Sunday, August 7, 2011

Ridiculously Delicious Homemade Beef Jerky

My Nesco was packed.
One of my favorite snacks from as far back as I can remember is beef jerky. Spicy, teriyaki, smoked, original...didn't matter. I'm pretty sure I could survive on jerky and water for as long as necessary.

I bought a dehydrator that I found via CraigsList last year and have used it to dehydrate fruits and veggies.  My first season of gardening (last year), I was doing very well with some jalapeno type peppers.  I hadn't perfected the art of making salsa and didn't want the peppers to go to waste so I started dehydrating the peppers for future use.

Nesco Jerky Gun & Kit
I had experimented with making beef jerky and the outcome tasted more like a salt lick than a chunk of beef.  I couldn't even pawn it off on the kids.  Somewhere I ran into someone who was talking about their homemade jerky and I asked how they made their own.  That's when I learned about the jerky gun.

I ordered one about a week ago from Amazon and finally got some free time to make my first batch.  I followed a recipe I read in the comments left by a reviewer of the actual jerky gun/kit that I purchased.  The recipe used three pounds of jerky and the results were stunning.  This was as close to store-bought beef jerky as I could imagine.  Same texture, delicious flavor and it only took about six hours in my little Nesco dehydrator.

Last time I bought some jerky it cost around $9.98 for one pound and this was the cheap Walmart "Great Value" brand.  Name brands were much more expensive and less quantity. Imagine my joy when I discovered I could make a pound of ridiculously delicious jerky for $3.17 per pound.  Now I know why I see guys selling this stuff on empty corner lots outside of city limits.  If I caught and butchered the animal myself, I could get the cost even lower.

Spice kit sold separately.
I've gotten to know my local butcher really well and I highly recommend doing that, if you can (getting to know him, that is).  My butcher will greet me when I shop and on occasion come and get me (when I'm shopping) to tell me about current sales.  Store policy is to mark meat down by 30% when it is approaching the "sell by" date which is usually two days prior to the marked date.  Butch, not sure if that's his real name or nickname but it's what everyone calls him, will mark the meat down lower for me and I'll buy a good 30-40 pounds.

I'll admit I'm a bit of a hoarder when it comes to meat but I see the writing on the wall in this economy.  So it serves Butch well to give me a deal because I'll clear out his meat counter in one fell swoop and he doesn't have to dispose of it...or whatever they do with it. My last purchase, which was yesterday, I picked up 73% hamburger for $1.67 / lb.  I know 73% is fatty and I used to only buy 93% or 96% on sale but things are a little different now than they were a few years ago.  No way am I paying $4 / lb for 96% beef.  I'm told fatter meat has more flavor...and that's good enough for me.

My jerky gun kit came with flavor packets and cure packets.  The math says it costs me about $1.50 per pound to season the meat. Add the $1.67 it cost me to purchase the pound of meat and that's where I get the $3.17 per pound to make my own jerky. Here's the recipe I used:

1 packet of Nesco Original flavor + cure packet
1 packet of Nesco Teriyaki flavor + cure packet
1 packet of Nesco Spicy flavor + cure packet
3 pounds of hamburger meat

I mixed it all in a large bowl by hand.  Then Wifey took the hand-me-down 1970's Brady Bunch green electric mixer and mixed the crap out of it.  Warning: old appliances were built to whoop some butt so be prepared for the meat to fling everywhere if you use a powered appliance.  Nevertheless, this stuff was mixed WELL.

I shoved the jerky gun as full as it would get and screwed on the end cap with the two strip adapter.  I squeezed out the meat in strips like you would use a caulking gun.  I filled up my entire Nesco dehydrator and had to start overlapping some meat to get it all to fit.

Marinating tomorrow's batch.
As the meat began to dehydrate, the aroma that filled the living room was heavenly.  Just about everyone was guilty of sneaking a bite here and there towards the end of the dehydrating cycle.  My next batch is already marinating in Panda Express teriyaki sauce.  I split up my five-pound chubs into two quart-sized zip locks so each has roughly 2.5 pounds.  I poured the teriyaki sauce in the bag, sealed it back up, and worked it around in the bag.  I'll let it soak overnight and make it tomorrow.

