Thousands of years ago, before the advent of refrigeration, human beings had to figure out a way to store meat. Hunter-gatherers had to capture a large animal, kill it, and then eat as much of the meat as possible before it spoiled. Plenty of times, food was scarce. This was the motivation to find ways to preserve some of the meat.
Origin of Beef Jerky
No one knows exactly who first figured out a solution of curing the meat with salt and then drying it to preserve it. There a many types of cured meat besides beef jerky. It is possible to take any meat and make jerky.
The Economist reported on the history of beef jerky and other cured meats. They noted that a recipe written by a Roman named Cato the Elder and published in the text entitled “De Agri Cultura.” This recipe explained how to make jerky pork using salt and then dehydrating it with fresh air and smoke. De Agri Cultura is the oldest surviving text of Roman prose. Written in Latin at around 160 BC, it is a handbook guide for farming methods at that time.
Many other places in the world found ways to take fresh meat and cure it to make dried meat. The report from the Economist goes on to say that, curing meat with salt pre-existed Roman times. It is possible the Romans learned the technique from the Celts or the Gauls. Curing meat in this way was also popular in the Far East, which had no contact with Rome at that time.
It seems like this preservation solution was such a good idea, that is was an independent invention around the globe. This is why it is still in use today. All one needs is meat, salt, air, smoke, and a bit of patience. Smoking the meat over juniper or beech fires was another method. This smoking speeds up the process of drying the meat, while adding a nice flavour.
In the 1800s, the Quechua Inca Tribe of Ecuador produced dried meat similar to beef jerky that they called “charqui.” Charqui (also spelled as Ch’Arki) is a Spanish word that means burnt meat. They hunted deer, elk, and buffalo. Later they used llama meat to make charqui.
They let the meat dry in the sun or dried it out by smoking it for a long period. For them, this was an important method of survival. It helped them save food for times when it was hard to find things to eat. Part of the beef jerky origin story is how it got its name. It came from the Anglicized pronunciation of Charqui, which sounds like “jerky.”
Do you cook beef jerky before dehydrating? – Is beef jerky raw?
Normally, to make beef jerky, one uses salt to kill the bacteria and then the process is smoking thin strips of meat to dry it out, but the meat is not cooked. Some other cured meats can be “hot-smoked,” which does cook the meat. Beef jerky is usually “cold-smoked.” The meat gets enough exposure to heat and/or smoke to dry it out. However, it is never close enough to the heat to become cooked. It is dehydrated, but not raw.
What animal is beef jerky made of?
For beef jerky, the meat comes from a cow. However, this oldest method of preservation is so good for almost all meats that many use it for other things too. When wondering, what is jerky? Beside beef and turkey jerky, there is deer jerky made from venison meat, which was quite popular in the USA for those early explorers of the western frontier. Native Americans made great use of bison and buffalo jerky.
All over Europe, the UK, and Ireland they enjoyed different types of jerky including turkey jerky, beef, pork, and venison jerky, especially in places like Germany, which had an abundance of wild deer.
The beef jerky history stretches around the globe from South Africa to Australia, New Zealand, and all over Asia. In Asia, they like jerky made from squid, cuttlefish, and fish. Salmon jerky is also popular.
Modern choices include exotic types of jerky such as, ostrich, emu, and even earthworms. Earthworm jerky is popular in Thailand. For those with less exotic tastes, there are beef jerky flavours that are popular, such as chilli beef jerky, barbeque, and teriyaki flavoured. Some styles contain so much sugar that they actually taste sweet. The healthier styles do not have as much added sugar.
Beef jerky is popular with the military, because the shelf life of beef jerky is very long. It is easy to carry, it is nutritious, and it requires no preparation to eat it. This is why beef jerky is in many of the ration kits used by soldiers.
Beef jerky made it into space as well. It is a great food to take to space because, it is lightweight, yet has a very high nutritional quality. Many astronauts enjoyed eating beef jerky in the weightlessness of space.
In contemporary times, the attributes of the long beef jerky shelf life and the beef jerky storage in vacuum-sealed packaging, so it stays fresh, makes it one of the popular snack meats for outdoor enthusiasts. Hunters, backpackers, and those who have to hike in the woods while carrying food along with them, like beef jerky for these reasons.
