The different types of beef jerky can be distinguished by flavor, texture, form, nutritional types, and beef source. Innovation in the beef jerky world has exploded in the past few years. There are more types of jerky in the marketplace than ever before.
We compiled this list to help guide you through the many types of beef jerky. You’ll finish reading this deep dive as a certified beef jerky expert. Get ready to find your perfect beef jerky.
Different Types of Beef Jerky
- Beef Jerky Flavors
- Beef Jerky Textures
- Beef Jerky Forms
- Beef Jerky Nutritional Types
- Beef Jerky Protein Sources
- Beef Jerky Alternatives
1. Beef Jerky Flavors
There is a virtually infinite number of beef jerky flavors. World famous chefs, BBQ pitmasters, and home cooks alike have contributed new and innovative jerky flavors. Generally, beef jerky flavors can be categorized into three primary profiles: mild, spicy, and sweet.
Mild Jerky Flavors
Original flavors tend to be more mild with a baseline flavor of salt and black pepper. The mild nature of original flavors make them appeal to a wide audience. A popular flavor in the mild category is peppered beef jerky which features a robust amount of cracked black pepper.
Common original flavors include sea salt & pepper, peppered, classic, mild, and old fashioned, garlic black pepper
Spicy Jerky Flavors
Spicy flavors range from mildly spicy to super spicy. Be careful, spicy beef jerky can bring the heat. The source of heat typically comes from ground chile peppers such as jalapeño, cayenne, chipotle, and habanero. There are even spicy jerky flavors that are made with ghost pepper and carolina reaper jerky—some of the hottest peppers in the world.
Common spicy jerky flavors include Hot & Spicy, Sweet & Spicy, Flamin’ Hot, Inferno, Wild Heat, Sriracha, Nashville Hot.
Sweet Jerky Flavors
Sweet jerky flavors range from a kiss of sweetness to full-on candied jerky. Sugar is a common ingredient in beef jerky because it adds weight and texture to the finished product. Common sweetening ingredients in beef jerky include cane sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, and honey. Teriyaki is the most common sweet jerky flavor and has been a great pair for beef jerky for decades.
Common sweet jerky flavors include Teriyaki, Sweet, Honey Glazed, Orange Honey Teriyaki.
2. Beef Jerky Textures
Beef jerky comes in a variety of textures. Historically, beef jerky had a reputation for being dry, hard, and leathery. But new jerky producers have come onto the scene with softer jerky. Today, there’s a wide range of jerky textures on the market from super dry to tender and soft.
Ingredients and processing determine the texture of a jerky. The addition of sugar, vinegar and other texturizing ingredients generally softens the meat during the marination process.
Additionally, extended marination times and tenderizer machines can also soften the jerky. The length of the cooking and drying process will also impact the texture.
Old Fashioned Beef Jerky
This texture of old fashioned jerky is dry and tough. Because of the dryness level, it takes longer to eat. During the chewing process, however, you slowly break down the meat with your teeth and saliva. As you work through the jerky, the jerky slowly reveals more flavor.
Old-school jerky fans love old fashioned jerky, often referred to as cowboy jerky. They strongly dislike the new, more modern, soft jerky. These are true beef jerky traditionalists.
Soft Beef Jerky
On the other side of the spectrum is soft beef jerky. This style of jerky emerged on the market in the early 2000s as new jerky makers tried to expand the jerky market to a new audience. Softer jerky is often accompanied with modern, more gourmet flavors.
There’s no right or wrong texture for jerky. The key is finding what you prefer. There’s something for everyone when it comes to texture and jerky.
3. Beef Jerky Forms
Beef Jerky also comes in different forms. There are two types of beef jerky forms: whole muscle and chopped & formed. These two versions are created in different ways.
Whole Muscle Beef Jerky
As the name suggests, whole muscle beef jerky comes from solid pieces of meat. Beef jerky makers start with a larger cut of beef and slice smaller pieces to marinate, cook, dry and package. Curious to learn more about the different cuts of meat used for jerky?