The Nesco BJX-8 Jumbo Jerky Works Kit w/jerky gun at Amazon for $14.98.
Nesco BJX-8 Jumbo Jerky Works Kit(makes 6 lbs, includes cure) is at Amazon for $8.79.
I have a dehydrator similar to this but much older. It has five trays.  If you like jerky, I recommend this setup as it makes for terrific homemade jerky. 

Do you have a favorite jerky recipe? Please share!


  1. Yeoldfurt loves jerky but we haven't bought it in years because of price/circumstances. He tells me he used to make his own in the oven using solid cuts of meat that he sliced ultra thin. But I never knew you could make it from ground beef ...what a time/effort savings THAT would be!

    We have a 10-tray Excalibur, I could make a LOT of jerky at once in that! Do you think other ground meats would work ...turkey or pork for instance?

  2. @HOssBoss I think I chuckle just about every time I read the word "Yeoldfurt". That's is just SO funny to me. Anyway, I don't see why the type of meat would matter. I was looking at some clearanced pork yesterday and thinking the same thing. Originally, I thought to make jerky you had to buy steak and slice it real thin. Then I found out about hamburger and it's so incredibly easy it's ridiculous.

    I would certainly try turkey or pork in a heartbeat!

  3. I didn't know you could use ground beef either. My sons have made their own jerky out of deer meat. I took commercial turkey jerky with me when I went to Haiti. It packed great and since we were resstricted to 20#s of luggage it was the perfect thing to pack. Believe me it tasted like steak in those rough conditions. I am concerned about the salt content, I know that is part of the dehydration process but does anyone have any ideas on how to reduce the salt?

  4. The name 'Yeoldfurt' makes me chuckle too. He dubbed himself with that moniker so it's okay for me to chuckle ...I'm not betraying my wifely reverence by chuckling at the name. LOL

    Two questions:
    1) What about the drippings from the high fat content of ground beef ...does it pool in the bottom of the dehydrator?

    2) Dannie brings up a good point, is salt part of your seasoning?

  5. @HossBoss & Dannie

    My dehydrator came with a "catch-all" type plastic disc that sits on the bottom rung of the trays. It catches all the drippings. I saw a youtube video that says it is also used for making fruit jerky, also known as fruit rollups or fruit leather.

    Of course, I have to learn the hard way. I made the first batch of jerky without the catcher and got fat drippings all down inside the dehydrator. I just turned it upside down in the sink overnight and let as much run out as I could. We'll be making our second batch tonight so I'll let you know if it damaged anything.

    As far as salt content, I'm not sure what is in the spice packets that came with the jerky kit. There is one packet called "Cure" and the packet doesn't list ingredients. I'm guessing it is some sort of salt mixture. I supposed you could use only a portion of that packet to reduce salt content?

    I started a second batch today that was only marinated in terriyaki sauce and no salt. I'll post the outcome of that batch. I learned today that if I pulled the meat straight out of the fridge and tried to put it through the jerky gun, it was too stiff to push through. You have to let me meat sit out and soften a bit. So I had to leave the jerky making to the Wifey as I left for work.

  6. Now that I think about it, it wasn't terriyaki sauce I used to marinate was Mandarin sauce.

    And each batch of jerky, if you use the kits I mentioned, call for one packet of seasoning and one packet of cure for each pound. I'm sure you could reduce the amount of cure if you need to scale back your salt intake for blood pressure issues or what have you.

  7. Addendum: the experiment with Panda Express sauce didn't work out so well. I think the Cure packets have a lot to do with the success of a good batch of jerky. I did NOT use one of those with the Panda sauce.

    Ended up using that batch for dog treats.

  8. Just stumbled across your blog. I recently purchased a dehydrator with the same idea in mind; I gotta make beef jerky! Thanks for the jerky gun recommendation. One question: how long did you dehydrate your beef jerky for?

  9. @ Julie I'm going to guess about 12 hours. Sometimes overnight. Depends on how thick the jerky is. We kept eating it piece by piece off the rack though. It smells SO good. Enjoy!

  10. I never thought to make my own beef jerky--how cool is that?! My dad would LOVE this for his birthday.. definitely saving this one!


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