The Manufacturing Process
How Things are Made has a good description of the modern manufacturing process for beef jerky.
What meat is best for beef jerky?
The best meat for beef jerky is muscle meat from a cow. To have the best taste, most prefer premium flank steak from range-fed cows. This meat is thinly sliced and made into the traditional jerky strips.
The making of other types of beef jerky uses a manufacturing process that chops and grinds the meat into a paste. After that, comes the addition of preservatives and flavourings. Using physical pressure on this mixture creates uniformly shaped strips. This is the somewhat less expensive beef jerky that one finds in almost every supermarket and convenience store.
The manufacturing steps are:
- Preparation of the meat – Using a centrifugal process removes most of the fat from the meat. The alternative uses pressure to force the fat out of the meat. The removal of the fat is important, because fat inhibits the drying process.
- The curing solution is prepared – In this process, the salt, flavourings, and spices mix together.
- The meat goes into the curing solution – A tumbler rotates the meat and curing solution.
- Freezing and cutting -The meat is frozen and sliced into strips along the grain. This is how to cut jerky strips that look the best. Using ground meat is the other option, but the results are not as nice.
- Dehydration – The meat strips go into the dehydrator to dry out. This process continues until 20 to 40% of the water evaporates from the meat. This can take up to 12 hours.
- Packaging – In order to preserve freshness, the finished beef jerky goes into packages or containers that are vacuum-sealed. Sometimes nitrogen gas goes into the packages to get rid of any oxygen that could cause spoilage. Additionally, a small bag of silica gel goes into each package to absorb excess moisture or oxygen.
- Serving Size – A typical serving is 20 grams. It takes 60 grams of meat to make 20 grams of beef jerky.
Beef Jerky Nutrition
Is beef jerky a healthy snack?
Many wonder, how healthy is beef jerky?
They ask questions, such as these:
- How many calories in beef jerky?
- How much protein does beef have?
- Is beef jerky fattening?
- Is jerky good for you?
The answers are, high protein beef jerky is concentrated meat protein, low in fat, but may have significant amounts of salt (sodium) and possibly sugar, depending on how it is processed. For those concerned about sodium intake, there are low sodium varieties. There are also healthier varieties made without added sugar.
Here is the summary of the nutritional qualities of original beef jerky, from SELFNutritionData, which is low fat beef jerky processed using salt. There are many other varieties to choose from; however, this is good example.
This data comes from a single serving, which is one large piece of 20 grams. Most people eat more than one piece, so take that into consideration.
A large 20-gram piece of top rated beef jerky has 82 calories per serving and 46 of those calories come from fat.
The caloric ratios are:
- 56% of the calories come from fats
- 32% of the calories come from protein
- 12% of the calories come from carbohydrates
Total fat is 5.1 grams of which 2.2 grams are saturated fat and the balance are other fats.
Here are the fats and fatty acids:
- Saturated Fat – 2.2 grams
- Monounsaturated Fat – 2.3 grams
- Polyunsaturated Fat – 0.2 grams
- Total trans fatty acids – 0
- Total trans-monoenoic fatty acids – 0
- Total trans-polyenoic fatty acids – 0
- Total Omega-3 fatty acids – 37.0 milligrams
- Total Omega-6 fatty acids – 162.0 milligrams
Percent Daily Values
The Percent Daily Values (PDV) come from a very modest 2,000 daily calorie intake. Most people find it difficult to eat so little each day, so consider this as well. These ratios give only a proportional guidance. The total fat is 8% PDV and the saturated fat provides 11% PDV.
Cholesterol is 10 milligrams with 3% PDV. Sodium is 443 milligrams, which is 18% PDV. Total carbohydrates from sugars are 2 grams, which is 1% PDV. There is no dietary fibre and the most significant vitamin is iron at 6% PDV. It is also a good source of the mineral zinc.
The best news is the protein content, which is 7 grams out of the total 20 grams. A jerky snack is almost one-third protein. This is why it is preferred as a healthier snack when compared to candies, cookies, or other junk foods.
