Dried and True: Jerky Review
Jerky is famous among hikers as a lightweight and convenient source of protein. Here are some of our favorite jerky varieties, and some tips on making your own at home.
by Brittany Manwill
It’s pretty easy to find lightweight and portable options for fat and carbs on hikes. Protein? Not so much. This makes jerkies popular among hikers—dehydration transforms otherwise cumbersome chunks of meat into convenient, lightweight and shelf-stable protein bites.
While beef jerky is a trail favorite, atypical varieties in this meaty category include strips made of turkey, buffalo and salmon. The best brands out there use quality meat, tantalizing seasonings and a dehydration process that removes moisture without compromising flavor and texture. Most jerkies are naturally gluten free, but check the label if you’re concerned.
Try one of these selections, or learn how to make your own.
PERKY JERKY—TURKEY ORIGINAL
One of the moistest jerkies tested, this Perky Jerky variety is made with turkey breast and a pepper-laced savory marinade. You won’t miss red meat for a second. Available at perkyjerky.com. $5
FIELD TRIP—ROASTED SESAME OR HONEY SPICE
Field Trip played around with tons of flavors before settling on its six best-tasting varieties. Try the Honey Spice no. 11—sweet with just a pinch of heat; the Roasted Sesame no. 15 is awesome too. Available at REI. $6.00
SEABEAR—SMOKED SALMON JERKY
Produced with 100 percent wild Alaskan King salmon, this salmon jerky is a smoky change from your typical game products. You can feel good about supporting a local business; SeaBear is located in Anacortes. Available at REI. $7
THE NEW PRIMAL—SPICY BEEF JERKY
This company focuses on humane treatment of its animals to ensure a quality cut of meat. Pasture-raised, grass-fed and hormone-free beef is preserved and marinated before it is smoked. The Spicy variety is just slightly hot—a nice complement to the smoky flavor. Available at REI. $7.50
Tanka Bites—Buffalo and Cranberry
Fruit seems out of place in jerky—until you taste these bite-sized snacks. Chewy and flavorful, sweet dried cranberries and real buffalo make for a surprisingly complementary combination. Available at REI. $7
If you’ve been itching to make your own jerky, check out All Things Jerky: The Definitive Guide to Making Delicious Jerky and Dried Snack Offerings by Andy Lightbody and Kathy Mattoon. This book is half manual and half cookbook—perfect for jerky novices. Jerky-making isn’t complicated, but there are plenty of variables. Refer to the book for specific recipes and directions, but these basics will point you in the right direction.
- Meat: Just about any type of meat will do, but make sure you trim the fat. While it adds flavor to steaks and roasts, it will make your jerky tough, greasy and prone to accelerated rancidity.
- Equipment: There are multiple options for drying your meat. A home oven will do just fine, although you may need to purchase additional racks. If you’re really going to get into jerky-making, a food dehydrator is your best bet. A smoker is great if you have one. With a bit of care, your backyard BBQ grill will work too.
- Seasonings: Spice blends, marinades, brines, rubs—the possibilities for flavoring your jerkies are endless. Check the ingredient list on your favorite prepared brand and use that as inspiration. After slicing your meat, let the seasonings penetrate for 24 hours.
- Instructions: Specific directions depend on the thickness of meat and the dehydration method. Generally, meat should be heated to an internal temperature of 160°F (165°F for poultry) to kill bacteria before dehydrating at a recipe’s given temperature for the remainder of the drying process—a range of four to 12 hours depending on the meat, thickness and drying method.
- Storage: Let the jerky cool completely before storing. Vacuum sealers are best for long-term storage, although ziptop baggies will work in a pinch, too. Toss in the freezer for up to a year or in the fridge or pantry for one to two months.