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Since the start of our camping and backpacking craze this summer, I have spent a LOT of time making beef jerky.  And I have eaten more beef jerky in the past two months than in my entire life.  Why the sudden interest?  Well, I had never eaten homemade jerky before and find there to be a remarkable difference compared to the store bought stuff.  Doesn’t eating the same thing on every camping trip get boring?  Well, no, because there are many recipes for jerky and you can use it as an ingredient in other dishes!  Here is what I have learned about beef jerky so far this summer….

Smoked beef jerky

1. There are two primary types of meat jerky: those made from strips of meat and those made from ground meat.  I started out with strips but found the jerky very tough at times if overcooked.  Marinate the meat overnight with strips and dehydrate 4-5 hours.  Using ground meat makes jerky that is much easier to chew, however, I prefer the traditional strips style.  The upside to ground meat is you can add in other things like vegetables if you want and they dehydrate in a fraction of the time.  You also can marinate for an hour or so

A jerky gun used to make jerky from ground meat

2. Most jerky is made from beef.  You want to use lean meat regardless of the variety, as fat can make the jerky go rancid.  I have also made jerky from turkey and pork with mixed results.  I recommend you start with beef.  Turkey and pork can be gummy if you use strips but are quite tasty when made from ground meat

Pork tenderloin jerky

3. You can use jerky as an ingredient in backpacking recipes when either the weight or refrigeration of fresh meat is an issue.  I made Backpacking Beef & Broccoli using Asian style beef jerky and dehydrated veggies (see below for recipe)

Beef & broccoli over rice noodles

4. A great way to enjoy beef jerky is with a slice of cheese, a cracker and a full bodied red wine.  My favorite cheeses to use are fontina and manchego (but many cheeses would be a good fit).  A super fantastic combination!  It makes lugging wine on a backpacking trip well worth the effort when one gets to sit in a corner of paradise with a glass of wine and a tasty snack

An elegant hors d’oeuvres for backpacking or camping

5. After making many batches of 100% meat jerky, I wondered what would happen if I mixed in veggies.  My Meatloaf Jerky recipe was born.  I still need to play around with the proportions because too many veggies give the jerky a dried out texture.  Vegetables have a lot of water so when you dehydrate them they get very brittle.  But this jerky tastes great and would make a neat ingredient in a dinner recipe.  Or you could rehydrate and serve with mashed potatoes for dinner

Meatloaf jerky

6. I have been using a Nesco dehydrator to make jerky.  I believe you can also use the oven on low heat but I can’t comment on how well that works.  I highly recommend the Nesco as it is easy to use and easy to clean

7. Nesco also makes a spice blend you can use with ground meat for jerky.  I am not a fan.  It is too spicy and overpowering, and makes the jerky tastes like the manufactured stuff.  I recommend making your own blend of seasoning

8. Nearly all store bought jerky has gluten in it from soy sauce.  It is easy to make GF jerky using tamari and Worcestershire sauce

9. Jerky will last a long time if cared for properly.  Once you take it out of the dehydrator, let it cool in the air for a while.  I made the mistake of putting a batch in bags too quickly and the steam created condensation that caused the jerky to go moldy.  I keep batches I plan to store for a while in the fridge

10. You can experiment with seasonings to change things up.  Dijon mustard, thyme, maple syrup, hot sauce or cayenne pepper, vinegar, teriyaki sauce and chili powder could all work in a jerky recipe.  Think about what you would marinate steak in and it could probably work for jerky.  Just be careful about overgoing salty stuff esp. with ground meat recipes since you do not discard the marinade in those cases.

Backpacking Beef & Broccoli (serves 1-2)

4-5 strips Asian beef jerky

1/2 c dehydrated broccoli

1 T dehydrated garlic and ginger (I dried them together)

1/2 c dehydrated scallions

1 package rice noodles with seasoning

1 T tamari (or soy sauce)

1/2 T sesame seeds (optional)

Dehydrated broccoli, scallions, ginger & garlic

Rice noodles with seasoning

– rehydrate jerky & veg in warm water for at least an hour in two cups of warm water

– Bring to a boil and add noodles & seasoning.  Cook 3 minutes.  Add soy sauce or tamari

– This makes a fairly “soupy” dish which I wanted.  Use less water if you don’t want that but you may want to use only some of the seasoning and less tamari

Basic Smoked Beef Jerky

1/4 c tamari

1/4 c Worcestershire sauce

1 t liquid smoke

1 T brown sugar (add more if you like it sweeter)

1/2 t garlic powder

1/2 t onion powder

Asian Beef Jerky

1/4 tamari

1/4 fish sauce

2 T brown sugar

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 T fresh ginger, minced

1 T lemongrass (I used the tube kind)

lime juice from 1 lime

Meatloaf Jerky

1 pound ground beef (or buffalo)

1/4 c tamari

1/4 c Worcestershire sauce

1-2 carrots shredded

1/2 onion shredded

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/3 red bell pepper, minced

(cook the veggies before mixing with the meat to mellow out the onions and garlic)