So Jerky is as Jerky Does

Jerky is meat which has been cut into strips with the fat trimmed off, marinated in a spiced, salty or sweet liquid for a desired flavor, then dried with low heat (usually under 160F or 70C) or occasionally salted and sun-dried. The result is a strip of a salty, semi-sweet snack which can be stored for long periods of time without refrigeration. Jerky is one of humankind's earliest applications of food preservation.

History is Told

The word "jerky" itself comes from the Quechua term Charqui, which means "dried meat".

Throughout human history and culture, drying meat has been a common method employed to preserve it. By drying thinly sliced meat in the sun and wind next to a smoky fire, the meat is protected from insects which would lay eggs in the raw meat. These prehistoric methods to preserve meat for storage have been used by the Inca and many other ancient peoples, who prepared jerky from the animals they hunted or husbanded as an essential matter of need.

Jerky Prep

Beef is by far the most common meat used for jerky, but meat from other animals, such as wild game, venison and elk is also commonly used. Recently, other meats have become more common, such as turkey, ostrich, salmon, alligator, Beef Jerkyand tuna. The meat must be dried quickly, to limit bacterial growth during the critical period where the meat is not yet dry. To do this, the meat is thinly sliced, or pressed thinly, in the case of ground meat. Drying is performed at low temperatures, to avoid cooking or overdrying the meat and making it brittle, with good jerky being flexible and somewhat tough.

In present-day factories, jerky ovens are made of insulated panels. Inside these large ovens are many heater elements and fans, with exhaust ports to remove moisture-laden air. The combination of fast moving air and low heat quickly dries the meat to the desired moisture content, usually within a few hours. The raw, marinated jerky strips are placed on racks of nylon screens, which have been sprayed with a light vegetable oil for separation. The screen trays are placed closely in layers on rolling carts, which are then put in the drying oven.

In addition to dehydration, usually some other form of preservative is used in the preparation of jerky. Smoking was the traditional method, as it both preserved and dried the meat. Salting is the most common method used today, as it both provides seasoning to improve the flavor as well as preserve the meat. While some methods involve applying the seasonings with a marinade, this can increase the drying time by adding moisture to the meat, so methods that use a dry rub are generally faster.

Do You Package It

After the jerky is dried to the proper moisture content to prevent spoilage, it is cooled, then packaged in re-sealable plastic bags, under vacuum. In order to retard spoilage, the sealed packages often contain small pouches of oxygen absorber. These small packets are filled with iron particles which work to retain oxygen and excess moisture that may be present, or from air introduced after the seal is broken (due to partial consumption).

With any cut of meat, most of the fat must be trimmed off in the process because it does not dry, potentially causing rancidification of the fat (modern vacuum packing and chemical preservatives have served to help prevent these risks). As a result, good quality jerky typically has less than 3% fat content.[1]

Because of the necessary low fat and moisture content, jerky is high in protein. A 30 g (about 1 oz) portion of lean beef, for example, contains about 7 g of protein. By removing 15 g of water from the beef, the protein ratio is doubled to nearly 15 g of protein per 30 g portion. In some low moisture varieties, a 30 g serving will contain 21 grams of protein, and only one gram of fat. This leads to the high price of such brands of jerky, as it takes 90 g of 99% lean meat to generate that 30 gram serving.

There are many products in the marketplace which are sold as jerky which consist of highly processed, chopped and formed meat, rather than traditional sliced, whole-muscle meat. These artificial products, with their far higher fat and water content, often include chemical preservatives to prevent spoilage. The Internet Nutrition Database shows a 30 g portion of "chopped and formed jerky" contains 10 g of protein, 8 g of fat, and 3 g of carbohydrates.[2]

Since traditional jerky recipes utilize a basic salt cure, sodium can be a concern. A 30 g serving may contain more than 515 mg of sodium, which would be 21% of the USRDA.


Traditional beef jerky, made from sliced, whole-muscle meat, is readily available in the United States and Canada in varying brands and qualities. Similar products made from highly processed and formed meat paste, but often packaged as "Beef Jerky", are also widely available, and generally much cheaper, in general interest stores such as supermarkets and convenience stores. Also popular is shredded beef jerky sold in containers resembling snuff or dip. Beef jerky made in the traditional style is also a ubiquitous staple of farmers' markets in rural areas all over North America.

In addition to being quite common in the United States and Canada, jerky is also gaining popularity in supermarkets, convenience stores and pubs of several European countries. One popular brand of beef jerky is made in Uruguay, in bulk, and is imported into the United Kingdom, then re-packaged for consumers, and distributed throughout Europe. Another popular brand is made and packed in Estonia.

A similar product (biltong) is common in South African cuisine however it differs very much in production process and taste.

Since 1996, beef jerky has been selected by astronauts several times for space flight due to its light weight and high level of nutrition.

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