How To Cure Beef For Jerky

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So you’re asking “How To Cure Beef For Jerky?”, let me tell you a few things. No, I am not talking about curing the disease. When creating beef jerky you will actually cure it, in order for it to keep for a long time instead of spoiling soon afterward.

While experimenting with jerky recipes, I’ve found that in order for the finished product to be tasty and tender, you want to make sure you cure it correctly.

How To Cure Meat to Make Jerky & Biltong (with Pictures)

cured meat biltong
Biltong – love this as an alternative to jerky, you don’t need super thin slices of meat for it too. 1/2 to 1 inch thick is ideal to start with
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I don’t often buy much red meat; I use a lot of venison and other red meats which I harvest and cure to make cured meats and definitely love making jerky and biltong.

A lot of guys I know just by topside beef which works well and is a budget cut of meat generally speaking.

I just wanted to do a quick guide since I have tried through trial & error many different recipes. It’s a healthy protein snack which can last some time I have found.

Wading through online recipes, personally, a lot of them really have too much sweetness for my liking, I like just to use a touch of sugar sometimes. I want to have a meaty and savory flavor with some spiciness. Not some candy meat.

Instead of thin jerky slices, which you generally need a machine for. Biltong is using strips of 1/2 to 1 inch thick slabs or strips. So a little bit of easy knife work is required instead.

Biltong the classic recipe is salt, malt vinegar, and toasted coriander seeds.

It’s funny how, when you add vinegar to fish it has an acidic reaction which is very common in dishes like ceviche. For that style of ‘acid’ cured fish, citric fruit like lime juice or lemon juice is used with a touch of maybe chile and some other spices.

Can’t say I’m an expert, but ‘denaturing’ occurs amongst that meat protein I have read, whatever that is.

So I guess the same sort of thing is working with jerky or biltong.

Of course, it all really comes down to how thin your strips of meat are. You can mince the meat to make jerky in a squirting device, I haven’t tried that. I like to have the texture and use strips or slabs of meat instead.

The South African way is to use slabs of meat about an inch thick because you end up drying it and it will be probably half that size once all the moisture comes out.

How to Cure Meat to Make Biltong & Jerky

  1. Use quality fresh meat, leaner cuts
  2. Cut into strips or slabs, cutting with the grain
  3. Marinate in Salt & Malt Vinegar
  4. Cover in Toasted Coriander and other spices of preference
  5. Dry with a Fan, Dehydrator or Curing chamber
  6. Store in a brown paper bag will dry out, but last 2-3 weeks

Breakdown Curing Method for Making Jerky and Biltong

When I started making this excellent meaty snack, I would leave the meat and the marinade overnight, but I have now cut back to leave it for 4 to 6 hours and find the meat flavor more balanced to the spices.

1. Use Quality Fresh Meat

Whether you are using store-bought meat or wild-harvested meet both can work really well for jerky or biltong. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to have some harvested meat which I can use for quality jerky\biltong.

It goes without saying that fresh meat is best, and the quality of the meat should be decent.

Great leg muscle cuts to use like the top around him bottom round are lean and have good runs of grains through the meat.

2. Cut into Strips or Slabs

So you want to be cutting with the line salt grains of the meat because this all means when you chew off all cut the meat the grains will make the meat slightly less tough.

Jerky Slicing

Jerky is often thinly sliced, so it does dry out a lot quicker, especially using hot drying techniques like a low heat oven or dehydrator.

Jerky Strips in the Dehydrator
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The same slicers I use for making jerky as for slicing wafer-thin dry-cured meat.

A few factors make for a decent deli slicer, there are many out there that don’t quite nail it. Don’t get caught with something that can’t do the job as I did.

Biltong Slicing

Sometimes if I want the meat to drive faster I will cut it into strips after cutting it into slabs. But I picked up the technique from South African biltong, to use roughly half to 1-inch slabs of meat.

Venison Biltong Chunky Slabs in the Curing Chamber
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3. Marinate in Salt & Malt Vinegar

Per pound of meat, you can use 1 tablespoon of salt hands 2 tablespoons of malt vinegar. It’s literally as simple as that, it’s a kind of marinade but with curing and acidic reactions (denaturing) going on.

Six hours is generally my guide as a minimum or overnight.

