Homemade Jerky Project

How to Make Beef Jerky [Step-by-Step Guide]

Beef jerky is a surprisingly easy and rewarding snack to make at home. With a bit of planning, a little prep work, and some patience, you can enjoy meaty, savory, and flavorful beef jerky. 

Our family has been handcrafting commercial beef jerky for over 90 years and four generations. Our passion for dried meat doesn't end when we clock out from the factory. Just the opposite, in fact. Some of our greatest ideas, inspirations, and creations have started in our home kitchens. Crafting small batches of jerky in our ovens, dehydrators, grills, and smokers is where some of our best work happens.

This beef jerky recipe is our go-to option when we want a batch of homemade jerky in the oven. We also have some recipes if you’re looking to make beef jerky in a dehydrator or make beef jerky in a smoker (coming soon).

We invite you to share your results with our team on social (TikTok, Instagram, or Facebook). We’re always adjusting, improving, and updating this recipe and encourage your contribution. 

Think of this recipe as a foundation upon which you can build your own flavors and preferences. 

This recipe features a simple, homemade seasoning blend, but if you’re looking to take your homemade jerky to the next level, browse our custom blends of beef jerky seasoning. (Coming Soon! Sign-Up For Early Access).

For our full database of homemade beef jerky resources check out our Homemade Beef Jerky Project page.

Keep reading for detailed steps, our pro tips, and frequently asked questions on how to make homemade jerky.

What You’ll Need To Make Homemade Beef Jerky

Ingredients for Making Homemade Beef Jerky

The basic ingredients of beef jerky create a final product that balances sweet, savory, spicy, and umami. Most of the ingredients can be found in a standard pantry.

1. Beef

Selecting the right cut of beef is the first step in crafting quality beef jerky. 

The most critical factor is a lean cut. During the dehydration process, fat does not dry the same way as lean meat. Rancidity happens when fat is exposed to heat, light, or oxygen over a period of time. Rancidity equals spoiled.

Some intramuscular fat, otherwise known as marbling, is perfectly acceptable and actually desired as it contributes flavor and texture. External fat is what we want to avoid. 

You’ll also want to select a cut of meat that balances cost and utility. Filet mignon is a fantastic cut of beef that offers incredible flavor and texture, but it comes at a premium price. Fancier cuts of beef are best suited for delicate cooking techniques that can achieve a medium-rare doneness. 

Dehydrating filet mignon into beef jerky does the meat a disservice. Most importantly, more expensive cuts don’t yield a finished product all that different from more affordable cuts.

Some of the most popular cuts of beef for beef jerky are Top Round, Bottom Round, Lifter and Pectoral. 

Click here to learn more about The Best Cuts of Meat for Beef Jerky.

This recipe uses eye of round. It’s affordable, widely-available, lean, and easy to trim.

This recipe is specifically for whole muscle jerky. That means the pieces are sliced from a whole piece of meat, rather than forming ground meat into strips. For those looking to make a chopped and formed beef jerky, check out our ground beef jerky recipe.

You can also make jerky out of almost any protein source. Some of our homemade favorites include our salmon jerky recipe, deer jerky recipe, chicken jerky recipe, and turkey jerky recipe (all coming soon). 

2. Seasonings

Salt is the most common ingredient in beef jerky. It’s used primarily for flavor but has functional benefits such as preventing spoilage and extending the shelf life of the jerky.

Salt is a natural preservative.

The basic building blocks of a seasoning blend for jerky are salt, pepper, sugar, garlic powder, onion powder, smoked paprika, and red pepper flakes.

We recommend starting with this blend as a baseline. Once you’ve established a foundation, you can let your creativity run wild with the addition of other seasonings and flavors.

Beef jerky is a versatile canvas for a variety of global flavors. You can tailor your beef jerky to meet your flavor preferences and dietary needs.

Looking for something off the beaten path? Click here to read our list of Unique Beef Jerky Recipes that can be made by anyone.

