Optimal Jerky Making

We are all aware that eating beef jerky is an expensive habit. If you strive to lower its out-of-pocket cost; while also controlling what food additives are used in its production, this post is for you. Here we will financially and palatability characteristic compare jerky made from two different commonly available retail beef cuts.

There are only 2 uniquely flavored flank steaks per beef carcass so supply and demand alone pushes up their price. Due to their comparatively high price I have never before used flank steaks for jerky production. Nearly two thirds dehydration can then push the price per pound of ready to eat beef jerky into the stratosphere. The vacuum bag of flank steaks that I bought did not originate from corn fatten, young, market steers or heifers. If these steaks had been from retail grade beefs, their price per pound would have been even higher. Other clues that tell us that these pictured flank steaks are from Commercial grade cow carcasses include, N/R (meaning not graded) is listed on the label, the large size of the steaks, beef lean color darkens with age and older beef cattle are more likely to display some yellowish fat. On the plus side, they are a single muscle (no seam fat weight to lose), are nearly all lean (ideal for making non-fat oxidizing jerky) and will make aesthetically pleasing stringy jerky. Yet another upside to starting with whole muscle beef cuts is that it significantly lessens the risk of fecal borne e-coli contamination. Such contamination begins on the exterior of beef carcasses. Since harvested cattle are immediately hung by the hind leg on modern high-speed kill-floors, gravity dictates that the eye of round is unlikely to be splashed from the occasional popped gut. But, e-coli spores might still be present in manure attached to the hide. As for the marinate used here: garlic, salt, cure and food acid all act to inhibit microbial growth during low temperature dehydration. After dehydration, the low water activity level of jerky is also anti-microbial.

Here, I wet the steaks with cold water, laid them out on cutting boards then sprinkled the called-for amount of meat tenderizer on one side.

Tenderizer was forked-in well; while going over each steak 3 times on the side that was up. Forking also facilitates mechanically breaking some muscle fibers; further enhancing tenderness.

Steaks on metal trays and heading for the freezer.

After about 15 minutes the flank steaks were turned over on the trays so that they would chill more evenly and not freeze to the metal cookie sheets.

While meat was chilling, the called-for amount of curing salt # 1 (1.5 tsp) was dissolved in a small amount of water (see big bowl). Also, a couple cups of marinate were mixed up in the pictured small bowl. Marinate was composed of crushed garlic, A-1 Steak sauce, Worcestershire sauce, Soy sauce, prepared mustard, pepper sauce and brown sugar.

As the steaks became semi-frozen they were taken from the freezer one at a time, cut in half width wise and then sliced with the meat grain into jerky pieces. Pictured here is the first half of the flank steak that became adequately chilled the fastest. While I was slicing the first half of each flank steak, I placed the other half back in the freezer so that i would remain adequately knife slice-able.

All the cow flank steaks cut into jerky slices. Notice that there was some minimal fat trim loss.

Jerky slices lightly mixed into cure containing water in the big bowl.

Marinate was mixed in well and then meat was held overnight. Meat was also stirred around a few different times during the marination time period.

The first six trays of flank steak jerky heading into my trusty $40 dehydrator.

It took about 8 hours of running time to get jerky dehydrated to the desired point. After this first run, another 6 tray and then a 4 tray load was required to dehydrate all the flank jerky.

Ended up with 3.25 pounds of finished flank steak jerky. Out-of-pocket production costs came in right around $12.31 per pound. Finished yield from starting raw weight was 40%. This jerky had a good flavor and was sufficiently tender, but there were some long – thin strands of elastin that remained unchewable.

For comparison with the flank steaks I went with Choice eye of round; which is what I normally use to produce beef jerky. Whole retail market grade eye of round is cheaper than even cow (Commercial) flank steaks, is also one solid muscle and does not contain those objectionable strands of elastin connective tissue.

I picked out the biggest and leanest whole eye of round that I could find. It weighed nearly exactly the same as the five pack of flank steaks (just a hair over 8 pounds).

After denuding the eye of fat trimmings weighing .75 pounds, my usable starting raw meat cost increased to $3.53 per pound. Even without deducting the minimal fat trim that was done on the flank steaks, the all lean Choice eye of round was already $.96 a pound cheaper. Marbling is not desirable in jerky production, and luckily even Choice eye of round tends not to noticeably marble.

Lop the eye into 3 nearly equal lengths.

Cut the thick end and middle both into 3 slabs that are roughly the same thickness; then cut the tapered end of the eye in half.

Meat is wet and 1 tsp. of meat tenderizer per pound of meat (as directed by the meat tenderizer maker) is sprinkled on the up side.

Fork the tenderizer in good; by forking over each piece 3 times.

Same procedure in the freezer: flip meat slabs as they start to freeze to the cookie sheets and start slicing the most frozen one first…

Since there was 7.25 pounds of meat this time, I dissolved just under 1.5 tsp. of curing salt #1 in a little water (in the big bowl). Marinate was the same as with when using flank steaks.

First slab of semi-frozen eye of round.

First slab knife-sliced, with the meat grain, into jerky pieces.

Entire eye of round sliced.

Just as before, meat was lightly mixed into cure water then marinate was thoroughly mixed in.

The first 6 trays out the dehydrator. It only took 2 dehydrator runs to dry all the eye of round meat. Wider jerky strips must have made more efficient use of tray space. I leave a little gap between each piece.

The big news is that the overall good tasting and good chewing eye of round jerky cost right around $9.28 a pound to make at home; with a good budget food dehydrator. That’s 58 cents per ounce compared to 77 cents (about one fourth less) per ounce when using Commercial grade flank steaks. Further, I pulled up a blog post that listed the March 2019 average price of middle-of-the-road beef jerky to be $2.08 per ounce ($33.28 a pound). That’s nearly 4 times the cost (in after-tax dollars) of what you can make it at home for. You can eat the bottom end retail stuff, but to me a lot of it is reminiscent of dogie treats.

Written by George Wolfer

George Wolfer

Been associated with the meat industry pretty much since starting at a Vocational High school Meat Processing program in 1974. Like to learn and teach interesting and worthwhile livestock production, meat processing and marketing practices.

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