Deer jerky is both delicious and incredibly simple to make. Yes, that’s right, I said simple. Far too many folks think that making beef, deer or any other type of wild game jerky is a complicated and time-consuming process. Nothing could be further from the truth. I actually think it takes me longer to pick fresh produce from the garden, wash it, chop it, and toss it in a bowl and call is salad, that it does to make deer jerky.
Homemade jerky will keep just as long as the store bought kind if processed and stored properly. The protein rich and tasty jerky can be eaten right out of the Mason jar it is stored in as a snack, tossed into stews, soups, and chili, or left on the shelf and used as emergency food during a disaster.
Jerky Making Tools
There are only three tools you will need to make deer jerky, a grinder and a gun – a jerky gun that is. If you didn’t have a successful hunting season but still want to try your hand at making jerky, simply grab some packages of ground beef the next time it is on sale and follow the directions and recipes you will read below to make jerky.
There are two types of meat grinders, manual and electric.
• A manual meat grinder will provide you with a decent workout and is great for making occasional small batch of deer or beef jerky. Manual meat grinders typically sell or about $30 each.
• Electric meat grinders vastly speed up the jerky making process and don’t require manual labor to get the meat ready for the jerky machine. Residential grade electric meat grinders typically range in price from approximately $60 to $200 each.
• Jerky guns often come with a variety of head attachments designed for making jerky, sausage, and similar types of dried meat. Depending upon the gun you purchase, it will probably hold either one or two pounds of meat.
Jerky Making Tips
Removing as much moisture as possible from the meat is the primary focus of the jerky making process. Crafting a delicious seasoning mix or marinade is truly secondary to moisture removal, even though it is an essential part of the end product.
When moisture is present in the jerky because it was not cured properly, bacteria (microorganisms) will grow – and thrive. Removing moisture from the meat being processed is typically an easier process when working with whole-muscle meat instead of ground meat because bacteria tends to live not on the inside of the meat, but the surface. When meat goes through a grinder it is turned inside out and around, potentially spreading existing and potentially harmful, microorganisms.
The heat from your smoker, dehydrator, or even your oven, should easily eliminate harmful bacteria, as long as you have followed proper curing procedures as detailed in the grinder and/or recipes instructions.
Make sure to leave plenty of space for air circulation between the jerky strips, especially when making filet style jerky that is both thicker and wider.
Best Meat Cuts For Jerky Making
Whenever possible, try to use meat that is not fatty or filled with tendons when making jerky.
The fatty portions of meat not only can create a rubbery texture to the jerky, the fat is more difficult to cure and will spoil more quickly than a leaner cut of meat. Fatty meat is also more likely to break apart during the drying process and can cause frustrating jams when attempting to push it through the jerky gun.
Basically every part of a deer can be used to make jerky, as long as you slice it thin.The best parts of a deer to use when making jerky are the hind legs, eye round, and rump roast.
If you can slice the meat into thin strips you can even skip the grinding process altogether.
The jerky plate that comes with the gun looks a lot like the end of a car wash vacuum cleaner, but with a more narrow opening.
Jerky Making Process
There are four steps to making beef, wild game, or deer jerky:
2. Seasoning – this includes Curing
3. Loading and using the jerky gun
Jerky must be placed on a rack that allows both free air flow yet is solid enough to prevent the raw meat strips from sagging or falling through the openings. Dehydrator trays may work fine for this, but I highly recommend using the mesh inserts sold as accessories (a few usually come with each machine) that possess smaller openings. A similar type of metal drying rack will need to be used when making jerky in a smoker or the oven in your kitchen.
How To Make Jerky
1. Cut the deer (or beef or wild game) meat into thin strips that will easily run through your grinder. I recommend slicing the so it is approximately ⅛ of an inch thick and 1 inch wide. Wait until you have successfully made several batches of jerky before attempting fillet style pieces, logs, sausage, or bologna.
2. Run the meat strips through your grinder a little bit at a time using either the fine or medium plate that came with the machine. Some jerky makers use a nitrate cure on their jerky instead of using ample salt seasoning recipes. If you are using nitrate to cure the meat, mix it into the strips before grinding.
3. If the meat does not appear to be ground fine enough, which can happen if the meat is hamburger quality, or is comprised of a lot of fat and tendons, run it through the grinder a second time.
4. If you are going to make a marinade and soak the meat in it overnight, do so now. If this is your first time making jerky and using a jerky gun, I suggest using a dry rub to make sure the gun does not jam – repeatedly, because of the added ingredients that cause the meat to become incredibly moist.
5. If using a dry seasoning, mix it into the ground meat just before loading the jerky gun.
6. Next, load the jerky gun and squeeze the trigger (the guns closely resemble both the look and functionality of a caulking gun) to create strips of meat on your drying racks. You do not necessarily have to go slow, but do not do not rush the creation of the strips, you want them to be as uniform as possible so they dry evenly during a single session inside a heat source.
