The preferred snack of mountain men everywhere! That manliest of tween-meal nibbles! One of the only meals that hasn’t lost its cool factor in 60,000 years +/- of existence. You guessed it….[drum roll]…[symbol]….Wild Game Jerky, my burly friends.
Notice that I didn’t say “Deer” or “Venison” Jerky. That is because you can pretty much make jerky out of anything that is made of meat. If they were bigger, I’d love to try my hand at squirrel jerky (maybe I’ll have to try to de-bone, grind, then squirt them out in the dehydrator, but I digress).
The other thing to note is that it is frighteningly easy to do once you understand a few simple things:
(1) First and foremost is safety. I would strongly recommend obtaining some kind of curing salt. I use InstaCure No. 1. It’s easy to get online, and for a few bucks I can get 5lbs of the stuff, which will make some 2400lbs of cured meat or something absurd like that. Most fail to think of it that way, but we should consider jerky as a cured meat product. The nitrates in the curing salt will give the jerky a pretty redish/blackish color, as well as a more developed flavor that we all know and love. It also will prevent any form of botulism from ruining an otherwise pleasant snack. Seriously, botulism can be some bad stuff, and the temperatures at which you will be dehydrating the meat is a great place to grow a funky little gut-monkey, so I would recommend using the curing salt.
(2) If making jerky from any deer species or sub-species, use a cut of meat that is free of silverskin, connective tissue, or fat. Deer fat tastes like buttered farts, so you may want to avoid it in dried form. Plus, the fat will cause the jerky to spoil.
(3) Don’t cut the pieces too thin or too thick. I guess I cut mine +/- 1/4 inch or so with a fillet knife sharp enough to circumcise a gnat. Whatever thickness you choose, try your best to get them to be as consistent as possible, so that you can have them marinate & dry at the same rate. You can cut with or against the grain. I love that whiplash effect when ripping off a big mouthful of deer jerky, so I cut with the grain.
(4) Don’t let the process intimidate you. This is crazy easy, and has tons of room for personal preference on both taste, and texture. As long as you are careful with the food prep parts, then you can’t really screw this up.
(5) Finally, don’t be afraid to experiment. Some like things more spicy, some like their jerky more chewy and flexible, etc. This is a chance to really make a product that you will like, or can give to friends that don’t hunt, and explain how you spend your free time hunting for beasts made of jerky. Feel free to try out flavors from the traditional to the exotic and even veer into the strange. It’s your party, so cry if you want to.
Easy Jerky Marinade.
- 3 to 3.25 pounds of Venison slice (either with or against the grain) to a thickness of roughly 1/4”
- 2 cups cool water
- 1/4 cup Worcestershire Sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke
- 1/2 teaspoon Instacure No. 1
- 2 tablespoons sea salt (or table salt w/ no iodine)
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/4 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
Simply combine all of the ingredients in a sealable plastic bag, or non reactive bowl. Place in the fridge for 24 to 48 hours, mixing the contents around occasionally to insure that the meat gets even absorption.
Keep in mind that the longer it marinates obviously the stronger the flavors will be.
After removing as much moisture as you can from the slices either with a paper towel or by placing them on a raised rack in the fridge, it’s time to turn this mess from marinated meat slices into jerky.
Jerky in Conventional Oven
If you are using a conventional oven, you simply set it to 155-200 degrees F (my oven’s lowest setting is 200, and it works fine), and place the slices directly on the rack with a drip pan below it to catch any drippings. Or you can use a roasting tray with an elivated rack. The concept here is to allow air to flow as freely as possible around as much of the surface area of the meat as possible.
You will then leave the oven door propped open slightly to allow the moisture to escape. Otherwise the strips will simply bake, and not really turn to jerky.
Allow the jerky to dry for roughly 5-8 hours, checking it every so often after the first 3 hours or so. You do not want the jerky to become so dry that it simply crumbles, but you definitely don’t want it to have too much moister either, so periodically remove a piece, and bend it. It should “flex” but not crack in half. Likewise it shouldn’t feel mushy like the center has not been dried enough.
Jerky in a Dehydrator
If using a dehydrator, then the process is much easier. After patting dry or allowing to dry some on a rack in the fridge, simply place the strips on the trays, and set the dehydrator for 150-155 degrees F. Allow to dry for 7-8 hours, checking periodically with the same “bending” technique mentioned above.
Once the jerky is sufficiently dried, you can store in the fridge for months, in the freezer for years, or on the counter for a couple of weeks. I like to vacuum seal mine in munch size portions. They are great to throw in your hunting pack along with an apple or something for those long hunts.
The best way to enjoy your venison jerky is the same as the best way to hunt for the meat that made it….with friends.