As a family of professional beef jerky makers, we get a lot of questions about making beef jerky at home. Some of the most common questions relate to the best cut of meat for beef jerky.
What are the most popular cuts for jerky? Are there some things I should look for when shopping for the meat? What part of the animal does jerky come from? What do the professionals use? What would you recommend for a homemade batch of jerky? What kind of meat do you use for jerky? What part of the animal is jerky made from?
These are excellent questions.
The good news? You've come to the right place.
Our family has been handcrafting beef jerky for over 90 years and four generations. We're proud to be LA's Original Beef Jerky and even happier to share some pro tips on how to make the best beef jerky.
Let's dive right in.
Making beef jerky at home is a challenging but very rewarding experience. One of the more important steps in the process is selecting your cut of beef. There are many options available to you and we want to make sure you select the best choice for beef jerky.
While there is no hard-and-fast rule, there are some general guidelines that we'd recommend to follow. The best part of making beef jerky at home is you have full control over the process and you can experiment on a smaller scale. Many of these guidelines are not limited to beef and beef jerky; you can apply them to a variety of proteins.
One of the first and most important criterion for selecting a cut of beef for jerky-making is the fat content. You want to select a cut that has the least amount of fat possible.
Due to its composition, fat cannot be fully dehydrated. The presence of excess fat in a batch of jerky can cause the jerky to turn rancid and spoil at a quicker rate. Thus, selecting a cut of meat with minimal fat will ensure a long and safe shelf-life. If you'll be enjoying the jerky immediately after cooking or within a few days, you can get away with a slightly fattier cut of meat, but we recommend the least fat possible.
It's important to consider both intermuscular fat, commonly known as marbling, as well as outer fat. Intermuscular fat runs between the muscle fibers and cannot be removed, while outer fat content can be trimmed and removed during the slicing step. Your favorite cuts of steak (Ribeye for example) can achieve a high level tenderness, juiciness, and tastiness through the marbling and a higher fat composition. The relationship between marbling and quality is reflected in the USDA's meat classification system — Prime, Choice, Select — Prime achieving the highest ranking due to its level of marbling.
While cuts of beef with more marbling are excellent for other uses, it's best to select a cut of beef with minimal fat content. You want to make jerky that will last. Isn't that the point of this portable, convenient, and healthy snack?
At People's Choice Beef Jerky, we utilize beef that has a medium amount of marbling as this contributes to the tenderness and flavor of the jerky. Ideally, the cut of meat you select will strike a balance between flavor, tenderness, and the potential for shelf-stability.
Always purchase fresh, high quality beef. The cuts do not necessarily have to be fancier more expensive cuts, but rather, cuts of quality and wholesomeness. Avoid meat with dark spots, any off smells, or cartilage, ligaments, or tendons.
Only buy fresh meat. Do not purchase expired meat or even meat that is nearing its expiration date. The fresher the better.
The beauty of making beef jerky home is that you have full control. Make sure to inspect each piece of meat to ensure you are getting exactly what you want.
Also, keep in mind that you will lose anywhere between 50 – 75% of the original weight during the dehydration process, so make sure to purchase a sufficient amount. A good rule of thumb is 3 to 1. Every three pounds of raw meat will transform into 1 pound of jerky.
Pro Tip: You can have your butcher pre-slice the beef for you. This will save you a step of the jerky making process. With a commercial slicer, your butcher can slice the beef into uniform slices to your exact specs. This will ensure that the jerky cooks evenly in your oven, a very important part of jerky making at home.
Make friends with your local butcher. He or she can be an excellent resource for all your jerky making adventures.
In addition to the general guidelines, here are some specific cuts that are perfect for making jerky. We recommend any of the following cuts for making beef jerky at home.
Top Round (London Broil), Bottom Round, Eye of Round
From the Round Primal. Excellent source of economical, lean, and large cuts great for beef jerky.
Extra Lean, Little to No Intermuscular Marbling, Less Flavorful, Less Tender, Less Expensive
From the Rib Primal. Removed from the outside of the rib. Also called Blade Meat; or Cap and Wedge Meat.
Medium Leanness, Medium Intermuscular Marbling, Flavorful, More Tender, Slightly More Expensive
From the Flank Primal. Lean cut with long grains. Also called Beef Flank; Flank Steak Filet; Plank Steak.
Lean, Little Intermuscular Marbling, Flavorful, Less Tender, Slightly More Expensive
From the Chuck Primal. Portion of the Brisket. Also called Special Trim.
Medium Leanness, Medium Intermuscular Marbling, Flavorful, More Tender, Less Expensive
Most commercial beef jerky producers use Top Round for beef jerky. This cut achieves the ideal attributes of the raw cuts for a great jerky – little to no fat with minimal interior fat content, larger in size that allows for large jerky strips, and an economical price.
We recommend any of the above cuts: Top Round (London Broil), Bottom Round, Eye of Round, Flank Steak, Pectoral Meat, or Lifter Meat. Remember: the type of cut is less important than finding a piece of meat that is fresh, lean, and high quality.
Our recommendations are in no way intended to be prescriptive or absolute; the fun of making beef jerky at home is in the experimentation and testing to see what works best for you. We encourage you to try new things. Just make sure to share your findings with us!