7. Place the jerky strips or rolls if making sausage or a bologna, into your chosen heat source.
Jerky Drying Times
Drying times vary depending upon how much meat your are using, how thick the strips are, and the device you are using to dry the meat. If the jerky is still so sot it bends or even cracks easily, it is not yet fully cured.
How To Dry Jerky
The drying part of making jerky “cooks” the meat. There is no need to worry about eating raw or undercooked meat as long as you follow the temperature and time guidelines recommended for your recipe – and do the bend and crumble test before removing it from the drying device
If you cure jerky too long or use too much of a curing agent in the recipe, the meat will wind up being incredibly salty
Typically, when using a dehydrator to make jerky, you should set the machine at 160 degrees. It usually takes about six hours to cure the jerky in a common residential dehydrator. If using more than four trays of jerky strips or if using an older or lower quality dehydrator, it can take up to 10 hours for the jerky to cure properly.
If using a charcoal or propane smoker, make sure to check the water level in your pan several times during the process. If you are using flavored chips in the water pan, the jerky will pick up at least a portion of that flavor, as well. Soak the chips in water for approximately 15 minutes before placing them inside the smoker.
Regardless of what type of smoker you are using, charcoal, propane gas, or electric, keep the temperature between 165 to 200 degrees when making jerky. Typically, it takes about four the six hours to cure jerky in a smoker. Yes, that is a wide temperature range.
Smokers vary so much in both dimension and fuel type, the average temperature for making jerky will vary, as well. We use the propane smoker shown in the photos above and keep the temperature between 180 to 200 degrees. The jerky shown in the photos took about four hours to cure – with the exception of the sausage rolls that took a full six hours to cure.
Place the drying racks of jerky strips on the oven racks at 150 to 160 degrees. It usually take between five to 10 hours to cure jerky in a standard oven. Some folks claim their oven can make jerky in as little as two hours, and maybe than can, but I figure you would have to be making only a singly tray of substantially thin jerky for it to cure that quickly.
You can even make deer jerky over an open flame if you are blessed with both patience and a lot of time on your hands. It is a tricky endeavor because you must keep the rack of jerky strips close enough to the flame that they cure, but do not broil or burn.
In the photo below you will see my son-in-law James attempting to make jerky over an open flame. He and some buddies took turn holding the drying rack and then propped it over the flame using a tripod that I used for grilling over an open flame.
The meat turned out tasty, but I am not quite sure it was cured enough after only three hours to call it true jerky.
Deer Jerky Recipes
• Recipe calls for 2 pounds of meat
• 4 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce
• 2 tablespoons of brown sugar
• ¼ of a teaspoon of garlic powder
• 4 tablespoons of soy sauce
• 1 teaspoon each of ground salt and pepper – or to taste
• ¼ of a teaspoon of onion powder
• ¼ of a teaspoon of your favorite BBQ rub
Mix all of the ingredients together thoroughly and coat both sides of your ground jerky strips with it before grinding or putting into your heat and curing source.
• Recipes calls for two pounds of meat
• ½ of a teaspoon of black pepper
• ½ of a teaspoon of onion powder
• 1 crushed garlic cove
• ½ of a teaspoon of honey
• ½ of a cup of soy sauce
• ¼ of a cup of whiskey or wine
• 2 teaspoons of ginger
• 2 tablespoons of sugar
Combine all of the ingredients and coat the jerky strips or mix into the meat before running it through the grinder.
• Recipe calls for 1 to 1 and a ½ pounds of meat
• ¼ of a cup of apple cider vinegar
• 2 tablespoons of smoked or kosher salt
• 2 tablespoons of brown sugar
• ¼ of a cup of Worcestershire sauce
• ½ of a teaspoon of garlic powder
• ½ of a teaspoon of ground black pepper
• ½ of a teaspoon of honey
• 1 teaspoon of mushroom powder – optional
Mix all of the ingredients together and coat the meat before it is ground or before it is placed inside the jerky gun.
This jerky recipe is for a marinade that the 5 pounds of meat it is designed to coat, rest in overnight in the refrigerator.
• 2 cups of Worcestershire sauce
• ½ of a cup of molasses
• 2 cups of soy sauce
• 3 tablespoons of garlic powder
• 1 cup of Liquid Smoke
• 2 cups of Teriyaki sauce
• 1 teaspoon of red cayenne pepper
• 3 tablespoons of onion powder
• 1 teaspoon of honey
• 3 tablespoons of brown sugar
• 3 tablespoons of sesame seeds
1. Cut off any fat on the meat.
2. Mix the soy, Liquid Smoke, Worcestershire sauce, molasses, teriyaki sauce, and soy sauce in a bowl.
3. Pour in the sesame seeds, brown sugar, as well as the onion and garlic powder.
4. Thoroughly combine the ingredients
5. Place your strips of jerky meat inside the marinade
6. Cover the bowl lightly and place in in the refrigerator for 24 hours – or overnight
One thing is for sure, no matter what type of meat that you use or which heat source you opt to try, a tray of jerky does not last for very long – the wafting smell of the deliciously seasoned meat will coax everyone on your homestead right to it as it comes off the rack!