The process of making beef jerky can be simplified into five key steps: slicing, marinating, laying, cooking, and packaging.
The overall process to make beef jerky at home is very similar to the steps of making beef jerky in a commercial kitchen or factory. Whether it’s store-bought jerky or homemade jerky, the process stays the same. The biggest difference is scale and efficiency.
When broken down into its most basic steps, the process of making beef jerky is very simple. The nuances and techniques within these steps, however, is where things can get complicated.
While this guide provides an overview of how to make beef jerky, the process is the same for fish jerky, turkey jerky, buffalo jerky, and mushroom jerky.
What is beef jerky made out of?
Beef jerky is made out of beef, liquid ingredients, and dry ingredients.
- Liquid Ingredients (Soy Sauce, Tamari, Worcestershire Sauce, Teriyaki Sauce, Liquid Aminos, Coconut Aminos)
- Dry Ingredients (Salt, Pepper, Garlic Powder, Smoked Paprika, Onion Powder, Chile Flakes, and other seasonings)
The options are limitless when it comes to beef jerky ingredients.
Here are the five key steps to making beef jerky.
1. Slicing Beef Jerky
The first step in the beef jerky making process is slicing.
Common cuts of beef for beef jerky include Top Round, Flank Steak, London Broil, Top Sirloin, Sirloin Tip, Round Roast, Bottom Round, and Rump Roast. Some beef jerky is even made with Filet Mignon.
Beef jerky that is made from ground beef is a different type and process. Traditional beef jerky is made with whole-muscle beef.
Learn more about the best cuts of meat for beef jerky.
No matter the cut of beef, it’s important to start with a lean cut. Before the meat is sliced for jerky, all visible fat is trimmed from the meat.
The meat is sliced against the grain which helps break down the natural fibers of the meat. This creates the optimal chew and bite. There are a range of options when it comes to slicing. The meat can be sliced with a knife, hand slicer, or slicing machine.
An insider’s tip for the slicing step is to temper or partially freeze the meat. This makes it easier to create even cuts of uniform thickness. Some producers also opt to use a meat tenderizer at this stage which creates tiny pin holes in the meat which makes it even softer.
At People’s Choice Beef Jerky, we thinly slice whole muscle pieces of lean beef by hand. We believe in using 100% American beef, sourced right here in the USA. We never use imported or frozen beef.
We believe in quality. At the end of the day, premium raw ingredients directly translate into better quality end products. Each piece of meat is cleaned of any excess fat to make sure it meets our high-quality standards.
Once the beef is properly prepped, we utilize a slicing machine to create thin strips of perfectly sized jerky strips. The slicing machine guarantees relative consistency in thickness across the pieces of jerky.
Each piece is carefully inspected to make sure it meets our high standards. The key aspect of the slicing step is to get consistent thickness to ensure even cooking. Otherwise, some pieces will come out overcooked and others undercooked.
2. Marinating Beef Jerky
The second step in the beef jerky making process is marinating.
A combination of dry spices and liquid ingredients are mixed with the sliced meat. A sufficient amount of time needs to be allocated to make sure that the marinade not only covers the meat, but also penetrates into the fibers of the meat.
The marinade recipe comes down to personal preference. There is an unlimited amount of flavor combinations that you can use from simple jerky to gourmet jerky. The process of marinating beef jerky is very similar to marinating your favorite meats in the home kitchen.
Common ingredients for the jerky marinade include salt, freshly ground black pepper, red pepper flakes, brown sugar, sodium nitrite, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, and liquid smoke.
As a general rule of thumb, the longer time allowed for marinating, the deeper and more nuanced the level of flavor. There's definitely a point of diminishing returns when it comes to time, but we recommend a minimum of 30 minutes and up to 24 hours.
At People's Choice Beef jerky, we give the meat and marinades ample time to fully integrate and mix before the cooking step. Extended marination time not only improves flavor, but also can increase the tenderness of the meat by breaking down the fibers of the meat.
A very nice garlicky, Asian flavor. Almost teriyaki, but not quite. Sesame oil definitely shines through. Sweet, but not overly so. Overall wonderful addition.
3. Laying Beef Jerky
The third step in the beef jerky making process is laying the jerky onto stainless steel screens.
Each individual piece of sliced and marinated jerky is laid by hand. This is a critical step as the pieces must be evenly spaced on a single layer and gently dropped onto the screens to ensure that the full batch of jerky cooks evenly. There's no shortcuts or tricks when it comes to the laying step. The best and quickest way to complete this step is by hand.
The good news is that we have some of the most experienced and talented workers here at People's Choice Beef Jerky. In fact, some of our employees have been with us for over 25 years. These are true jerky artisans. For us, beef jerky making is not just a profession, but a way of life.
4. Cooking Beef Jerky
The fourth step in the beef jerky making process is cooking and drying. Low and slow is the secret to deliciously-tender beef jerky.
Whether the jerky is cooked in an at-home food dehydrator or a commercial oven, the process is the same. When working with a meat product, food safety is very important and the cooking and drying steps of the process are the most important.
In most cases the two steps of cooking and drying are completed at the same time, but there’s a small but important distinction.
Cooking ensures that the beef jerky reaches an acceptable temperature where all pathogens and bacteria are killed. When the internal temperature of the meat hits a minimum 160°F, the jerky is fully cooked and ready to eat.
Drying guarantees that the jerky is dried and shelf-stable. When the water activity of the beef jerky is under an acceptable threshold, it becomes shelf stable and does not require any special handling or refrigeration.
Depending on the thickness of the meat, beef jerky needs to cook from 2.5 and up to 8 hours.
Temperatures during the cook time average between 165° to 185° F. This range of temperature ensures that the beef jerky is fully cooked. During this cooking process, the humidity level within the oven remains constant.
For the jerky to be shelf-stable, it must be under a water activity of <0.85. The dryness will extend the shelf life.
The consistent level of low humidity combined with the hot temperature creates a shelf-stable beef jerky that requires no refrigeration. The jerky is ready for the final step before the snacking can begin.
5. Packaging the Beef Jerky
The fifth and final step in the beef jerky making process is packaging.
Once the jerky is fully cooked and dehydrated, it is ready for packaging.
There are a range of packaging types from bulk boxes destined for butcher shops and meat markets to individually-wrapped packages perfect for on-the-go snackers.
Regardless of the packaging type, it’s important that the jerky is stored in an airtight container. The removal of oxygen in the sealed container is tantamount to keeping the jerky fresh.
Learn more on How to Store Beef Jerky.
Beef jerky in its truest form is very simple. It's seasoned and dried meat—nothing more, nothing less.
Some producers overcomplicate and over-process beef jerky, but at People's Choice Beef Jerky, we are dedicated to honoring our family tradition of honest, straightforward, and simple beef jerky.
We take great pride in our process. It is testament to our tradition. We have purposely retained the handmade element in each step of our process. It is our way of preserving tradition, remembering our history, and ensuring the highest quality product. Simply put, things are better done by hand.
In our humble opinion, beef jerky is best made by hand. This allows for a greater attention to detail. This attention to detail translates into better-quality, better-tasting, and better-for-you jerky. We like to think a little time and energy and handmade touch makes for the best jerky.
We are LA's Original Beef Jerky. We've been handcrafting natural, old-fashioned beef jerky for over 89 years and four generations.