What cut of beef is the best for jerky? That is a tough question and there isn’t a right answer. It all boils down to personal preference. I’m going to take you through the various cuts of meat, starting with my personal favorite, Choice Aged Beef Cap. Then we’ll talk about what each cut tastes like, what jerky it works well with, and how you can use each cut in your marinade.
Ranking Cuts Of Meat To Use For Beef Jerky Worst To Best
After deciding that you want to try your hand at making beef jerky, the first step you need to take is zeroing in on which cut of meat you’ll use. While there are numerous cuts to pick from, a few cuts of meat stand out from the rest as the best choices to use for beef jerky. Conversely, there are certain cuts that should never be used.
With a history in the Americas dating back hundreds of years, beef jerky is most commonly made by heating beef just enough to kill any bacteria and then dehydrating the meat in order to remove the water so the bacteria don’t regrow. Once the entire process is complete, this delicious snack can be stored inside of an airtight container for up to two months (via Jerkyholic).
By reading this ranking, you’ll learn which cuts of meat are best for beef jerky and which cuts shouldn’t be used under any circumstances.
If your overall favorite cut of meat is rib, you have a ton of company. Ribeye is widely regarded as the ultimate cut of steak and smoking beef ribs almost always results in a glorious meal. However, when it comes to beef jerky, the rib cut should be completely avoided. If you ignore this advice, you’ll be wasting time, money, and a cut of meat that would have been better served in practically any other recipe under the sun.
The first issue with using the rib cut is that it’s difficult to slice into strips of meat that would work for beef jerky. That’s because rib meat is fine-grained and doesn’t hold together well if cut into small strips. Secondly, and most importantly, this meat will almost completely disintegrate during the dehydration process. Unless you want your beef jerky to be tiny pieces of meat shards, pick a cut that is higher in this ranking.
- Ground beef
While it’s certainly possible to make beef jerky from ground beef, it’s simply not an idea you should act upon. There are many cuts of meat that are far superior. Not only will the resulting beef jerky not look like traditional beef jerky, but it can also be risky health-wise due to the fact that packaged ground beef that you buy at your local grocery store can include meat from hundreds of different sources. Rolling the dice and taking that sort of gamble just isn’t worth it. Even if ground beef is the cheapest meat you can find, spend a few more dollars to get a cut of meat that is more appropriate.
Yes, ground beef can be used to make many things beyond the traditional burgers and meatloaf. That said, don’t get too adventurous and think this is the cut of meat that you should use for beef jerky.
While the shank cut of meat comes from the part of the cow that’s near the round, flank, and brisket sections, it’s much tougher than those desirable cuts. Unless you’re a masochist with a strong set of chompers and hours of time to waste, don’t even think about using this cut of meat to make beef jerky.
Why is shank meat such a substandard choice? It’s because this cut is by nature super chewy, really dry, and unyieldingly fibrous. If you try to make beef jerky out of shank meat, you’ll end up with something that will be so tough that it’d be difficult to eat. In fact, you could probably chew and swallow your favorite leather shoe faster than you can chew and swallow beef jerky made from shank meat. Save yourself the aggravation (and a trip to the dentist) and just say no. Save the shank for slow-cooking instead.
The reason why tenderloin isn’t higher on this list is hiding in plain sight in the name of this cut of meat. Even if you like your beef jerky on the soft side of the chewiness spectrum, everyone should agree that there’s a limit to the tenderness that is acceptable. Beef jerky made from tenderloin is so tender that it’s unappetizing. A soft steak made from tenderloin like filet mignon can be breathtakingly amazing. However, beef jerky that’s so soft that it practically melts in your mouth is as gross as it sounds.
Tenderloin is also expensive, perhaps the most expensive of all the meat you’ll see at a supermarket. That is another reason why this cut of meat is near the bottom of our ranking. If you’re going to shell out top dollar to make beef jerky, do your research and buy meat that is more capable of doing the job right.
If you’re out on the town and you eat skirt steak, it’s easy to fall in love. When it’s prepared correctly, this is a fantastic cut of meat. For example, this is the type of meat that’s commonly used to create masterpieces such as the carne asada and fajitas found at your favorite Mexican restaurant. Its rich flavor can jazz up any dish and make you proud of your culinary skills.
But when it comes to beef jerky, skip the skirt. If you dehydrate this meat, it will become way too tough. Although it won’t be as chewy as the aforementioned shank meat, it’ll be close enough to give your jaw an unwanted workout. Moreover, this cut of meat will remain too fatty even after it has finished the dehydration process. You don’t want your beef jerky to be free of fat but you should also avoid having large portions that are almost entirely comprised of fat.