The Nutritional Completeness Score of Dried Beef Jerky
A completeness score is a calculation to see how many essential nutrients exist in a particular food. It is helpful to know the nutritional balance of a food. The highest possible completeness score is 100. Very few foods can reach that high score.
A snack of beef jerky sticks achieves a completeness score of 33. There are 26 components considered. Each one receives a ranking of up to 5 points. The points given for over-consumed items, which are saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium, reduce the total score.
Here is the breakdown of the components for a beef snack and their ranking scores:
Protein – 5
- Vitamin A – 0
- Vitamin D – 0
- Vitamin E – 0
- Vitamin K – 0
- Thiamine – 1
- Riboflavin – 1
- Niacin – 1
- Vitamin B6 – 1
- Folate – 4
- Vitamin B12 – 2
- Pantothenic Acid – 0
- Choline (no Daily Value is established yet for this vitamin)
- Selenium – 2
- Manganese – 1
- Copper – 2
- Zinc – 5
- Potassium – 2
- Phosphorus – 5
- Magnesium – 2
- Iron – 4
- Calcium – 0
Over-consumed Items (reduces score)
- Sodium – 5
- Cholesterol – 2
- Saturated Fat – 5
Athletes, mountain bikers, backpackers, and hikers, as well as anyone needing a protein boost, prefer a meat snack to the alternative snack foods, especially the high-quality styles of thin beef jerky that taste like roast beef jerky.
Beef Fun Facts
Popular Cattle Breeds
Kid Cows & More gives a bit of the history of the Angus cow. One of the best tasting beef in the world is Angus beef. The animal usually has a black colour. More rarely, this cattle breed has a red colour. It originated in Scotland. Some of the best meat jerky in the world comes from Scotland, Ireland and the UK.
The import of the Angus breed to the USA occurred in 1873. After that, "Black Angus" beef became extremely popular in America. The finest “steak house” restaurants in the USA serve Black Angus steaks. It is also a great source of meat to make beef jerky in the USA.
Exportation from India of the Brahman breed to other countries started in the late 1800’s. It came to America in 1854, according to Kid Cows & More. The Brahman bulls where so valuable in the USA that most of them lived long happy lives to build up a herd. In the 1930’s, a cross between the Brahman, Herford, and Shorthorn breeds produced a new breed called the Beefmaster.
The Texan Longhorn Breed
This breed started elsewhere, not in Texas. Originally, it came from Spain. Then in 1493, Mexico received some of them from Spain. From there, during 1690 they drove a herd from Mexico to Texas. That was the start of the Longhorn in Texas during the time of the wild west in America when cowboys flourished.
Today in Texas, they have a saying, “All hat, no cattle.” This saying describes cowboys who are boastful and pretend to be rich, but really do not own many cattle. A favourite thing for modern ranchers to do is to buy a brand new Cadillac, and then mount the largest longhorns from the biggest Texas Longhorn cow they can find on the front grille of the vehicle.
This breed is like a luxury vehicle, but not really made for riding on it. It originated in France as reported by Kids Cows & More. It got its name from an area in France. The French have a way with words. They come up with some of the best sounding names like calling certain soft white cheese “camembert” or red wine “burgundy”.
The Limousin breed is also the “Carcass Breed.” Oklahoma State University (OSU), in the centre of cow country USA, notes that this name came from the Limousin cattle winning the “Carcass” competitions in France. This breed won best of show for three years in a row during 1857, 1858, and 1859. Since carcass also means the body of a dead animal, the name of “Limousin” seems much more elegant.
OSU reports this breed is likely to have been in Europe since the first human settlements there. There are depictions of it in ancient drawings on the walls of Lascaux Cave. This cave is close to Montignac in France. The estimated age of the drawings is 20,000 years old.
KSU also reports, the French were very unwilling to send these prize animals to other countries. These cattle are very hardy. They can live outside yearlong, even in harsh weather. This is why the French cattle owners were so proud of their herds. Canada got the first one from France in 1968. This magnificent Limousin bull had the name of Prince Pompadour. It took until 1971, for Canada to permit their export to the United States.
