Dehydrators are a popular option for people who enjoy healthy eating. The good thing about a dehydrator is that the food you treat in the device tastes better, lasts longer, and makes for a healthy snack. You can learn more about this by checking out this article on reasons to buy a food dehydrator.
If you've just bought a dehydrator, or if you're thinking about getting one, jerky is one of the best foods that you can use it for. In this article, we’ll go over everything you need to know about using your dehydrator for meat, including how long to dehydrate jerky for, how to store it, how to prepare it, and more.
What is Jerky?
If you're new to the world of dehydration, jerky is probably just slices of ground meat that you've bought in grocery stores as a quick snack. Originally, jerky is lean trimmed meat that is cut into strips and then dehydrated.
Proper jerky comes from slices of lean meat, but most store bought jerky is made out of chopped and ground meats instead. This is why it is important to learn more about this product so that making it home can be easier.
Jerky doesn’t require any preparation before you eat it. There are some methods that go into making it, and these methods give the meat a great taste and ready-to-eat characteristics.
Jerky doesn’t need to be refrigerated. It can last for a long time without spoiling even if stored at room temperature in an airtight container.
Why is Jerky Popular?
Jerky started off as just a store bought snack, but has found more acceptance and popularity as a mainstream food item. This is because of a number of health and taste reasons.
Jerky tastes better now: Dehydrated food is devoid of moisture, which means that the taste of the food gets much more concentrated. Fruits become sweeter, and jerky becomes more savory.
Jerky is also marinated with sauce and spices that add more taste to it before being dehydrated, making its taste one of the best factors behind its popularity.
Snacks are more popular now: Most people don’t stick to the conventional three meals a day plan, and often snack a lot between meals. As a great tasting snack that doesn’t load up too much on calories, jerky is what you can call a healthy version of junk food.
Jerky is healthy: If you go for snacks like chips or cookies, you can quickly load up on calories that will come from fat and carbs, leading to rapid weight gain. With jerky, you not only get a low fat content, you also get the protein that comes from meat. This means that you can stay full for longer periods and enjoy a snack that’s also good for your body.
Jerky has a lot of variety: You wouldn’t believe the kind of variety you can get when it comes to different types of meats to make jerky from. While chicken, beef, and turkey are the common options, jerky is also available in exotic options like kangaroos, yaks, and alligators.
How to Make Jerky
Now that you're probably convinced that jerky is the best snack you can munch on during your day, you are left with two options.
The first one is to stock up on jerky on your next grocery run, but store-bought jerky can be expensive and there is always a chance that there will be chemicals involved in the processing and packing steps.
The second option is to make your own. With this, you can make sure that you get just the right jerky recipe, get the right strips of meat, and overall have much more freedom over the process and how the taste turns out.
The next few sections outline the steps you need to take to prepare your own jerky in a dehydrator, as well as how long to dehydrate jerky.
Items You Will Need
The first step before your meat goes into the dehydrator is the preparation.
Step 1: Find a good slice of meat for your jerky. If you can get a top or bottom roast or a flank steak, your jerky will be easier to make and store and taste better.
Step 2: Trim off all the fat you can see on the meat. This is not just because you want a high protein, low fat snack, but also because leaving fat on your jerky will reduce its shelf life.
Step 3: Once the meat is cleaned up, put it in the freezer until it's hard. One hour should do the trick. If you have a pound of meat, putting it into the freezer for a while will make it easier to get thinner slices of the right thickness.
Now that your meat is out of the freezer and ready to be sliced, place it on a kitchen board.
Step 1: There are two different ways in which you can slice the meat to make your jerky. One option is to cut with the grain of the meat. This will make the jerky easier to chew and eat. On the other hand, if you slice the meat perpendicular to the grain of the meat, it will be chewier.
This depends completely upon your taste and does not affect the final quality of your jerky when it comes to taste or shelf life.
Step 2: Slice the meat evenly. You can make slices up to 1/8th of an inch thin, or 1/4th of an inch if you prefer a thicker version.
Having a seasoning for your jerky can greatly improve its taste after dehydration. If you're completely new to this, you can check out this video on homemade jerky seasoning.
