How To Tell When Jerky Is Done is an essential skill for anyone who loves making beef jerky. There’s nothing quite like sinking your teeth into a perfectly seasoned, chewy slice of homemade jerky. However, achieving that perfect texture can be a challenge, especially if you’re new to the process.
So, how do you know when your jerky is done? In this article, we’ll explore some key indicators that will help you determine when your jerky is ready to eat. From visual cues to tactile feedback, we’ll cover everything you need to know to ensure your jerky turns out just right. So, let’s get started!
What is Jerky
Jerky is meat that has been cut into strips and dried to prevent spoilage. Normally, the meat is very lean. The leanness and drying process results in a shelf-stable product that can last for a long time. The meat is usually seasoned or marinated before being dried. Beef, pork, venison, and fish can all be made into jerky.
Jerky is a popular snack food that is high in protein and can be stored without refrigeration. It has a chewy, spicy, and salty flavor due to the combination of meat, seasoning, and preservation process. Jerky originated as a way to preserve meat and provide a lightweight, non-perishable source of protein. It is popular with hikers, travelers, and athletes because it is nutritious and shelf-stable. Jerky remains a favorite snack for many people today.
What’s So Special About Jerky?
Jerky is a unique snack food that is special for several reasons. First, jerky is highly nutritious. It is a good source of protein and contains many vitamins and minerals. Also, jerky has an extraordinarily long shelf life. When stored properly, jerky can last for months without spoiling. This makes it ideal for traveling, hiking, and emergency food storage.
Second, jerky has a bold and robust flavor. The drying process concentrates the flavors of spices and sauces. The result is an intensely savory snack. Jerky is also chewy, with a texture almost like meat-flavored taffy. This chewiness comes from its low moisture content, as the water is removed during drying.
Finally, jerky is a very versatile and customizable snack. Almost any meat or even vegetable can be made into jerky. People create jerky in a wide range of flavors, from sweet to spicy to smoky. You can find jerky in nearly any taste or heat level. Jerky is also popular with those on low-carb, paleo, and ketogenic diets as it is high in protein and typically low in carbohydrates.
Why You Should Make Your Own Jerky
There are several benefits to making your jerky at home. First, you can control the ingredients. Homemade jerky allows you to choose high-quality meats and customize the flavors and spices to your liking. You can avoid preservatives and unnecessary additives often found in commercial jerkies.
Second, making jerky at home is more cost-effective. You can purchase whole cuts of meat at a lower cost per pound and slice them yourself. Homemade jerky also allows you to control portion sizes, so none goes to waste. The basic ingredients of meat, spices, and a drying method are typically cheaper than buying packaged jerky.
Third, you can customize jerky to your tastes. Create flavors that suit your preferences by adjusting spices and sauces. You can make it as spicy, sweet, or savory as you like. Experiment with different types of meat from beef and turkey to wild game like venison or duck. Homemade jerky allows you to be creative.
Finally, homemade jerky may be healthier. You control the amount of sodium and can limit the amount of sugar. You can also choose high-quality, lean meats. The drying process preserves the meat while retaining most nutrients. No need for unhealthy oils or excess salt used in many commercial jerkies.
Techniques for Making Jerky
If you’re a fan of jerky, you know that there’s nothing quite like the flavor and texture of a well-made batch. But how do you achieve that perfect combination of chewy, flavorful meat? There are several techniques for making jerky that can help you get the results you’re looking for.
One of the simplest methods for making jerky is air drying. With this method, meat strips are seasoned and hung or laid out on racks and air-dried over an extended period. This technique requires a consistent, low-humidity environment. It can take days or weeks for the meat to dry completely. Air drying results in a very chewy jerky with an intense flavor.
A faster method is oven drying. Meat strips are arranged on racks in the oven at a low temperature (170 F) with the oven door propped open slightly. The jerky can dry in 4 to 12 hours. Leaving the door open allows moisture to escape. You need to rotate the racks and flip the strips regularly as they dry. Oven drying requires close monitoring to avoid overheating.