Whole muscle jerky is the most common form of beef jerky in the marketplace.
Chopped & Formed Beef Jerky
Otherwise known as Chunked & Formed or Restructured Beef Jerky, chopped & formed is strips of beef jerky that have been created through reforming chopped up meat. Historically, this has been known to be of lesser quality as producers would use cheaper cuts of meat and artificial binders. New companies, however, have introduced higher quality ingredients and less artificial additives.
4. Jerky Nutritional Types
Beef jerky is a nutrient dense snack that is full of protein. Depending on the ingredients added to the beef jerky, it can offer many different nutritional benefits and fit a variety of diets.
Sugar Free Beef Jerky
Sugar free is the most popular new style of jerky. Sugar Free Beef Jerky is a great option for those that are looking to avoid sugar and carbs in their diet. It can be an excellent snack option for the Keto Diet, Carnivore Diet, Atkins, and any low carb diet.
Low Sodium Beef Jerky
Salt is an essential ingredient in beef jerky because it acts as a natural preservative. This means that beef jerky can sometimes have an elevated sodium content. This can be problematic for people that have sensitivity to sodium for health reasons. Thankfully, some producers are creating low sodium beef jerky.
Gluten Free Beef Jerky
Gluten has been one of the fastest growing allergens with more people developing wheat allergies. Many beef jerky makers offer gluten free beef jerky options. Soy sauce is the most common source of gluten in beef jerky. If you’re avoiding gluten, check for soy sauce on the ingredient list.
5. Beef Jerky Protein Sources
In today’s world, people care a lot more about where their meat comes from and how it is raised. Studies have shown the way cows are fed can have a major impact on the nutritional composition of the finished meat.
Most cattle raised in the US are started on grass, but finished with corn or grain. The high-sugar corn bulks the cattle up, increasing the fat to muscle ratio and adding more flavor. Unless otherwise stated, most beef used for beef jerky is corn fed. Some people prefer the flavor of corn-fed beef as it has a buttery, sweet flavor and melts in your mouth texture.
Cattle that are raised on grass are considered grass fed. Grass fed may be used to label meat from cattle that were started on grass but received extra grain or were grain finished. If you prefer only meat that has been raised on grass, look for Grass Finished or 100% grass fed.
Grass finished beef comes from cattle that ate nothing but grass for their entire lives, including the time right before slaughter.
USDA certified organic means that the beef has been fed 100% organic feed and forage, it has been raised in natural living conditions, and has never been administered antibiotics or hormones.
You can find all four types of meat for beef jerky. Make sure to check the label to determine where and how the cows were raised. The USDA closely monitors and ensures that any claims made on beef jerky are approved and true.
6. Beef Jerky Alternatives
Beef jerky is not the only meat snack available. There are other dried meat products that are very similar to beef jerky that are worth exploring. There are jerky lovers around the world.
Biltong has emerged on the market in the past few years as a great alternative to beef jerky. Biltong is a South African dried meat snack that is cured in vinegar and air dried. Curious to learn more? Click to read our guide below.
The term carne seca refers to a thinly-sliced variation to beef jerky. Historically, carne seca was air-dried in the sun and cured with acidic ingredients such as lemon and lime juice. Carne Seca is a popular product from Northern Mexico and the American Southwest.
Meat floss, otherwise known as rousong or yul sung, is a Chinese dried meat snack that has a light and airy texture. It is commonly used as a topping for porridge, tofu, rice, and soy milk. It can also be used as a filling for savory dishes.
The meat bear is the newest beef jerky alternative to hit the market.
Somewhere between beef jerky and a power bar, the meat bar is a chopped and formed product that has added ingredients. The meat bar is gaining popularity with athletes, paleo dieters, and anyone who really loves meat. The verdict is still out on whether the public will buy this product on an ongoing basis.
So what’s the best beef jerky? Only you can decide and now you can.
The wonderful world of beef jerky has so much to offer. There is something for everyone. From flavors, textures, meat source, and beef jerky alternatives, you really can’t go wrong.