Seasoning depends completely on your taste, and you can use any homemade recipe that you think would taste best. Even a simple marinade will greatly improve the taste of your jerky.
Make this marinade and put it in a ziplock bag. Make sure it is mixed well.
Once your ingredients are combined, it’s now time to coat the meat.
Step 1: Put the meat slices into the ziploc bag with the seasoning. Make sure that the marinade is enough in quantity to properly coat the meat from all sides. You will have to make the right estimates accordingly.
Step 2: When the bag is shaken and the meat has been mixed well with the marinade, put the ziplock bag in the fridge. This will help the meat soak up the flavor without going bad.
Step 3: If you're not in a hurry, you should leave the meat inside the fridge for at least 12 hours to make sure that your jerky has a rich taste.
This is the step where your food dehydrator and how long to dehydrate jerky comes into the picture. Once your meat slices have had enough time to soak up the flavors from the marinade, we can start the drying process to create jerky slices.
Step 1: Take the ziploc bag out of the fridge and take all the meat slices out.
Step 2: Using a paper towel, gently pat the meat dry of any moisture. This is an activity with a broad range of choices, as you can choose how clean you want the jerky to be. For a richer taste, do not pat dry your meat too aggressively.
Keep in mind that the lesser you pat dry your meat, the more time it will take to dehydrate it.
Step 3: Once you have your pat dried fresh meat slices, it is time to start the dehydration process. You need to place the meat strips on the dehydrator trays at a distance of about half an inch from each other.
This is an important part of the process. If the strips are too close together or on top of each other, the drying process will not be completely efficient. You do not want to risk the quality of your jerky because of this.
If you have a lot of meat and it will not fit on the dehydrator trays, consider doing it in two batches. You can always leave the remaining meat in a ziplock bag in the fridge while the first batch is being made.
Step 4: Once the trays are loaded with the meat, put them inside the dehydrator. According to the official guidelines, jerky needs to be at 160 degrees before it is considered safe for storage and consumption.
Step 5: Set the temperature of the dehydrator from 165 degrees to 170 degrees. This will ensure that the internal temperature of the jerky reaches the required 160 degrees.
Step 6: The next thing you need to do is wait! Jerky usually takes around 5 hours to dehydrate properly, but might take slightly longer or otherwise depending upon the thickness of your meat slices and the amount of marinade present on them when the process started.
Step 7: While the dehydration process is going on, you need to make sure that you keep checking up on the progress of your jerky after a few hours. If you let it overdry, it will become crispy instead of chewy. This will make it flake and start to break out in pieces, which can ruin the eating experience as well as the taste.
Step 8: Check the internal temperature of the jerky, and make sure that it does not break when you try to bend it. This means that it is properly done.
Step 9: If the jerky is done, switch off your dehydrator. You should ideally let the jerky cool for about an hour before you take it out and store it.
The way you store your jerky can determine how long it lasts for. While you can always directly start eating it as soon as you're done, most people would want to store it for further use.
You can use ziplock bags to store your jerky, but these will only give it a shelf life of about 10 days. After this, there might be mold buildup on it, making it inedible.
There are several professional ways to store jerky that will make it last for over a year. These include vacuum sealed, airtight containers that also include an oxygen regulator.
However, if you're making jerky at home and you want to store it for a couple of months, your job should not be too difficult. The main problem you need to look out for is moisture, as it will ruin your product.
This means that any airtight jar, for example a mason jar, can do the trick. A mason jar has different metal and rubber layers to its lid that prevent moisture from getting into it, thus improving the shelf life of your jerky.
Making jerky at home is a simple process with a high return on investment. You get a healthy snack that can easily be stored for a long time, along with the peace of mind that you know exactly which ingredients have gone into the food you consume. If you've read this article, you would definitely enjoy our guide to dehydrators for beef jerky.
We hope that this article has helped you take steps in the right direction to start making your own jerky at home and answered how long to dehydrate jerky. If you're interested in similar topics about healthy meals and dehydrators, feel free to check out our other articles, as well!