Beef jerky is one of the most delicious snacks out there, but it can also be one of the most expensive. Even though we have the best beef jerky on the market (we may be a little biased), it's still a bit pricey, especially when compared to other salty snacks. For beef jerky aficionados that wolf down a bag in minutes, beef jerky can be a really costly habit. This begs the question…why is beef jerky so dang expensive?
Fret not; we’re here to help. With over 89 years and four generations of experience, we know a thing or two about handcrafting beef jerky. Plus, we pride ourselves on offering the highest quality jerky at the lowest possible price. We don’t claim to be the cheapest jerky on the market, but pound for pound, dollar for dollar, you’ll have a difficult time finding a better value jerky.
So let’s dive into the question at hand … why is jerky so pricey?
Beyond the standard operating costs that you might find for any business, there are some unique factors driving the sometime high price tag for your favorite savory beef snack.
1. Raw Beef Cost
Beef is an inherently expensive commodity. No way around it. A significant amount of time and energy goes into delivering wholesome beef to a consumer market. We work closely with our suppliers to ensure the quality of our incoming meat so we understand their challenges.
Beef is a luxury, and at People's Choice Beef Jerky, we treat it that way. Every batch is carefully crafted and nothing is wasted. The level of craftsmanship that goes into every batch is our way of showing respect. Our goal is to celebrate the simplicity and authenticity of real beef jerky.
Some industry producers, to cut costs, will import beef from other countries. These producers will label their products with the claims "Manufactured in the USA" or "Packaged in the USA" to hoodwink consumers into believing the jerky is made from start to finish in the United States, when in reality, the jerky is made elsewhere and imported for the final packaging step. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this practice, we believe in sourcing 100% USA beef exclusively. We can better manage the quality of our raw ingredients and make sure that all beef that we use is fresh and never frozen.
At People’s Choice Beef Jerky, we source our beef from two domestic locations. Our Classic Line is made with beef sourced locally here in California. Our Tasting Kitchen, Old Fashioned, and Carne Seca Line are made with 100% Angus Beef from Nebraska.
Another reason that beef jerky is expensive relates to the leanness of the raw beef. To prevent spoilage, beef jerky must have a low fat content as fat can go rancid with time. Most beef jerky products are between 94 to 97% fat free. Rather than trimming fat from the beef during the slicing step, it is more effective to start with a lean cut of beef.
For other meat products—such as hamburgers, sausage, and deli meats—producers can add in fat to increase flavor and reduce the overall cost, but for beef jerky, and especially high quality beef jerky, lean cuts lead to a higher quality product, but also a more expensive product.
2. High Quality Ingredients
The second factor driving the cost of beef jerky is indirectly related to the first factor. The quality of the raw ingredients—meat, spices, marinades, and other inputs—directly affect the quality of the end product. We've learned that better quality raw ingredients translate into a better quality end jerky product. For example, spices sourced from top quality spice producers make more flavorful, nuanced end products. You can cut corners and work with lesser quality vendors, but this can result in less flavorful spices. Never a good thing. Freshness also plays an important role. We look for bright, flavorful spice blends that let our jerky recipes sing. In the end, solid ingredients create the best beef jerky, but these ingredients do come at a premium and contribute to the overall price.
It is worth mentioning that there is a point of diminishing returns when it comes to raw ingredients used. For example, jerky made out of Filet Mignon or Prime Rib is an interesting idea in theory, but there are probably more appropriate preparations for these premium cuts. Similarly, while white truffle jerky does sound delicious and luxurious, this rare ingredient is probably best left to your special occasion risotto dinner. It’s important to remember beef jerky’s utilitarian roots as a convenient, flavorful, nutritious snack for on-the-go usages.
3. Non-Automated Processing
There are certain steps in the beef jerky making process that are uniquely labor-intensive. While food technology and automatic machinery can optimize specific steps of the jerky making process (for example, an automatic slicer is more efficient and exact than hand-slicing), there are certain steps that require the human touch. One such step is the process of laying the marinated jerky onto stainless steel screens.
At People’s Choice Beef Jerky, 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 done better by hand.
4. Time & Energy
The dehydration and cooking process is a time consuming procedure. To hit the critical control points of time and temperature to ensure a safe and wholesome product, a batch of jerky has to be cooked for an extended period of time. This process can range from two to six hours depending on the thickness of the meat and temperature of the oven. The longer amount of time required to cook the jerky, the more expensive the end product.
5. Result of the Dehydration Process
The most critical factor driving the high cost of beef jerky is the result of the dehydration and cooking process. Raw beef is composed of nearly 75% water, the majority of which evaporates during the cooking process. The process of removing moisture is the critical factor in transforming raw meat into a shelf-stable, ready-to-eat jerky snack. Hence, the name dried meat.
In other words, it can take between 3-4 pounds of raw meat to get 1 pound of finished jerky. From an expense perspective, this process can multiply the overall cost by a minimum of 3x…and that’s before adding in all the other expenses. This is the reason many producers will pack their jerky products full of additives and artificial ingredients — to get some weight back and drive their cost down.
This fact reinforces the importance of checking the ingredient statements on your favorite jerky. Some producers will pack their recipe with artificial ingredients, additives, and sugar.
We do things a little differently. First, we offer a full collection of products that are completely free of any sugar. (Click here to shop our Sugar-Free Jerky Collection.) We crafted these products with our Ketogencic Diet and Atkins Diet friends in mind. These are a great solution for low-carb, sugar-free, high protein diets.
Secondly, for our products that do have sugar, we use it sparingly. We utilize sugar to complement the larger flavor profile. For example, the Tasting Kitchen Orange Honey Teriyaki features subtle hints of orange flavor and cane sugar to round out the smoky and savory nature of the Teriyaki sauce.
Our goal with our jerky is to celebrate the natural richness in the meat. Ingredients should be used as a way to enhance that flavor, not mask it.
That concludes our top five reasons that jerky is one of the more expensive snacks on the market. We hope these insights help justify the seemingly high price tag of jerky. We acknowledge that jerky is not the cheapest snack available, but we believe it’s one of the best ways to get high quality protein in a compact and easy to carry package.
We invest a significant amount of time, energy, and attention to detail into each batch of jerky. Where appropriate, we try to reduce our costs and pass those savings onto our customers. Pound for pound, dollar for dollar, we believe that People's Choice Beef Jerky is the best jerky on the market.
But don't let me just tell you. Pick up a bag today and get to sampling. Our range of Jerky Boxes are a great way to sample our variety of jerky flavors!
Hopefully that answers your question of why beef jerky is expensive. If you have any other questions, I’m here to help!
Mark Bianchetti is a third generation jerky maker at People’s Choice Beef Jerky. He followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather to carry on the family tradition of handcrafting premium meat snacks. When he’s not running the show at the Downtown LA jerky factory, he’s smoking delicious meats in the backyard with his favorite family member, Ellie (the family’s black Labrador).
Have a question for a jerky master? Have a burning question that you’ve always wanted to know? Here’s your chance. Find us On Social Media (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook) or email us (firstname.lastname@example.org).
- May 08, 2018