If you have an entire day to spare and want to spend it in your kitchen, making beef jerky from chuck is an okay idea. But if you’re a normal human being in today’s world of relentless hustle and bustle, that’s not a good idea at all. While chuck is a great choice when you have a hankering for a juicy steak on a tight budget, it’s not a great choice for beef jerky. The problem is its high fat content.
Before you can even think about making beef jerky from chuck, you’ll spend hours upon hours trimming off the fat. Even after a lot of trimming, chuck will still have a higher than usual fat content. Considering that fat causes beef jerky to spoil prematurely, that’s definitely problematic. If you spend the time making beef jerky, you’ll want it to last a long time — or at least long enough for you to gobble it all up.
The first cut of meat on this ranking that you won’t regret purchasing for beef jerky purposes is sirloin. Although it’s not the best option, it’s undoubtedly above average and can be used to make beef jerky that’s so scrumptious that you’ll want to brag to your friends about it. The best characteristic of sirloin is its strong, beefy flavor, which takes center stage if you use it to make beef jerky.
Two issues stop sirloin from rising into a top-five spot in this ranking. First, you’ll need to trim off the fat. Thankfully, though, that process won’t be nearly as time-consuming as it is with chuck. Second of all, sirloin comes with an elevated price tag. Truth be told, you can make beef jerky that tastes just as yummy without forking over an arm and a leg. Since other cheaper cuts make jerky that’s just as tasty, there’s no reason to shell out for sirloin.
- Top round
For those carnivores who believe that Kirkland Signature Premium Extra Thick Steak Strips is the best brand of beef jerky and want to replicate that jerky at home, top round is the cut of meat you want to acquire. That beef jerky, which is sold at Costco and is known for being tender and oh-so juicy, is made exclusively with top round. You may also know this cut of meat as one of the common cuts used to make London broil.
Top round is known for being extremely lean, which means you won’t have to spend any time trimming off fat. It’s also relatively inexpensive, packed with an overflowing amount of flavor, and hearty enough to cut into thin slices, which are all perfect attributes when making beef jerky. The only thing to keep in mind is that the jerky will be tougher than average, so pick another cut if you’re looking for a snack with a tender texture.
How to Pick the Best Cut of Beef for Jerky
If you’re new to the beef jerky game, you might not realize that the cut of beef you choose will ultimately determine your jerky’s flavor and texture. When it comes to making quality jerky, not all cuts are created equal.
Breaking It Down
Cows are broken down into nine primal cuts: chuck, rib, short loin, sirloin, round, flank, short plate, fore shank and brisket. From those nine primal cuts come a whole host of smaller cuts that you’re probably more familiar with, such as tri tip, tenderloin, ribeye and T-bone.
With so many cuts to choose from, it’s understandable that you may not know which is the best meat for beef jerky. Don’t worry… we’ve learned a thing or two in our 20-plus years of making jerky – and we’re more than happy to share our jerky wisdom.
Is There a “Best Cut” of Beef for Jerky?
Yes and no. There is no single cut that is “best,” however there are specific qualities that make some better than most.
When it comes to the best meat for beef jerky, the leaner the better. At Mountain America Jerky, quality and freshness are our top priorities. That is why we only use the freshest cuts of top and bottom rounds from our Colorado cows. We do this because we know that the most tender, lean cuts of beef give jerky the best flavor and texture.
While you can use cheaper, fattier cuts of beef with more marbling, you’d be sacrificing the quality of your jerky. A lot of commercial jerky makers use these types of cuts, which are made more palatable by using fruit juice to break down the fat enzymes. This process tenderizes the fat but doesn’t always get rid of all of the grizzle.
Best Beef Cuts and Exotic Jerky Options
Top round and bottom round are lean, flavorful and – in our opinion – the best cuts of beef for jerky. Sirloin tip is extremely lean, but not as tender, and a bit more expensive. Flank steak is also lean (though you may need to trim some fat) and flavorful, but can be tough if its sliced with the grain.
While all of these cuts make for some great beef jerky, limiting yourself to only beef can be… well, limiting. Don’t get us wrong: we love beef jerky. But we also like to take a walk on the wild side from time to time. The wild side of jerky, that is.
Exotic meats, like grass-fed Tibetan Yak, are perfect for jerky. Ultra-lean and similar in flavor to beef, yak jerky is definitely a game changer. If you’re more of a white-meat person, alligator is an excellent jerky option. Ever try kangaroo meat? These friends from down under are extremely flavorful – and leaner than chicken! And of course, wild game such as venison, buffalo, elk and boar are always great jerky options.
