Why is Beef Jerky So Expensive?

Beef jerky has developed a reputation for being an exceptionally pricey snack. Walk down the grocery store aisle and you’ll likely see small bags selling for $5-10. That adds up to nearly $1 per ounce in many cases!

For a product that seems so simple on the surface, what exactly makes beef jerky so much more expensive than other snack items? There are a few key reasons why producing beef jerky costs a lot more compared to other snacks.

It Uses a Lot of Meat

The first major factor is the amount of quality beef needed to make jerky. Generally, it takes about 3 pounds of raw meat to produce 1 pound of finished jerky.

That drastic shrinkage occurs because jerky production removes all the water and fat from the beef through the drying process. What’s left is concentrated, protein-packed meat.

So jerky producers have to start with large cuts of prime meat, then end up with only about 30% of the original weight in the final product. The amount of excess beef lost to moisture accounts for a good portion of the costs.

Labor-Intensive Process

Another contributor to the price is that making beef jerky requires extensive labor compared to most snack foods. There are a lot of steps involved:

  • Trimming and preparing the raw meat
  • Marinating or seasoning
  • Carefully monitoring dehydration
  • Packaging each piece individually
  • Repeat daily in bulk batches

Unlike something like potato chips that can be mass-produced by machines, each step of jerky-making takes considerable employee time and oversight. Those labor costs add up.

Specialized Equipment

Beef jerky companies also have to invest in specialized equipment like commercial dehydrators, seasoning vats, and custom packaging machines.

These industrial appliances optimized for mass jerky production can cost tens of thousands of dollars. That’s a major upfront equipment expense that has to be recouped through sales.

Homemade jerky only requires a basic dehydrator, smoker, or oven. But those methods don’t translate well to large-scale production.

Raw Meat Prices

For jerky businesses that source their meat instead of raising their own cattle, the high price of quality beef also affects the final cost.

Thankfully, jerky only uses cuts like round or flank steak. But even these inexpensive raw cuts have risen in price as cattle production costs and beef demand increase.

Health Certifications

To legally produce and sell jerky, companies must gain certifications related to food safety. This includes regular facility inspections and lab testing of their products.

These certifications and tests ensure jerky is safe for human consumption but also add to the overall costs of production.

Convenience and Portability

While the price per ounce is high compared to many snacks, beef jerky offers convenience as an on-the-go protein source. The lightweight portability and long shelf life add to the value proposition.

Jerky requires no refrigeration or preparation, making it easy to toss in a bag and have protein readily available at any time. These intangible benefits offset the premium price for many consumers.

Novelty and Artisanal Appeal

Part of jerky’s widespread appeal is the novelty of a protein-packed meat snack. The unique flavor and texture combinations lend an artisanal, specialty appeal.

That allows some brands to market beef jerky as a gourmet food item rather than just a gas station snack. The packaging and marketing contribute to positioning jerky as a premium product.

How Producers Keep Costs Down

While these factors all contribute to inherently higher production costs, some jerky companies use strategies to keep their pricing competitive:

  • Buying raw meat in bulk quantities for discounts
  • Owning their own cattle to control meat costs
  • Producing jerky in larger batches to maximize efficiency
  • Using cheaper cuts like flank or round
  • Minimizing packaging costs
  • Offering discounts for bulk/subscription purchases

Even with these cost-saving measures, beef jerky requires a financial investment to enjoy as a snack. For many jerky lovers, the unique taste and protein content make it worth the price.

Is Buying Jerky Worth the High Price?

At the end of the day, whether beef jerky is “worth” the steep price comes down to the value you place on its unique benefits:

Protein content – Jerky is a very protein-dense food, with 10-15g per ounce in most varieties.

Convenient – Shelf-stable and portable as a nutritious on-the-go snack.

Flavors – Jerky offers bold flavors and meatiness lacking in protein bars.

Versatility – Flavors ranging from sweet to spicy to suit any taste.

Low carb – With no sugars or fillers, jerky fits low-carb and keto diets.

Nutrients – Meat provides zinc, iron, and B vitamins to complement the protein.

For many people who value those attributes, paying a premium for jerky makes sense, especially if bought in bulk or on sale. But for those simply seeking an inexpensive protein source, other options like chicken, Greek yogurt, or protein powder offer more bang for your buck.

Tips for Saving Money on Jerky

If you want to keep enjoying jerky without breaking the bank, here are some tips:

  • Buy larger bags instead of single-serve packets
  • Look for jerky on sale or use online promo codes
  • Buy in bulk for price discounts
  • Make your own jerky at home with a dehydrator
  • Substitute other dried meats like turkey jerky
  • Switch to jerky alternatives like Biltong or Pemmican
  • Choose brands that focus on cost savings like Top Notch Jerky

With the right strategies and budgeting, beef jerky can still be an occasional (or frequent) treat even on a tight grocery budget. Just keeping your consumption in moderation helps counteract the hefty price tag.

Is Beef Jerky Worth the Cost?

Beef jerky occupies a unique place in the snack food world. While it’s definitely more of an expensive indulgence compared to crackers or chips, many jerky aficionados feel the benefits are worth splurging on.

In reasonable amounts, beef jerky can be a valuable addition to a healthy diet and active lifestyle. The high protein content per ounce plus the convenience as a portable snack make it a justifiable expense for jerky lovers.

The Real Reason Beef Jerky Is So Expensive


Why did beef jerky become so expensive?

Preparation. Preparing beef jerky requires a series of steps that are more labor intensive than the many mass-produced snack alternatives. The result? A pricier snack.

Have beef jerky prices gone up?

By June of 2021, the cost of beef cuts used to make jerky went up 100% and the scarcity of supplies and shortages of employees in factories and businesses made it even more challenging and so jerky and other snack products hit new higher price levels.

Why is dried beef so expensive?

In most cases, dry-aged beef comes with a higher price tag. This price is attributed to two main factors: Reduced yields: Beef undergoes a significant moisture loss during the dry-aging process. As a result, the beef weighs far less than when it first started.

Is beef jerky not healthy?

The American Cancer Society recommends limiting your intake of red and processed meats like beef jerky. That’s because the World Health Organization has concluded that eating 50 grams of processed meat every day (about 2 to 3 large pieces of jerky) increases your risk for colon cancer by 18%.

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