Jerky rules! I don’t just mean it’s the best snack food around, which, let’s be honest, it is, but there might be some things you didn’t know. Here are some tips and tricks to follow when choosing the healthiest and most flavorful options. While beef jerky has been proven to be one of the better healthy snacks, there are still plenty of things to look out for when purchasing your next delicious meat treat. This guide looks into what to consider when laying down your hard-earned cash on this protein-packed, nutrient-dense food like the products from People’s Choice Beef Jerky. Here are nine questions that should help you find the best beef jerky for you.

1. Does it Have Nitrates?

Jerky is a really convenient snack, ready for the hiking trail or office drawer. A defining characteristic of jerky is that it is shelf-stable, meaning it doesn’t require any refrigeration. To make sure jerky is ready for the road and on-the-go snacking, jerky makers have to dry their product to remove moisture and use ingredients that act as a preservative. As you can imagine, not all preservatives are created equally. There are a variety of preservative types that you will find in jerky products in the market. One of the most common and most talked about preservatives is sodium nitrate. This ingredient is used to fight harmful bacteria in meat. However, some consumers have an aversion to sodium nitrate and should avoid it for health reasons. If this is the case, look for brands that use alternate preservatives like celery powder or sea salt as the primary curing agent like People’s Choice Carne Seca or Old Fashioned Original, which use sea salt as a natural preservative and are 100 percent free from any preservatives.

2. What About MSG?

At one time, it was declared as public enemy No. 1, but these days monosodium glutamate has been deemed mostly harmless by the food industry. While not the threat it was once widely advertised to be, some people do have MSG sensitivities that can lead to headaches and other flu-like symptoms. It’s mainly used as a flavor enhancer like salt, so if there is any question of allergies, it’s best to choose jerky that leaves it out of the mix.

Shop People’s Choice Handcrafted, All-Natural Jerky Collection >>

3. Where Did the Beef Come From?

People’s Choice Beef Jerky supports local agriculture by using only domestic beef. Stijn te Strake

This is a much trickier question that you might think. Did you know that to call a jerky product “Made in the USA,” the product only has to be packaged in the United States? This means that some of the mass-produced jerky products out there are actually made overseas and then imported to be packaged!

“You are what you eat” isn’t just something your mom tells you to make you clean your plate. With millions of acres of the Amazon rainforest being lost to beef production, it’s also become humanitarian and environmental issues. Look to artisanal companies like People’s Choice who support local agriculture and source all of its beef from the good ole US of A.

4. Does it Have Any Artificial Ingredients?

It’s now a common sight to walk down the grocery aisle with people on each side examining the ingredients listed on a food label. The trend of reading food labels to make better choices has been shown to help folks watching high blood pressure or high cholesterol stay on track. When looking for the perfect jerky, flip that bag over and check for artificial ingredients. It’s in your taste buds’ and heart’s best interest to choose brands like People’s Choice that feature all-natural ingredients.

5. Is it Gluten-Free?

Hey, it’s a meat product—it must be gluten-free, right? It might seem that way, but it’s not always the case. If you have a gluten allergy, make sure you check. For People’s Choice, any products in the Old Fashioned line and Carne Seca line are gluten-free.

6. Was it Mass-Produced?

If you want high quality and consistently tasty products, People’s Choice handcrafted beef jerky is an obvious choice, made from only the highest quality meats and spices. Mass-produced jerky generally focuses on price point, which can lead to inferior ingredients and lackluster taste. In addition to flavor, buying handmade products can also create jobs and strengthen the economy.

Learn How People's Choice Jerky is Made >>

7. What’s the Sodium Content?

All beef jerky has sodium, but some brands go overboard, providing more than 20 percent of your daily value of salt in one serving. Jason Tuinstra

Salt is an essential preservative in jerky, all varieties have some sodium. The FDA recommends keeping one’s salt Daily Value (DV) for sodium to less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day. Use the percent of Daily Value (%DV) on food labels to keep track of daily intake. The levels will vary from product to product, but the general guidelines say 5 percent of DV or less of sodium per serving is considered low, and 20 percent of DV or more of sodium per serving is considered high. People’s Choice Classic Jerky comes in at 11 percent DV making it an excellent beef jerky option.

8. Does it Have Sugar?

Again as with “gluten-free,” you’d assume a savory snack would not have any sugar, but you’d be wrong. In fact, it can sometimes be hard to find jerky without sugar. Some jerky is made extra delicious by a little sweet kick, like People’s Choices’ Orange Honey Teriyaki. But if you’re diabetic or are on the keto diet, look for varieties with zero grams of sugar, like People’s Choice’s range of Keto-friendly jerky.

Learn About the Jerky Gram: A Simple Gift of Thoughtfulness >>

9. What’s the Expiration Date?

Like any food product, even something preserved like beef jerky has an expiration date. If left gathering dust too long on the shelf past it’s expiration date, jerky can turn rancid. To ensure freshness, order directly from a high-quality handmade source like People’s Choice and consume prior to the expiration date.

With these tips, you’re now armed to go out there and find the best beef jerky on the market. Whether you like peppered, teriyaki, classic, Keto-friendly, or hot and spicy, it doesn’t matter—you’ll be winning at snacking.

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Written by Shaine Smith for Matcha in partnership with People's Choice Beef Jerky.