Chuck – The shoulder region can be used but may need more trimming of fat. Chuck eye or chuck tender work for jerky.

  • Flank – This abdominal area makes a chewy, flavorful jerky.

  • Brisket – If well trimmed, the brisket makes an affordable jerky option.

In general, lean beef with little connective tissue produces the best results for chewy, flavorful jerky. Heavily exercised areas like chuck and brisket can be used but require more trimming.

How Beef Jerky is Made

The basic steps to make beef jerky include:

  1. Slicing – Beef is trimmed of fat then sliced very thinly with the grain into long strips. Good jerky has a thickness of around 1/4 inch. Partially freezing the meat makes slicing easier.

  2. Marinating – The meat strips are seasoned by soaking in a liquid marinade solution or via dry seasoning. This adds flavor and tenderizes the meat.

  3. Cooking – The marinated jerky strips are heated up to 160°F to kill any potential pathogens. This can be done in an oven or dehydrator.

  4. Drying – Low temperature drying (140-150°F) removes moisture from the meat to preserve it. A dehydrator or low oven is used to dry for several hours.

  5. Packaging – Once dried, the jerky is cooled then vacuum sealed in bags or jars to prevent spoilage.

Jerky Marinade and Seasoning

The marinade provides most of the flavor in jerky. A simple marinade contains:

  • Soy sauce
  • Brown sugar or honey
  • Garlic powder
  • Onion powder
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Many other ingredients can be added to create unique flavors like teriyaki, barbecue, Cajun or salsa jerky. Liquid smoke can add smoky flavor if not smoked.

Dry seasoning containing spices and salts can also be rubbed directly onto the meat. Marinading is more common as it evenly flavors and tenderizes the beef.

Is Jerky Cooked?

Properly made modern jerky is always fully cooked during processing. This kills potentially harmful bacteria like E. coli or Salmonella that could otherwise survive the drying process.

The USDA recommends heating meat to 160°F and poultry to 165°F before drying to ensure safety and shelf stability. This usually involves quickly boiling the marinade then tossing in the meat strips before dehydrating.

So while traditional jerky was simply raw dried meat, today heat processing ensures jerky is safe to enjoy.

Jerky Nutrition

Because most of the moisture is removed, jerky offers a concentrated dose of nutrients:

  • Protein – Around 15 grams per ounce offering muscle-building amino acids.

  • Fat – Typically under 5 grams per ounce as lean beef is used.

  • Sodium – Can vary from 200-500 mg per ounce based on added salt.

  • Calories – Approximately 100 calories per ounce.

  • Iron – Around 15% of the RDI per ounce making it a good source.

When consumed in moderation, jerky can be an excellent high-protein, low-fat snack. For the best nutrition, look for options without too much added sugar or sodium.

Making Jerky at Home

You can save money by making jerky at home. Here are some tips:

  • Start with a lean cut like top round, eye of round, or flank steak.

  • Trim all visible fat and slice across the grain into 1/4-inch strips.

  • Use a food dehydrator or 170°F oven to cook and dry the meat.

  • Fully cook to 160°F internally before drying at 140-150°F for 6-8 hours.

  • Test chewiness and dryness periodically until desired texture is reached.

  • Use a 50/50 mix of soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce for easy marinade.

  • Store in airtight bags or jars for 1-2 months shelf life.

With some simple ingredients and equipment, making your own tasty beef jerky can be very rewarding.

How It’s Made : Beef Jerky

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