4. Cover in Toasted Coriander & Spices

Now is the time to cut a slit or hole into the thinnest part of the meat. So you can thread some strings through it if you’re going to hang the meat. I would advise using a fork or chopstick to hang the meat, or on a rack in the oven on super low, curing chamber or dehydrator.

If you are hanging the meat it will dry more efficiently then lying on a cooling rack or some other device to create some air circulation around.

Once you pull the meat out of the cure, now is the time to give it a spice bomb on the outside. When the meat is still wet the spices well stick to the meat.

2 or 3 tablespoons of coriander or about 45 g if you weighing it suitable for each pound of meat.

5. Drying Method for Biltong

A fan in a cool place is the easiest way to go.

As mentioned ideally I like to hang the meat but if you’re using a dehydrator or kitchen oven, it will work perfectly fine as well.

Different Equipment for Drying

Dehydrator

Big Dehydrator in Action
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Next on the list is the dehydrator which generally can be running at a higher temperature, it’s designed for doing this type of task, so that works well. I like to dry out at a lower temperature if I can.

A certain type of biltong is considered ‘wet’ which means that it’s not entirely bone dry and still has a lot of moisture in it. I guess it’s kind of like dry-cured meat like braesola, lonza or coppa.

The below methods can take a bit longer, the South African do this “wet” style and also dry.

Here is an example below. Its a slower more even drying to achieve this, just like dry-curing meat, you want to have lost a minimum of 35% weight to make it safe to eat (it generally loses much more than this with jerky or biltong.

For a fine selection of dehydrators to suit your situation – Summarized a useful page of info here.

Cardboard Box

I’ve seen jerky made in a cardboard box with a fan and a bulb it really is as simple as that.

A friend of mine got a birthday present which was a display type biltong box.

DIY Curing Chamber

But since I have a DIY curing chamber I like to use this for drying out my biltong or jerky which will normally take about two to four days running at 50 to 60% humidity and 25°C/80°F.

I have a commercial jerky making friend who also makes biltong (he is South African) he prefers about 2-3 days drying.

A tasty and awesome protein snack.

The texture seems to be different when drying over an extended period of time, but don’t let that stop you giving it a go!

If you want to read more about building a DIY curing chamber, here is a full page I wrote.

6. Store in a Brown Paper Bag

Congratulations, you have cured jerky or biltong.

If you keep the meat in your fridge it will generally just start drying out quicker. It may be to dry to eat.

THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO MAKING JERKY

THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO MAKING JERKY

One of the oldest forms of food preservation, jerky making dates back to the 1500s when the Incans stored and preserved llama and other game by drying strips for hours in the sun (the name comes from the Incan “ch’arki,” which literally translates to “dried meat”). Jerky also became popular with settlers in the American West as it was easy to carry and lasted through long treks. Jerky making has come a long way in the last few centuries, with several different methods, tools, and varieties available. And it’s so easy, you can learn how to make beef jerky, venison jerky and more at home with little to no special equipment required.

WHOLE MUSCLE VS GROUND

When you think of jerky, you instantly think of the savory leather pieces you tear off with your teeth with a bit of chew. That tough, chewy quality is achieved from slicing the whole muscle fibers with the grain. If you want a quicker method, ground beef jerky (also called formed or restructured jerky) requires no marinating time but results in a chewier, snack-stick like texture.

TOOLS OF THE TRADE

Meat Slicer (Whole): Yes, you can easily make jerky with a knife. But if you’re making large quantities of jerky often, it’s time to invest in a quality meat slicer. This will ensure that your slices are even thickness to allow for more consistent drying results. 

Jerky Gun (Ground): For uniform pieces, using a jerky gun is your best bet. Simple load and press your seasoned ground meat onto your metal rack or trays. Most jerky guns on the market come with multiple attachments so you can make flat strips or round sticks.

Rolling Pin (Ground): No jerky gun? No problem. Place a portion of your ground meat between two pieces of plastic wrap or wax paper and roll into ¼” thick. Slice and carefully transfer to your wire rack.

Wire Racks (For Oven or Smoker): Wire wracks are a must for both ground and whole jerky making. However, if you’re planning on making jerky in the oven, you can place your jerky slices on metal skewers and hang them down through the top of an oven rack. Place a cookie sheet on the bottom rack to catch the drippings.

