How To Make Beef Jerky or Even A Vegetarian Jerky

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Beef Jerky Recipe

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.


Directions (Choose ONE of the following methods):

  1. 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.
  2. Mix all marinade ingredients together in a large bowl. Place meat into the marinade and cover, leaving it refrigerated for 6 hours or overnight.
  3. 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
  • coconut
  • 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?


About Debra Maslowski

Debra is a master gardener, a certified herbalist, a natural living instructor, and more. She taught Matt and Betsy how to make soap so they decided to bring her on as a staff writer! Debra recently started an organic herb farm in the mountains of Western North Carolina. You can even purchase her handmade products on Amazon!

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  1. Robert Salmon says

    Pork loin probably makes one of the best tasting jerkys you’ll ever try.
    I generally do a very similar marinade to what you mentioned. I cut mine with the grain because I don’t like crumbly jerky. After marinating for about 12 hours in the fridge, I toss it in the dehydrator for 12-16 hours, it dries beautifully and tastes amazing, keeps without refrigeration for at least two weeks in a ziplock. I cut mine fairly thick so thus the long drying period. Been making jerky for over forty years.

    • Debra Maslowski says

      Thanks Robert! I love pork loin, but have been afraid to try it because I thought it would dry out too much and get stringy. I’m definitely going to give it a try now!

  2. Lisa Jennings says

    How would you do this with the the celery salt instead of soy sauce? We need it soy free.

    • Debra Maslowski says

      You can either coat the meat with the celery salt like other herbs, or you can make a liquid out of it and marinate it in that. It just needs to sit for a while Lisa, for the flavor to get into the meat. I use celery salt as my go to seasoning for almost everything.

  3. Chris says

    I used to make dehydrated beef and chicken for a quick campfire stew. I also dried mixed veggies in the oven, bag it all, I carry a small can of tomato paste to add to the soup or stew. It is tastier and cheaper and healthier than most backpack versions. You control the flavors, whether BBQ, spicy chili, Asian or others, just flavor the meat. Those plastic condiment packs also can add flavor to your stew/soup.

  4. Patricia Panuccio says

    My husband is on a salt free diet and loves Jerky I started just applying his favorite herbs, pressing them in and dehydrating. He loves it.
    I have found that you can make anything without salt even bread

    • Lori says

      Do you make jerky dehydrating the meat but with no added salt? Does it turn out safe to eat? I assumed one needed the salt to make jerky and to preserve it. I would love to make a low salt or no salt version. Thanks!

      • Debra Maslowski says

        Yes, you can make jerky with no salt, Lori, but it would need to be kept refrigerated. Salt is what helps to cure the meat, part of the preservation process. So go ahead and skip the salt, like Patricia, just keep the end product cold.

  5. Grace says

    Cool! I was just given a vegetarian “bacon” that was made from coconut, and it was so delicious. I bet this would be very similar.