Toughen Up


by  Brenda Shafer

Grill. Sauté. Fry. Roast. Smoke. Bake. Boil. There are so many ways to prepare meat. One of the oldest ways, born out of necessity, is to dehydrate or dry meat to make jerky. Native Americans taught settlers this method in order to preserve leftover meat. Tough and bland, this way of preparing meat wasn’t particularly tasty. Only later, when seasonings and marinades were added, did jerky become a flavorful, sought-after food.

Even though jerky has become a household food, it’s still the quintessential snack for outdoorsmen. It’s perfect for backpacking or camping and a tried and true method of preserving leftover game from a hunt.

To learn more about jerky making, we talked to local expert, Buffalo Brad, who makes and sells jerky at multiple farmers’ markets in the Chattanooga area. Brad’s own beginning with this long-standing practice started with a trip home for Christmas 22 years ago. “My mom bought me a dehydrator, and I didn’t know what I was going to do with it,” Brad says. “It came with a recipe book, and I saw a jerky recipe. I went to the corner store and they had some buffalo, so I tried it.” Everyone loved it, and the rest, as they say, is history.

SG: What kind of meat do you use?

BB: You can use any type of meat, but I usually use steak, all-natural turkey breast, and buffalo steak. I buy steak and turkey from a butcher, but I have to order my buffalo steak from Kansas because no one here has enough in stock.

SG: What cut of meat is best?

BB: I use top round sirloin. It just has to be lean. You don’t want to use something like chuck roast because it has too much fat in it. If there is a lot of fat in it, it’s hard to dehydrate because there is so much water in the fat. The leaner it is, the better.  Buffalo is great because it’s extremely lean, has around the same calories as turkey, but has more protein and iron than steak.

SG: How thick (or thin) do you cut meat for jerky?

BB: I slice it close to a quarter of an inch. Some people say to cut it as thin as possible, but you need some jerky to actually be there when you take a bite. You want to make it so you can bend it, but not break it. If it’s too thin, it will break a lot and it won’t be chewy. With a quarter inch, you get some meat. Remember that you lose about two-thirds to three-fourths mass when it dehydrates. From a pound of meat, you get about four ounces of jerky.

SG: What’s your marinade?

BB: I use Worcestershire sauce, teriyaki sauce, soy sauce, onion powder, garlic powder, and a couple more little ingredients that I keep to myself. The first time I made jerky, I didn’t even use the recipe given for the marinade. I just used what was in the fridge. I’ve played with it over the years, but those five main ingredients have stayed the same.

A lot of people like to use just teriyaki, but teriyaki is too sweet for me. So I cut it with soy and Worcestershire sauce. Orange juice is also popluar, but again that sweetens it up. The main thing is to use what you like.

SG: What’s your favorite kind of  jerky? What’s the most unusual kind you’ve had?

BB: Probably elk. I’ve had all kinds, but elk is pretty good. Ostrich is definitely the weirdest kind I have ever had, but it’s good. It’s like turkey, but has a wild game taste to it.

The Process

1  Slice steak a quarter-of-an-inch thick. Then cut slices into pieces.

2  Separate pieces in a bowl. Throw marinade over. Cover and place in refrigerator overnight.

3  Lay pieces out in trays and put them in a dehydrator for five and a half hours.

4  Check to see how dry the pieces are. Take out the pieces that are done (usually about two-thirds of them are done), and put the rest back in the dehydrator for another hour.

*While my dehydrator can fit up to 10 trays, I only
put in six trays at a time. I find it helps the jerky cook more evenly.

*If you are using an oven, set the oven at 120-130 degrees. If you use a smoker, 140-150 degrees is best. With a smoker, you add a wood taste to it, which many people enjoy.

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