3. Soy Sauce

Soy sauce is an umami-rich condiment that comes from fermented soy beans. It blends sweetness with saltiness and a touch of acidity. Soy sauce is a common ingredient in beef jerky because it enhances color, flavor and tenderness.

If you have a gluten sensitivity, you can easily replace soy sauce with gluten-free tamari sauce.

4. Worcestershire Sauce

Worcestershire sauce is a fermented condiment made from a base of vinegar and flavored with onion, garlic, anchovies, molasses, tamarind, and other proprietary seasonings. It brings a sweet and savory flavor that enhances the natural richness of the meat.

Worcestershire sauce is not a requirement for homemade jerky, but it is a great way to develop a depth of flavor.

Tools & Equipment

Tools and Equipment for Making Beef Jerky

The best part of making jerky at home is that you most likely already have all of the tools and equipment required to make jerky in the oven.

2 x Sheet Pan

A rimmed sheet pan will be the foundation of the jerky drying set-up. It’s important to have a rimmed baking sheet to catch any dripping juice. To make clean-up easy, line the sheet pan with aluminum foil. You can fit between 2.5 and 3 LBS of meat on two standard size sheet pans.

2 x Wire Rack

The jerky will be laid onto the wire rack which sits in the sheet pan. The wire rack is a critical component to the drying set-up because it allows for airflow under the jerky. This leads to proper drying.

1 x Mixing Bowl

A large mixing bowl will serve as the vehicle for mixing and marination. You can use glass, metal, or plastic. 

Alternatively, you can mix all the ingredients in a plastic bag which saves a step from mixing and marination.

1 x Measuring Spoons

You'll need a basic set of measuring spoons.

1 x Oven

Most ovens come equipped with a drying feature which will ensure that the moisture escapes and the jerky dries. If you are cooking your jerky on a standard bake option, prop the door open with a wooden spoon. If your oven has a safety feature that prevents operation with the door open, you can also open the door every 30 minutes during the cook cycle to let the moisture escape and introduce dry air.

Go as low as 165°F, but if your oven only goes to 200°F that is just fine, just keep an eye on the temp as you quick to achieve as close to 165°F as possible. 

For those that are feeling extra spicy, you can even follow our guide on air fryer beef jerky (coming soon).

Step By Step Instructions

The process of making jerky breaks down into five easy steps, the sixth step being the best part – eating.

1. Slice the Meat

Slicing meat for beef jerky.

You have a few decisions to make when it comes to the slicing step that will impact the final results of your jerky, but before we get started with the slicing, here’s our first pro tip.

Pro Tip: Before you begin the slicing process, place your meat in the freezer for 30-60 minutes. The pre-slicing freezing step will make the challenge of slicing the meat into thin strips much easier.

While your meat freezes down to a more amenable temperature, you can prep your ingredients and equipment. 

With the Grain versus Against the Grain

The first decision when it comes to slicing is whether to slice with the grain or against the grain. 

The grain of the meat refers to the direction of the muscle fibers. Cutting against the grain shortens the muscle fibers making it easier to chew. Alternatively, cutting with the grain maintains the length of the fibers and creates a tougher chew.

This all depends on the type of jerky you’re looking to make.

With the grain or against the grain. That is the question.

Thickness of the Meat for Beef Jerky

The second decision when it comes to slicing relates to the thickness. You can slice the meat between ⅛ and ¼ inch thick. The thinner you slice the meat the quicker the beef jerky will cook and dry.

Regardless of the thickness you select, the goal is to slice the jerky as uniformly as possible. This will ensure an even cook throughout the batch. Inconsistency in thickness leads to some pieces overcooking and others undercooking.

Want to learn more about slicing meat for jerky? Check out our deep dive on How to Slice Meat for Jerky.

Pro Tip: Have your local butcher slice the meat to your desired thickness. No matter how skilled you are with a knife, a butcher has the proper tools to achieve near perfect uniformity. 

