Most things in our modern world owe their existence to a long and distinguished history.

It starts with an idea. That idea turns into an invention. Over time, that original invention evolves into a better invention. Eventually, the modern invention may not even be recognizable from the original prototype.

For example, we can thank the Wright brothers for developing the idea of flight; Marconi for introducing the world to the idea of wireless communication; or Edison for inventing a source of light without having to use a flame.

Food, such as beef jerky, is no exception. The beef jerky that we can conveniently pick up at a grocery or convenience store has a long and distinguished past, too.

Fundamentally, beef jerky is dried or dehydrated meat. The concept of dried meat goes back to ancient times when people were looking for the best way to preserve meat.

In fact, the process of dehydrating fruits and meats is one of the oldest methods of food preservation.  The extraction of moisture from a food increases nutritional density while decreasing the rate of spoilage. When done correctly, the final product is a nutrient packed, portable, and shelf stable foodstuff that keeps for an extended period of time - an essential feature during the pre-refrigeration age. For all the reasons modern mankind enjoys beef jerky so too did ancient civilizations.

Meat + Dry Heat - Water = Shelf Stable 

Earliest archeological records indicate that the Ancient Egyptians preserved different meat and produce items by leaving them out in the sun to dry. The importance of preserved foods to Ancient Egyptian culture is exemplified by the abundance of preserved food found in the excavated tombs, some of which remained remarkably intact. [i]

Even the work “jerky” has some history to it.

Char'ki: Retrieved from Wikipedia, Credit: Frank Benson

According to the Arkansas-based Manataka Indian Council, the word “jerky” can be traced back to the South American tribe Quechua word “ch'arki.” Over time, the Quechua word evolved into “jerky” — and contrary to popular belief, it has nothing to do with the word “jerk” or how the beef is processed into jerky. [ii]

ch'arki | charque | charqui | charqí

In modern day North America, records indicate that the first written record of the word “jerky” in English was in 1612 when John Smith wrote in his Map of Virgina “as drie as their jerkin beefe in the West Indies.” [iii]

Various Native American groups in North America combined mixed berries, fat, and ground meat to make concentrated small cakes known as pemmican. This preserved food helped the native tribes get through the winter months. Early settlers learned jerky preparation from the Native Americans and adopted the preservation technique.

Native American Jerky: National Archives of Canada / ES Curtis

Cowboys, called “cow hunters” in the 1820s, carried jerky or salted beef when they were moving cattle. “It referred to sun-dried meat. You’d slaughter the animal – cattle, bison, deer, elk, or antelope – and strip or jerk the meat,” explains Don Reeves, an anthropologist and McCasland Chair of Cowboy Culture at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. [iv]

Jerky also has its place in military history.

After World War I, what was called the Reserve Ration was updated to include beef jerky. A 2014 article in Wired magazine describes the Army’s effort to infuse beef jerky and apple sauce with caffeine in order to give soldiers an extra kick. [v]

Today, jerky has reached a critical mass of popularity. Some would even argue we are living in a Jerky Renaissance. A few popular trends — such as the rise of snacking and desire for high protein snacks — have expanded popular demand, fueling flavor and texture innovation. The growing diversity of jerky products has attracted non-traditional consumers who now enjoy the benefits of jerky. In today’s market, there is a jerky product for everyone.

There are clear reasons jerky has such a long and storied history. They are the same reasons we love beef jerky today: portable, nutritionally-dense, and a great vehicle for an array of flavors and culinary styles.

"handcrafting simple and honest interpretations of beef jerky since 1929."

At People’s Choice Beef Jerky, we celebrate the rich history of beef jerky by focusing on what we’ve done for over 85 years: handcrafting simple and honest interpretations of beef jerky. We are proud to consider ourselves part of this rich and varied history and we look forward to its bright future.