Making jerky at home? Keep it safe!

Jerky is a convenient and enjoyable product that can be eaten as a between meal snack or while on the forest trail. It’s nutritious and handy – let’s make sure it’s safe.

People love jerky!  According to Michigan State University Extension, it’s easy to make at home from a variety of meats.  For a safe food product, choose the best meats, avoid cross-contamination, and use minimum time and temperature guidelines to destroy bacteria, should it be present.

Jerky can be made from beef, venison, pork or poultry.  It’s important to use only lean meat, containing 10 percent fat or less. This is necessary because fat from meat becomes rancid quickly and excess fat may leak out of a dehydrator.

Wild game should be chilled rapidly after the kill and then frozen at 0 degrees F or colder for at least 30 days prior to making jerky.  The same should be done with pork.  This is to kill the trichinella parasite that might be present. Purchased meat should be refrigerated at 40 degrees F or less consistently prior to processing into jerky.

It’s easier to slice partially frozen meat, which should be no more than ¼ inch thick.  Slicing meat with the grain creates a chewier texture; slicing across the grain gives a more tender, brittle product.

Meat can be tenderized with a commercial product.  A marinade can also be used.  Marinade ingredients usually include salt, oil, spices and some sort of acid like vinegar, soy sauce or citrus juice.

The National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP) provides the following marinade recipe:

1 1/2 - 2 pounds lean beef, pork or venison
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon each black pepper and garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon hickory smoke-flavored salt

Combine ingredients; mix with strips of meat in a shallow pan.  Cover and refrigerate for 1-2 hours or overnight. To decrease the risk of foodborne illness you can heat the meat after marinating and before dehydrating, by bringing meat and marinade to a boil for five minutes.  Drain, blot off excess liquid and place in the dehydrator.

Ground meat can also be used to make jerky.  Dried spices are added to flavor the meat; many commercial products are available. Ground meat strips should be no more than 1/4 inch thick.

Preheat a dehydrator or, alternately, the oven, to 145 degrees F or higher prior to arranging the jerky strips on trays or racks within it. 

Begin checking the jerky after three hours.  Blot off excess oil with a paper towel.  Meat should be firm, yet, flexible, and reach an internal temperature of at least 160°F on a meat thermometer.  Cool, label and store up to two weeks at room temperature or up to three months in the freezer.

If the strips weren’t heated in the marinade before drying they can be heated in a preheated 275 degree F oven for 10 minutes after dehydrating, as an added measure of safety.

MSU Extension food safety educators remind consumers to keep raw meats away from other foods.  Wash cutting boards, utensils, the counter, sink and hands with hot soapy water after contact with raw meat.  To sanitize after washing, rinse utensils, cutting boards and countertops with a mixture of 1 teaspoon bleach per quart of water. 

For more information on food preservation and safety see the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning, Michigan Fresh! or NCHFP.

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