New tips for safely preparing jerky at home

Research reveals important key steps

Madison, Wis.–Homemade jerky can be a flavorful, easy-to-make snack. But as with any meat product, keep food safety in mind so that your final product is both tasty and healthy.

Recent research conducted at the University of Wisconsin-Madison determined that there are some key steps to safely preparing jerky at home.

“There have been documented outbreaks of illness linked to jerky over the last 10 years,” says Barbara Ingham, research food microbiologist and food science specialist with the University of Wisconsin-Extension and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “One focus of our research has been to determine how to dry jerky that was safe using standard consumer methods.”

Ingham’s research has focused on the safety of jerky made from seasoned ground beef or marinated strips of beef or turkey breast. “Wisconsinites tend to prefer a flavorful, chewy jerky,” says Ingham. “We don’t want to dry the meat too long so that it remains chewy, but we do want to ensure safety.”

Ingham notes that there are three key steps in preparing safe jerky.

–First, use a home-style dehydrator that reaches and maintains a temperature of 145 degrees F, or above. “A dehydrator where you can’t adjust the temperature, or where a high enough temperature can’t be maintained, will not destroy enough pathogens, if they exist,” says Ingham. “We tested three different brands in our research: the Excaliber (by Excaliber), the Gardenmaster (by Nesco), and the Jerky Xpress (also by Nesco). Only the Excaliber and the Gardenmaster were able to reach the desired temperature in a relatively short period of time and maintain that temperature over the drying period.”

The second step is to dry the meat for at least six hours. It may be tempting to pull meat out of the dehydrator early, but allow enough time for moisture to leave the meat so that it won’t mold or become unsafe during storage, Ingham advises.

“The third, and perhaps most important step, is to follow the drying process with a quick oven-heating treatment,” says Ingham. To do this, place dried strips on a cookie sheet in an oven that has been preheated to 275 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat the strips for ten minutes. Remove from the oven, cool and package. Ingham notes that this is a surprisingly easy step and the most effective way to ensure safety.

Although Ingham’s research was conducted with ground or whole-muscle beef and strips of turkey breast, the results apply equally to venison. Ground meat that is dried is most commonly seasoned with a dry spice mix before drying. Strips of whole-muscle meat are generally marinated in the refrigerator overnight before drying.

To learn more about preparing jerky at home, go to http://www.foodsafety.wisc.edu

 SIDEBAR

Here are two jerky recipes you can try at home. Very lean beef or venison is best for these recipes. Recipe 1 produces a lightly seasoned jerky; Recipe 2 makes a highly seasoned jerky. Adjust recipes to taste. 

Jerky Recipe No. 1

For 2 lbs. of lean beef or venison strips:

Mix together to prepare brine:

            1/2 gallon water

            1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp. salt*

            1/4 cup sugar

            3 Tbsp. liquid smoke

            1/2 tsp. black pepper

Cut thin meat strips, ¼-inch thick. Freezing the meat slightly before slicing will make this process easier, or ask your local butcher to slice the meat for you. Place meat strips in brine in a refrigerator overnight. Pour off brine and soak in cold tap water for 1 hour. Drain and pat dry. Morton’s Tender Quick Salt (containing nitrate and nitrite) may be used instead of regular salt. This curing agent will help the meat retain a deep red color even when dried. If using regular salt, expect the meat to be a darker brown-black color when dried.

Jerky Recipe No. 2

For 2 lbs. of lean beef or venison strips**:

Mix together to prepare seasoning:

            1/4 cup soy sauce

            1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

            1/4 tsp. black pepper

            1/4 tsp. garlic powder

            1/2 tsp. onion powder

            1 tsp. liquid smoke

Cut thin meat strips, ¼-inch thick. (See note above). Stir until seasonings are dissolved. Mix meat strips with seasoning until all surfaces are coated. Let stand 1 hour, or cover and refrigerate overnight.

Remove meat strips from brine or seasoning, pat dry with paper towels. Dry indoors using an oven or a dehydrator Stretch strips across clean oven or dehydrator racks. Strips can be close together but not overlapping. Leave enough open space for air to circulate.

For oven drying, set the temperature to 150 to 175°F. Place filled racks in the oven, but not within 4 inches of the heat source. It may be convenient to place foil on a lower rack in the oven to catch any drips from the meat strips. Dry at 150-175°F for 6 to 8 hours until dry and almost crisp. Keep the oven door open about 1 inch during the first few hours or frying to allow moisture to escape. [A floor fan angled so that it sweeps air out of, and not into, the oven will aid in drying. In a dehydrator, dry at 145°F or higher. Do not use a dehydrator that lacks temperature control or a fan to aid in air circulation. Dry at 145-155°F for 6 to 8 hours. The only home-style dehydrators known to produce safe jerky are the Garden Master Pro home dehydrator from Nesco and the Excalibur home dehydrator from Excalibur. Laboratory research indicates that safe jerky cannot be guaranteed if using other models of home dehydrators, even those designed for making jerky such as the Jerky Xpress.

At the end of drying, remove strips from the oven or dehydrator and place them in a pre-heated 275°F degree oven. Heat for 10 minutes. This extra step is essential for ensuring that home-made jerky is safe to consume.

Remove oven-heated strips and cool on absorbent paper or wire racks. Pat off fat beads.

Store in airtight plastic bags or jars with a tight-fitting lid. You can store jerky at room temperature in a cool, dry location for 1 to 2 months, or in the refrigerator or freezer for 3 to 12 months. Freezing or refrigerating jerky will extend the shelf life but is not required for safety. Once dried, jerky can be removed from the freezer or refrigerator and safely placed at room temperature for extended periods of time.

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