Using a dehydrator is a popular technique. Strips are arranged on racks and dried at 130 to 145 F for 4 to 12 hours. Dehydrators are very efficient at circulating air and drawing out moisture. They produce dried meat safely at precise temperatures. Dehydrators may yield the most consistent results for inexperienced jerky makers.
Smoking the meat before or during drying also adds flavor. Meat strips can be smoked for a few hours in a smoker before drying. Or, wood chips can be added to dehydrators or oven-drying methods to infuse a smoky flavor as the strips dry. Smoked meat strips generally require slightly less drying time. Smoking adds a distinct flavor that many people enjoy.
How To Tell When Jerky is Done: Tips & Techniques
If you’re making jerky at home, you may be wondering how to tell when it’s done. After all, you want to make sure your jerky is safe to eat, but you don’t want to overcook it and end up with tough, dry meat. Fortunately, there are some tips and techniques you can use to ensure your jerky is perfectly cooked.
1. Use a food thermometer
Using a food thermometer is a great technique for ensuring jerky is safely dried. Here are some tips for using a thermometer when making jerky:
Insert the probe of a digital food thermometer into the thickest piece of meat during drying. The internal temperature should reach 160 F to kill any harmful bacteria. At this temperature, it is considered food safe.
The meat temperature will rise slowly as the water is evaporated from the product. So you need to monitor the temperature occasionally throughout the full drying process.
Different meat types require different final internal temperatures when dried. Aim for the recommended safe temperature:
- Beef, pork, lamb – 160 F
- Poultry (chicken, turkey) – 165 F
- Ground meat (sausages, burgers) – 160 F
- Fish/seafood – 145 F
Use a thermometer towards the end of the drying time to check the progress. Meat temperatures can rise quickly in the final stage of drying as there is little moisture left to evaporate.
The final internal temperature when dried indicates if harmful bacteria have been destroyed. However, you still need to achieve the proper texture, color, and other characteristics of fully dried jerky. So visual checks and tests are still also important.
Air temperatures may be lower than the meat temperature during drying. Air temperature alone does not indicate if the jerky is safe to eat. Always use a food thermometer to check the internal meat temperature.
Clean your food thermometer thoroughly to avoid contamination. Disinfect the stem and probe before inserting it into the meat. Rinse and pat dry or as instructed for your particular food thermometer.
Using a food thermometer when making homemade beef jerky helps ensure it is dried to a safe internal temperature. While meat may look and feel dry, the temperature indicates whether it is properly preserved and ready to eat. Bacteria cannot grow at 160 F and above. Monitoring the internal temperature is the only way to know your jerky is safe and ready to enjoy!
2. Test the texture
Testing the texture is one of the best ways to tell if jerky is done. Here are some tips for texture-testing jerky:
Bend test – Try bending a piece of jerky. It should crack slightly but not break in half. If it bends without cracking at all, it needs more drying. If it breaks immediately in half, it may be over-dried. Jerky should have leather-like pliability.
Twist test – Twisting a piece of jerky is another way to check flexibility and dryness. It should twist and bend without breaking apart. Jerky that easily crumbles when twisted is still not quite dry enough.
Tear test – Try tearing a piece of jerky in half. It should tear evenly without becoming crumbly. Jerky should have a shredded, fibrous texture when torn. If it stretches, pulls, or seems tacky, it needs more drying.
Folds/ crease test – Fold a piece of jerky in half. It should bend and hold a crease without immediately breaking. If it quickly snaps in half, it’s over-dry. Folding lets you check how well it bends and retains a shape. Jerky should become pliable but firm as it dries.
Dryness – The jerky should feel dry to the touch. There should be no moist, sticky, or tacky spots. It should not seem spongy or squishy in any area. The surface should feel hard and leathery.
Appearance – The jerky should have an uneven, shriveled, and dry appearance. It will become darker in color as it dehydrates. The strips will look shrunk and twisted compared to the raw meat. Any dried meat should have a dried, preserved look when properly dehydrated.
