NDSU Extension Service - Ramsey County


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A Jerky Maker's Checklist

A Jerky Maker’s Checklist

Jerky is a nutrient-dense, portable, lightweight source of protein from meat that has been dried to an almost crispy texture.  Drying is the oldest form of food preservation with documented formulations for jerky dating back to the Egyptians.  The scientific principal behind preserving foods by drying is that by removing moisture, microorganism can’t grow so spoilage will be diminished.

That doesn’t mean though that making jerky is foolproof.  Several foodborne illness outbreaks since the mid-1990’s (when home food dehydrators became popular) have been traced to homemade jerky.  In November 1995, for example, 11 people in Oregon were infected with E.coli after consuming tainted homemade jerky.  .  Jerky can be considered “done” and safe only when it has been heated sufficiently to destroy any pathogen present and is dry enough to be shelf-stable.  Shelf-stable means the jerky can be stored at room temperature and will not support microbial growth.

To ensure your home-prepared jerky is both tasty and safe, follow the “the jerky maker’s checklist below”.

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

2. Clean, clean all surfaces and utensils the meat will come in contact with. After washing cutting boards, other equipment and surfaces with hot soapy water and rinsing, sanitize with a solution of 1 tablespoon chlorine bleach per gallon of water (or approximately 1 teaspoon per four cups water). After spraying the surface or dipping cutting boards in the solution, allow to air-dry. Remake sanitizing solution daily.

■ Keep raw meat separate from other foods on cutting boards and other work surfaces. Consider using color-coded cutting boards.

3. Add the correct amount of seasoning.  Follow a research –based formulation or use a purchased, pre-measured package of seasonings – and do not stretch it to cover more meat than the package suggests.

4. If smoking the jerky, keep the drying or smoking temperature in the smokehouse or oven at 120 F (use a thermometer).

5. Preferably use an electric food dehydrator with an adjustable thermostate. 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, or prop open to allow moisture to escape and to lower the oven temperature. A fan will speed air circulation and the drying process.

6. Store jerky in clean, airtight containers or plastic bags at room temperature, or wrap it in freezer paper and freeze. Check often during the first month to be sure jerky is dry enough to keep well. Although jerky will last almost indefinitely at any temperature, its quality deteriorates after a few months.

For more info on preserving wild game by canning, pickling or making into sausage, call our office at #662-7027 for a copy of Wild Side of the Menu, #3 or scan the QR code at the bottom of this column.


Jerky Making

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