CHOOSING YOUR MEAT

Jerky can be made from virtually any lean cut of meat. Make sure to trim any visible silver skin or fat from the meat as it will prevent your jerky from drying and increase the chances of it turning rancid. And fresh is best: buy your meat right before making jerky. Generally, 3 lbs of raw meat will produce 1 lb of dry jerky. Each PS Jerky Kit is measured for 5 lbs of meat, so expect around 2 lbs of dry jerky.

  • Beef: Flank, eye of round, top round, bottom round, sirloin tip roast
  • Poultry: Tenderloin, breasts
  • Pork: Tenderloin
  • Venison: Eye of round, rump roast, backstrap
  • Fish: Tuna steaks, Salmon (skin and fat removed)
  • Ground: Lean, but nothing more than 10% fat

As you might expect, beef jerky is the most popular meat for jerky making but other meats can be just as, if not more, delicious. We have a great venison jerky recipe as well if you’re up for something different!  

SEASONING & MARINATING

Once you’ve chosen your meat, it’s time to get your creative juices flowing and mix up your jerky marinade. The best jerky flavors are salty, sweet and spicy but can be as simple as just salt, pepper and garlic (try our recipe for a DIY Jerky Brine). Nothing is off the table when it comes to jerky marinades, so you can try a variety of dry seasonings and spices or liquids like soy sauce, bourbon, etc. If you want to experiment with flavor, our complete Jerky Kits come with our award-winning seasoning blends and cure for up to 15 lbs of meat. 

Is a cure necessary when making jerky?

For safety, yes. Using a jerky cure will inhibit bacteria growth and prevent botulism or other foodborne illnesses, as jerky is dried at low temps, not cooked. Cured jerky will also lengthen the shelf-life of your product. Jerky will last 2 weeks or less if uncured, and for months if cured and stored in a dark, dry place. If using a jerky cure, it’s very important that you marinate your meat for at least 8 hours. 

WHOLE MUSCLE METHOD

  1. Make sure to remove all fat and silverskin from the meat (your jerky shouldn’t floss your teeth).
  2. Partially freeze meat for 1.5-2 hours for easy slicing.
  3. Slice against the grain for tender jerky, with the grain for traditional chewier texture, and around ¼” thick. Any thinner, it’ll be too dry and any thicker you will have problems drying it and preserving it as it will hold too much moisture.

    curing jerky
  4. Mix contents of one Seasoning and Cure packet with 1 cup of water and add the 5 lbs of sliced meat. Marinate 8-24 hours in a plastic storage bag. The longer the marinade, the better the flavor. Stir or squish meat around every few hours to ensure it’s evenly coated

GROUND OR FORMED METHOD

  1. Mix contents of one Jerky Seasoning and Cure* packet with 5 lbs lean, ground meat and 1/2 cup cold water. Mix until sticky and the color is uniform throughout, without any streaks. This ensures that the cure is evenly distributed.
  2. Jerky Gun: Fill jerky gun with ground mixture and shoot strips 1/4″ apart onto a wire rack or dehydrator tray. 
  3. Rolling Pin: Place a small portion of seasoned meat between two sheets of wax paper. Roll the meat until it’s about 1/4″ thick. Remove the top piece of wax paper and cut meat into strips using a knife or pizza cutter. Gently lay pieces on wire racks or dehydrator trays. 

Note: When using ground meat, letting the meat marinate with the cure and seasoning mix overnight may change the texture of the meat. Due to the acidity of some seasoning ingredients, they may stiffen the meat, making it difficult to load into your jerky gun.

DRYING YOUR JERKY 

OVEN:

Drying your jerky in the oven is the easiest choice for those who don’t want to invest in any additional equipment. Making jerky in the oven also speeds up the drying process–expect 2-3 hours in an oven and 4-6 in the dehydrator.

  1. Set oven temp to 180°F. Place loaded wire racks on cookie sheets, place in the oven
  2. Prop the oven door open about 1″ for the first hour to improve ventilation & reduce drying time.
  3. Bake for 1 hour, then turn strips over. Turn every 30 minutes until done.

DEHYDRATOR:

Dehydrators are the ultimate in convenience when it comes to jerky making. With controlled temps and automatic shut-offs, you’re able to get a more consistent piece of jerky. So how long to dehydrate jerky? Here’s the jerky drying process:

  1. Load full racks into the dehydrator. Completely load unit before turning on.
  2. Dry the jerky at 160°F for 4 to 6 hours.
  3. Rotate racks throughout the drying process and blot the surface of the jerky occasionally until dry.