The French also created the Charolais breed. They are good for milking. Their most distinctive feature is they are a beautiful, pure-white colour.
The English wanted to compete with the French. They developed the Hereford breed, which make terrific milk cows. They have an attractive dark red colour, a charming white face, and a white underbelly. They live a very long time. Many females still birth calves even after being fifteen-years old or more.
In 1932, the Americans developed the Brangus breed. They have a beautiful sleek coat. They are black, red, or polled. Polled is another way to describe a Hereford cow colour; however, it also includes the special feature, which New Mexico State University says is a cow that is naturally without horns.
How many things can one make with a single cowhide?
This comes from Kids Cows & More as well.
The average numbers of things made from a single cowhide include:
- baseball gloves – 12
- basketballs – 12
- soccer balls – 18
- volleyballs – 18
- footballs – 20
- baseballs -144
Beef Pop Quiz
For those who think they know beef; here is a short pop quiz.
- How many different chambers does a cow’s stomach have?
- How many times does an average cow move its jaws per day?
- What five countries have more cattle than people?
- How many medicines come from cows?
- Who has more breeds of cattle, the USA or the UK?
- What are the four most popular breeds in the USA and two most popular breeds in the UK?
- Who has more cows, the USA or the UK?
- What are the top-five most popular flavours to add to regular beef?
- From a single cow, how long could a family of four eat hamburgers every day?
- What are the seven most popular flavours for beef jerky sold in the U.S.? (bonus for putting them in the correct order)
Do not be upset for getting the answers wrong. Even knowing a few of them would be at a “beefy” genius level.
- Four chambers in cow stomachs (source: FFA).
- 40,000 jaw movements per day (source: From Heels to Boots).
- Argentina, Australia, Brazil, New Zealand, and Uruguay have more cattle than people (source: Express).
- Over 100 medicines come from cows (source: From Heels to Boots).
- The UK has more breeds, with close to 90 (source: Express). The USA has about 50 breeds (source: FFA).
- In the USA, the four popular breeds are Angus, Brahman, Charolais, and Hereford (source: FFA). In the UK, the two most popular breeds are Aberdeen Angus and Limousin (source: Express).
- The UK has more breeds, but the USA has more cattle. The UK has about 10 million (source: Express). The USA has about 94 million (source: FFA).
- The top flavours for mixing with beef are onion, garlic, herbs, Worcestershire sauce, and lemon juice (source: Blisstree).
- About six months of hamburgers for a family of four (source: From Heels to Boots).
- The top selling flavours of beef jerky in the USA are: regular (23.15%), teriyaki (12.19%), peppered (7.33%), mesquite (6.33%), spicy (6.09%), hickory (5.58%), and barbeque (5.13%) (source: Statista).
Cooking With Jerky
All the wonderful flavours of jerky meats are ready to eat right out of the package, so there is no need for cooking jerky. Nevertheless, adding beef jerky to other dishes gives the cuisine extra flavour and a unique taste. There are recipes for making beef jerky, however; this section is about using beef jerky as an ingredient along with other foods.
Someday Food notes that adding beef jerky is good for soups, salads, beans, omelettes, and baked casseroles. Think of beef jerky as super-power bacon bits, which much more flavour and then be creative. Toss in a little, take a taste, and then toss in some more as needed. It is easier to use a food grinder to make smaller pieces of beef jerky than to cut it up with a knife. It is amazing to find so many beef jerky recipes and suggestions. If possible, try them all.
Here are 40 delicious ways to use beef jerky in recipes.
- Kids love this one! Make traditional macaroni and cheese with added chopped beef jerky.
- Add chopped beef jerky to spice up baked corn bread.
- Make Ramen soup less boring by adding chopped beef jerky that is teriyaki flavoured.
- Add chopped beef jerky to a slow-cooking stew. An interesting thing about adding it to a stew is it rehydrates, so you can use larger pieces and the result is soft, flavourful beef jerky cubes.
- Add chopped beef jerky to a bean salad.
- Mix chopped beef jerky in with vanilla ice cream or use it as an ice cream topping. The combination of sweet, salty, and spicy is really unique.
