I love to go hiking and camping. When I go, I make as much of my meals ahead of time, often using these recipes. But I also like to be sure I have filling snacks. Homemade granola bars are great, but meat or meat substitutes are better sources of protein that will sustain your body for a longer period of time. A natural, homemade beef jerky recipe is the perfect way to bring meat along when refrigeration isn’t available.
Beef Jerky Recipe: Natural Jerky at Home
Getting started with a marinade
The marinade, or brine, should be the first thing you think of when you plan out making jerky. Yes, the meat or meat substitute matters, but the marinade is where you get all the flavor. A good marinade will have the following ingredients:
- Salty component such as celery salt or soy sauce
- Sweet component such as brown sugar or stevia
- Acid component such as lime juice or vinegar
- Meat or meat substitute
- Optional – liquid smoke or make your own smoked salt
You don’t necessarily need all of these ingredients, but a better marinade is made with them. You can also add flavors like basil or cilantro, or add heat with hot sauce or cayenne pepper. Whatever you use, be sure it’s fresh.
Natural Marinade Recipe
My favorite marinade is this recipe. It makes enough marinade for 2 pounds of meat.
- ½ cup lime juice or ¼ cup apple cider vinegar (find raw organic apple cider vinegar here)
- ⅛ cup soy sauce or liquid aminos – don’t use reduced sodium, you need the salt for curing (find a gluten free soy here or find liquid aminos here)
- 1 Tablespoon brown sugar or 1 teaspoon stevia powder
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (find organic black peppercorns here)
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder and onion powder mixed (find organic garlic powder here and onion powder here)
- 1 Tablespoon smoked salt (or increase the soy sauce to ¼ cup and add 1 Tablespoon Liquid Smoke)
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (find organic red pepper flakes here)
Directions (Choose ONE of the following methods):
- Mix all marinade ingredients together and place in food safe plastic bag. Add meat or meat substitute. Place bag in a large bowl, cover with water, and add a weight to keep it submerged. Place in the refrigerator for an hour or so.
- Mix all marinade ingredients together in a large bowl. Place meat into the marinade and cover, leaving it refrigerated for 6 hours or overnight.
- Mix all marinade ingredients together and place in the kind of bag that is ok to use in a Sous Vide. Add meat or meat substitute. Place bag in a Sous Vide for an hour. The Sous Vide will partially cook the meat, making it easier to dry out later. If you don’t use the Sous Vide, it will take longer for your meat to dry out.
Choosing Your Meat or Meat Substitute
Always start with raw meat. I like to use beef flank steak (grass fed, humanely raised) for my jerky. It seasons well, provides lean protein, and dries great. Cut any meat across the grain to avoid overly tough jerky.
Other meats you can use are chicken or turkey. (Pork doesn’t dry very well unless it’s bacon.) Chicken and turkey do well, but need to be cut thicker to prevent crumbling. You can make very tender jerky by grinding the meat and adding some of the marinade to hold it together. Then soak it for a shorter period of time, such as 2-3 hours.
Great Meat Substitutes
Some great meat substitutes include:
- mushrooms (grind, add the marinade for seasoning, shape into strips on parchment paper, and proceed as above)
- strips of tofu
- squash or eggplant strips (very yummy!) – Use a hard squash like butternut for the best texture. Soft squashes like zucchini don’t seem to hold up as well.
- even ground beans and rice can be formed into jerky-like strips
NOTE: For any of these, only marinate for about an hour.
Drying Your Jerky
After marinating is complete, lay the strips of whatever you have onto wire racks placed on cookie sheets. This will catch any drips. Place in the oven at 200°F for 3-4 hours. Alternatively, you can use a food dehydrator. This will take longer, but doesn’t use as much electricity. You can also use a solar dehydrator, like this one that you can make yourself. If using the solar dehydrator, be sure to keep an eye on it as animals could come to investigate. I keep mine on a large stack of pallets to discourage curious critters.
Whatever method you use, check your meat every hour or so. For veggies and other meat substitutes, check about every 20 minutes. Your finished jerky should be chewy, but done all the way through. The marinade or brining process will “precook” your meat so there is no chance of spoilage. The salt will help with that.
Storing the Jerky
You can store jerky at room temperature in a tightly sealed glass jar to keep air out. If it does become exposed to the air, white crystals could form on the surface. These are salt crystals and are nothing to worry about. If you are going to store it for more than a few weeks, you can freeze it without harming the texture.
Have you ever made your own jerky? Did you use meat or a substitute? How did it turn out?