2. Mix the Marinade

Mixing the marinade for beef jerky.

In a large bowl, combine the seasonings, soy sauce, and Worcestershire sauce. Mix until evenly combined and the sugar is dissolved. You can use a whisk, fork, or spoon.

You might have to add a few tablespoons of water to water down the marinade to max mixing easier. 

3. Marinate the Meat

Marinate the meat for beef jerky.

Add the meat to the marinade and toss until the pieces are evenly coated.

Pro Tip: Add the meat to the marinade, piece by piece, to ensure the marinade coats all the nooks and crannies. Sometimes the meat can knot up leaving some un-marinated pieces. The goal is to coat every piece of meat. 

Cover with plastic wrap (or transfer to a plastic bag) and marinate for at least 12 hours and up to 24 hours. If you go a few hours over, don’t worry. During the marination period, toss the meat once or twice to ensure contact between the marinade and meat.

The 12 to 24 hour marinade time comes from an in-house experiment testing different marination times and the impact on the final jerky. We tested every possible marination time to determine the optimal time. 

Read the full article: How Long to Marinate Beef Jerky

4. Lay the Jerky

Laying the jerky on the screen.

Heat the oven to the lowest possible temperature. The ideal temperature for cooking beef jerky in an oven is 165°F. If you're oven doesn't go that low, don't worry we have a trick. Set two oven racks on the bottom third and top third of the oven.

Prop the oven door open with a wooden spoon and monitor the temperature during the cooking process. The goal is to maintain the temperature as close to 165°F as possible.

Line two baking sheets with aluminum foil for easy clean-up. Place the wire rack into each pan.

Arrange the marinated meat onto each wire rack. Make sure to lay the jerky in one even layer with no overlap. The pieces can touch, but they should not overlap.  

Pro Tip: Let as much of the marinade drip off the meat as possible. Lightly pat the jerky dry with paper towels. This ensures a nice, even cook and full dryness. 

5. Cook & Dry the Marinated Meat

Cooking and drying the beef jerky.

If using a dehydrator, set the temperature to 165°F.

Arrange the marinated fish onto each wire rack or dehydrator screen. Be careful not to overlap the fish jerky. The pieces can touch, but they shouldn’t overlap. This will lead to irregular drying.

Cook the meat for 3 to 5 hours. At the 2 hour mark, rotate the pans from front to back and top to bottom.

Pro Tip: Some ovens have a convection bake feature. Rather than supply heat from the bottom heating element of the oven, convection bake feature circulates heat evenly throughout the oven. This ensures equal distribution of heat. 

Start checking the jerky at the 3 hour mark and then every 20 minutes until the jerky reaches the desired doneness. 

Commercial jerky makers have devices that can read the moisture level of the jerky to determine when it’s dry and shelf-stable. Unfortunately, most home processors don’t have the luxury of this tool.

You’ll have to use your senses to determine if the jerky is done. But first, there’s two variables to check off: the thickness of the meat and the cook time and temperature.

  • Did you cook the jerky for the desired time and temperature? 
  • Are all the pieces of uniform thickness? If there are any pieces that are outside of the desired thickness, they will require more time.

If you answered yes to both of these questions, then you can move to the visual and textural inspection.

Jerky isn’t like a classic steak where you can probe the meat to determine if it’s done. Instead, you have to rely on your own visual inspection.

The jerky should have a dry, leathery exterior. It should bend, with some small cracks, but it should not fully break (in which case it’s over-dried). Think of bending a green branch.

Read our in-depth guide on How to Tell When Jerky is Done.

6. Enjoy (and Store the Jerky)

Now it’s time to enjoy your jerky! 

Let the jerky cool before storing in an airtight container. Properly dried jerky will keep at room temperature in an airtight container for around one week.

Learn more with our guide on How to Store Homemade Beef Jerky.