- Add chopped beef jerky to any pasta sauce.
- Add chopped beef jerky to onion dip.
- Use chopped beef jerky to spice up a grill cheese sandwich.
- Chopped beef jerky makes an excellent pizza topping.
- Use chopped beef jerky in place of chopped ham in an omelette.
- Chopped beef jerky is wonderful in potato pancakes.
- Use jalapeño beef jerky mixed with hamburger to make a fantastic taco meat filling.
- Embed chopped beef jerky bits in soft cheese and serve with crackers.
- Use chopped beef jerky as a topping for salads.
- Add it to the stuffing for a turkey.
- Put it, along with sour cream or butter, on a baked potato.
- Make big slices of tomatoes, add slices of mozzarella cheese, and top with chopped beef jerky. Heat in the oven to melt the cheese if desired.
- Make cold gazpacho soup from finely chopped onions, tomatoes, green peppers, and beef jerky.
- Chop the beef jerky very finely and blend it into the ingredients for a protein smoothie.
- Use chopped beef jerky as an extra ingredient when making warmed spinach dip.
- Instead of using tuna, use chopped beef jerky in a casserole.
- Use beef jerky to make enchiladas or tamales instead of using shredded beef or chicken.
- Add chopped beef jerky to give more flavour to beans or chilli. Try the mesquite or barbeque flavours of beef jerky for excellent results.
- Use a sweet-tasting beef jerky as an extra ingredient when making pecan pie.
- The Food Network has a delicious Jerky Tomato Sauce recipe, which achieved 4.5 out of 5 stars from reviewers. This is a sauce to use on biscuits, toast, pasta, or rice.
- Use it as an ingredient in curry fried rice from the recipe on Food & Wine. Try some of the spicy beef jerky flavours for this.
- Rehydrate it, pound it into a softer, shredded mass, and use it to make Machaca, a Mexican dish.
- Make jerky soup using pepper flavoured beef jerky, mixed with wild greens, and onions.
- Here is a tasty recipe from a contributor to the forum at Paleo Planet for making slowed-cooked beef jerky stew. Cut the beef jerky down to bite-sized pieces. Put it in the pot with water. Add black beans, celery, onion, and tomatoes. Add chilli powder, cumin, garlic, and oregano to suit your taste. Cook for three hours.
- Use chopped beef jerky to spice up pea soup.
- Backpackers like a simple soup made from dehydrated vegetables, barley, and beef jerky. This is because those are lightweight ingredients. They are easier to carry when backpacking. Just have safe water to use, make a campfire, and let it stew in a pot for a while.
- Make the Japanese dish called Yaki Onigiri that are grilled rice balls, using beef jerky as the stuffing that has a teriyaki flavour. This is super yummy.
- Make the South American dish called Charquicán. It contains jerky, sweet corn, potatoes and pumpkin. Use beef jerky instead of the stuff they used traditionally, which is dried llama meat. Llamas are too cute. For those who disagree, please see “The Llama Song.”
- Grate beef jerky. Mix the jerky pieces into Chinese-style scallion flat bread before frying the bread. Then, just follow the recipe from Eating Well.
- Use it as an ingredient to make pemmican, which has the base ingredient of melted tallow. This is a super nutritious food to take along backpacking. The Cree Indians invented pemmican as a survival food. Rustic explorers of the Yukon, the Arctic, and other parts of Canada and America, used pemmican to stay alive on their journeys.
- Add chopped beef jerky to a papaya salad for a great combination.
- Use beef jerky to make the Portuguese dish of Feijoada, which is also popular in Brazil. The dish cooks in a clay pot over a low flame to let the stew develop slowly. Beside beef jerky, it has beans, cabbage, carrots, and tomatoes.
- Add diced beef jerky pieces to trail mix.
- Just eat a favourite flavour of beef jerky and wash it down with a refreshing libation.
We hope you enjoyed this guide for beef jerky. Now would be a great time to eat some. Impress your family and your kids or invite a friend over and try one of the marvellous suggestions above. As the French would say, having this knowledge now makes you a beef jerky connoisseur par excellence.