Testing jerky for texture, flexibility, dryness, and appearance allows you to gauge its doneness. The more you make jerky, the better you’ll get at judging when it’s done to your preferred chewiness. But in general, look for a leathery, slightly pliable texture that is dry to the touch – and of course, always double-check internal temperature with a reliable meat thermometer! With regular texture testing, you’ll be making perfect jerky in no time.
3. Take a look at the surface
Looking at the surface of the jerky can also provide clues that it is done:
Color – The meat will turn from red to brownish or mahogany colored as it dries. The strips should have an even, deep, dried meat color with no raw, wet spots. Poultry jerky will turn white or light beige. Fish jerky will develop an amber/orange tint.
Shriveled – The strips will shrink, shrivel and become more dense as moisture is removed. Jerky strips will be thinner, twisted, and denser than raw meat strips. They look very dried out and preserved.
Dry patches – Little tiny dry spots and patches will start to appear on the surface of the meat during drying. These spots will grow, join together and eventually cover and coat the entire strip as it becomes done.
Cracks – Small cracks, splits, and fissures will develop on the surface of the meat. These cracks indicate the moisture is escaping and the dryness allowing the meat to split slightly as it hardens.
Glossy appearance – The surface will develop a glossy sheen or coating. This is caused by moisture rising to the surface and drying, leaving behind natural oils and lipids. The surface looks shiny and coated.
Ruffled edges – The edges of the strips will start to become stiff, hard, and ruffled. Moisture loss causes the edges to dry unevenly, creating a rough, ragged, crinkled edge and appearance.
Rigid strips – Fully dried jerky strips will become quite rigid, stiff, and dense. Hard, stiff strips indicate the moisture has been successfully removed. Strips should retain their shape when handled and not seem soft, pliable, or squishy in places.
Observing the color, surface texture, glossiness, rigidity and other qualities of the jerky strips helps determine if drying is complete. The meat undergoes distinct visual changes from fresh to dehydrated. With regular jerky making, you’ll get familiar with the specific appearance of perfectly dried strips. Look for an evenly dry product with the proper color for your chosen meat. If dryness seems uneven, continue dehydrating and checking other signs like temperature and internal texture.
4. Perform a taste test
Performing a taste test is one of the best ways to determine if your jerky is fully dried and ready. Here are some things to check by tasting the jerky:
Flavor – The meat should have an intense flavor from any spices, marinades, or sauces used. The flavor compounds become concentrated as the moisture evaporates, so jerky should taste bold and savory. There should be no bland, raw areas.
Chewiness – Jerky should be chewy but not tough. It should take some chewing but still be enjoyable to eat. Meat that seems rubbery, hard, or tough needs further drying. If it’s crumbly or falls apart it may be over-dried. Perfect jerky has a balance of chew and tenderness.
Dryness – The jerky should not seem wet, sticky, or tacky when chewing. It should feel dry to the mouth. Any areas that still seem moist or leathery need additional drying time.
Preservation – There should be no unpleasant, stale, or rancid flavors from meat that are not properly preserved. At the proper dryness, jerky is shelf-stable and tastes only of the meat and any seasonings.
Safety – If the jerky has an odd or sour taste, it may not have been dried and preserved safely. When in doubt, it is best to discard the batch. Homemade jerky that tastes off can be unsafe to eat. Always double-check the temperature to ensure safety.
Overall taste – The jerky should have an appealing taste for the flavor profile you are aiming for. It should be pleasant to eat, with a good blend of meaty, salty, spicy, or sweet tastes depending on recipes and preferences. Jerky that does not taste good to you is unlikely to be enjoyed – so dry to your tastes!
While texture, temperature, and appearance also indicate jerky doneness, taste testing allows you to determine if the flavor, chewiness, dryness, and overall quality are to your liking. Practice makes perfect, so tasting your jerky at different stages of drying can help you gain experience in knowing when it’s ideal for your preferences. When done right, homemade jerky can taste amazing!