As we said before, when it comes to jerky, leaner is always better. And sometimes, the best cut of beef for jerky isn’t beef at all…
Best Cuts of Meat for Making Jerky
Jerky can be made from almost any meat. In addition to the always-popular beef jerky and venison jerky, you can make it from goat, elk, bison, and even ostrich, yak, moose, or bear!
But how can you now that you’re picking the best meat cut for making jerky? We’re here to lend a hand with this comprehensive guide to choosing cuts of meat for jerky, whether beef or a more exotic meat.
Though you’re more likely to find it in a roadside convenience store today, jerky’s origins are from a much more distant time and place.
Invented by the Quechua people of Peru, whose word ch’arki gives us the modern “jerky”, it was commonly made from alpaca or llama meat before being adopted in the United States.
In this guide, we’ll be covering everything you need to know about choosing the best cuts of meat for making jerky, including considerations you should always take into account before buying your meat (like costs & expense), as well as our top 7 favorite cuts for jerky, and a summary of where to go for your next jerky experiment.
Before You Buy: Considerations for Cuts of Meat for Making Jerky
To get a thorough understanding of the best cuts of meat for making jerky, it helps to understand a little bit more about the entire jerky-making process. Here’s what we take into account before choosing a cut of meat for jerky:
What Type of Meat?
Your first decision will have the biggest effect on the outcome of your jerky making: Will you go for the classic beef cut, or choose a more exotic meat?
Beef has the advantage of being readily available in any grocery, with plenty of options for grass fed beef or organic beef that’s better tasting, better for you, and better for the environment.
Homemade beef jerky is a classic first place to start with plenty of beef jerky recipe options. It’s easier to process without a jerky meat slicer and is simply more familiar.
On the other hand, uncommon meats can make for different and exciting flavor experiences, though they may be better sourced online.
What Type of Heat?
How will you be drying your jerky? Whereas a standard home oven will do a fine job of making beef jerky, more exotic cuts of meat benefit significantly from being dried in a grill.
Cooking elk or bison, for example, over an open flame will balance their stronger flavors, making for a better finished product with less use of seasonings.
In short, if you only have access to an oven or dehydrator, beef is a better choice for making jerky.
What Type of Seasonings?
Though not directly related to the cut of meat you’ll choose for making jerky, the type of seasoning you choose can impact how well-preserved your final product is.
Fat content is the main culprit in spoilage of beef jerky, but it also gives a fuller and richer flavor.
A compromise is to use larger portions of salt and spice, to prevent any bacterial growth that could make your jerky go bad.
Our 7 Favorite Cuts of Meat for Making Jerky
Since beef is everyone’s favorite meat to use for jerky, we’ll cover our five best cuts of beef for jerky before introducing you to two other meats that make for excellent jerky.
1. Flank/Bavette Steak
Among all types of beef cuts, We like flank steak so much that we wrote a whole article on Bavette steak detailing its characteristics and uses. It’s at the top end of price ranges for jerky cuts, but the flavor you get from it can’t be beat.
You’ll need to cut your beef strips against the grain to get the best final texture for your jerky, and a little excess fat trimming goes a long way towards keeping your jerky safe to store indefinitely.
2. Bottom Round
Taken from the leg of a cow, the bottom round is our favorite of the three “round” cuts — though all of them are great for making jerky. It’s remarkably affordable and exceptionally lean, making it the cut of choice for first-time jerky makers.
Its texture falls right in the middle between chewier jerky and tender jerky, and it has a pronounced flavor that can stand up to significant amounts of seasoning. All in all, an excellent cut of meat for making jerky.
3. Eye of Round
Made from a single muscle found in the cow’s leg, eye of round is the most tender of the rounds. It’s not a great choice for beginners, since you’ll have to do some processing and cut off the fat cap before slicing along the grain.
A lack of interior fat makes it less flavorful than our previous two cuts, but much more likely to make a successful batch of meat jerky every time.
4. Top Round
The last of the rounds, top round falls right between eye of round and bottom round. It’s quite tender, yet lean and flavorful, and does not require the trimming necessary for eye of round. It’s the most expensive of the three round cuts, but not by much.
The grain runs in different directions through the cut, so be prepared to do quite a bit of creative slicing to get it jerky ready.
5. Sirloin Tip
Also known as a tri-tip, the sirloin tip comes from the area where the bottom sirloin, round, and shank meet. It’s the most expensive of the jerky-making meats featured here, but has a wonderful flavor and is easy to prepare.
Choose this if you’re looking for a cut of meat that will shine as jerky with almost no spices and seasonings.