AIR FRYER: 

If you have an Air Fryer at home, you can use it to make homemade beef jerky in a fraction of the time. An air fryer is a supercharged convection oven with a compact space that facilitates faster cooking. Hot air rushes down and around food placed in a fryer-style basket. This rapid circulation makes the food crisp, much like deep frying. The hot air circulation works similarly to oven drying when set at a low temp, the only downside is that the amount of jerky you can make at one time is limited. 

  1. Remove the jerky pieces from the marinade and blot dry with paper towels to remove as much moisture as possible. 
  2. To ensure your jerky doesn’t overlap, use wooden skewers trimmed to fit the length of your air fryer to hang your jerky pieces. Hang just inside the basket lip. 
  3. Set Air Fryer to 180° F and let cook for one hour. 
  4. Allow to cool, dab with paper towels to remove excess oil.

Steps To Making Safe Jerky

When making homemade jerky it is really important to follow strict food safety precautions to prevent any foodborne illnesses. The most common bacteria growths in poorly made jerky are Salmonella and E. Coli. These can be deadly, making food safety extremely important when making jerky.

By following these steps, you will prevent bacteria growth and have plenty of safe jerky for everyone to enjoy!

How to make safe jerky

1. Clean your kitchen, utensils, bowls, and all other equipment with water and bleach. Also wash your hands with soap before handling any raw meat.

2. Thaw frozen meat in the refrigerator instead of at room temperature to prevent bacteria growth. I see many people put meat on the counter and leave it for hours. This is NOT safe and should NOT be done. Leave yourself ample time to thaw your meat in the refrigerator.

3. Marinate the meat at a temperature between 36-40°F (2°C-4°C). Do not marinate at room temperature. Keep meat in the fridge while you mix your marinade together. Bacteria can grow fast on raw meat left out at room temperature. After marinating, do not save and re-use a marinade.

4. At the beginning of dehydrating, heat the jerky to 160°F (71°C) to kill dangerous bacteria. For jerky to be safe, it should be heated to 160°F for beef and 165°F for turkey or chicken jerky BEFORE you dry your strips.

Heating the jerky after dehydrating might not kill all bacteria due to it becoming more heat resistant during the drying process. This is why bringing your jerky to 160ºF at the start of your jerky making process is recommended by the USDA.

If your dehydrator does not heat the jerky to 160°F, pre-heat the meat in an oven after it has finished marinating. As an extra precaution; I ALWAYS pre-heat any turkey or chicken jerky I make, as well as use curing salt, to make sure it is safe to eat. I like being as safe as possible when using fowl.

Pre-heat ¼″ slices of beef to 160°F, it takes about 10 minutes in a 300°F (149°C) oven. To pre-heat ¼″ slices of turkey to 165°F, about 8 minutes at 300°F (149°C) does the job. Not all oven are the same, so wrapping one strip around an oven thermometer while baking is the best way to determine when the jerky strips reach the desired temperature.

5. Use curing salt to help prevent bacteria from growing. In this age where the craze is only eating Organic Foods, curing salt might not be in your recipes. While I do understand the ‘staying away from preservatives’, be extra careful when not using them when making jerky!

When the right amount of curing salt is used, there are no harmful effects that many believe come from using these salts. If you decide not to use curing salts, make sure that you follow the other safety precautions closely. Especially heating the meat to 160ºF to kill any bacteria and eat the jerky within a couple of days.

With that said, I DO recommend using cure when making ground meat jerky because the meat has been handled and processed making it more susceptible to having bacteria. I also recommend using curing salt when making turkey or chicken jerky due to salmonella.

Better to be safe than sorry! So in short… No jerky recipe NEEDS cure as long as beef is heated to 160°F and fowl to 165°F. But it is another line of defense to kill bacteria and allows your jerky to last longer.

6. Store jerky in a cool dry place for up to a week or vacuum seal and freeze for up to 6 months.

beef jerky in jar
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That’s it folks! Making jerky is both fun and VERY rewarding. Just make sure to keep in mind these tips on how to keep you and your loved ones safe when making and eating homemade jerky.

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