Beef jerky is one of my most favorite snacks. Seriously, it’s a toss up between jerky and chips and salsa. The good thing about jerky is that it is relatively healthy for you. It usually comes from a very lean cut of beef or from a very lean wild animal such as a deer, elk, antelope or moose. Because of they way it is cooked, it can pretty much be made from any animal and still taste good.
How many of you have been in a store and seen alligator jerky or even ostrich jerky? I know I have. Now I haven’t tried alligator or ostrich jerky but I’m sure they are pretty tasty. The only con about jerky is that it is really pretty expensive if you go with the store bought stuff. The reason being is that in order to turn a cut of meat from an animal into jerky, the cut of meat will lose roughly ⅔ it’s weight.
So a jerky retailer has to purchase the cut of meat usually at a certain dollar amount per pound and then turn around and sell the final product per pound after it loses 66% of its weight. That’s the main reason why it’s so expensive. Below we are going to explain which cut of meat is the best for jerky so you can purchase it from the butcher and then make it at home. It’s going to be a lot less expensive for you in the long run. Alrighty, let’s dive in.
Type Of Jerky
There are two different types of jerky. I’m not talking about the different animals it can come from. I’m talking about the actual piece of jerky itself. The two different types are whole muscle and ground. They are pretty much exactly how they sound. Whole muscle is a slice of a specific muscle and ground is when it’s been ground up, shaped and then cooked.
Whole Muscle Jerky
As I mentioned above, whole muscle jerky is when the piece of jerky comes from a slice of a specific muscle from the animal. This is how I prefer jerky but to each their own. Whole muscle jerky will be tougher but for some people, that’s what they want in jerky. They want something to gnaw on. They want something that won’t fall apart in the bag they store it in. Whole muscle jerky will also give you more flavor from the animal itself. That’s because besides some spices and maybe some marinade that will be on the surface of the jerky, the rest of the flavor will come from the meat itself.
Ground jerky is exactly what it sounds like. This is when you put the cut of meat you are using into a meat grinder and grind it all up. You have two options after it’s all ground up. Option one is to put it in wax paper and shape it yourself, then cook it. Option two is to purchase a jerky gun. Jerky guns allow you to load the ground meat into them and then squeeze it out in a thin uniform strip by pulling on the trigger. Either way works fine but with a jerky gun it seems to be packed tighter together which will not allow the jerky to fall apart as easily.
Cutting Jerky Against The Grain vs With The Grain
If you do decide to go the whole muscle jerky route, and are cutting it up yourself, you will need to know how to cut it. All muscles have what is called meat grain. Meat grain is the direction that the muscle fibers are running. Within a muscle, all the fibers will be running a certain direction. You have two options when cutting jerky. You can cut it with the grain or against the grain.
There are pros to both options and really it’s more of a preference thing. If you cut the jerky against the grain, 90 degrees or perpendicular to the direction of the grain, the jerky will be more tender and easier to pull apart with your teeth. This is because it’s easier to pull the muscle fibers apart against the grain than it is with the grain. Some people prefer their jerky a little chewy. This gives them something to gnaw on. If you prefer your jerky that way, cut it with the grain. This will allow you to rip the jerky apart in long strips as well.
Beef Jerky Cuts
Beef jerky is one of the most, if not the most popular jerky in the world. That’s probably because beef is universally known and most people have tried it before. But that doesn’t mean that any cut of beef will be made for good jerky. There are specific ones that are better than others. The main rule of thumb is that you want the cut of meat to be as lean as possible. That means you need to choose lean cuts of beef. Having a lot of fat in the jerky will make it spoil faster. Lets go over some of the leanest and tastiest cuts of beef for jerky.
Top Round, Bottom Round, Eye Of Round
Any of the “round” cuts of beef come from the rear leg of the animal. These cuts are very lean compared to the rest of the animal. They are fairly tough as well and those two reasons make them a perfect candidate for jerky. A lot of jerky recipes call for some type of tenderizer which will help the cut not be so tough. Even if you don’t use a tenderizer, if you cook the jerky properly, it will not be an issue. Plus, some people like their jerky a little on the tough side, it gives them something to gnaw on. Make sure to slice this cut of meat fairly thin and against the grain to help combat some of the toughness.
The flank steak cut comes from the belly of the cow. It is a fairly long and flat piece of meat with really well defined grain running through it. Cows use their flank muscles quite often, so that makes this muscle super lean and needs to be cut against the grain and fairly thin.
This is a bit of a tricky one. The name suggests that it comes from somewhere on the sirloin of the cow, but actually this comes from the round as well. Being cut from the same muscle as the top round, bottom round and eye of round, it has a lot of the same characteristics as them. Very lean and fairly tough. As with the other cuts, I would suggest cutting this thinly and against the grain.
Beef Jerky Wrap-up
In my opinion, the most important thing when making good beef jerky is to not overcook it. That is the quickest way to ruin it. Whether you are cooking it in the oven on low heat, on a smoker (my favorite) or in a food dehydrator, make sure to not overdo it. You want the jerky to retain a little moisture, otherwise, it’s going to be a hard, dry hunk of meat that no one wants to eat. Learning how to make good jerky is an art. If you don’t get it right the first time, try again and again and again. Sooner or later you will nail it and you will never want to buy beef jerky from the store again.