— Mike Zlotnicki • April 2017
Fall and winter hunting seasons are over, spring turkey season is just beginning and the fish are starting to bite. What to do?
If you had a successful deer or waterfowl season, try making jerky. It’s relatively easy, and even non-hunters love it. Here are a few tips to get you started. I’ve been doing it for about 20 or so years and have learned a bit along the way.
When I harvest a deer in the fall, I bone out at least one of the hams and separate the roasts, then I cut those into fist-sized chunks to freeze. That makes them easier to handle during the cutting process.
I bought a Cabela’s electric slicer to make the task easier, but the key to cutting jerky is use frozen or mostly frozen meat. You want slices 5 to 8 millimeters thick, and it’s much harder to do that with fresh or thawed meat. You simply want a thin, consistent cut. Too thick and the meat takes too long to cure; too thin and it can get brittle and too crunchy.
After cutting, you need a marinade or rub. I’m sure a quick Google search will yield a blue million options, but after much experimentation, this is my go-to: Allegro marinades out of Paris, Tenn. They’re available in most Triangle food stores. The company makes many flavors, but Original and Hot & Spicy are my main marinades. I will use Teriyaki when making jerky for younger palates. Personally, I like my head to sweat a little while I’m eating jerky.
I marinate meat strips in the marinade overnight, then shake lightly and place the meat on the dehydrator. My model has five slotted trays and a glorified blow dryer that inserts down in the middle. I flip my bottom pieces and move my trays around once at the three-hour mark, and six to eight hours later, I have jerky. To test, I take a piece and bend it about in half. When I see white fibers within the cut, I know it’s done.
I use a commercial dehydrator – a very low-end model of uncertain vintage – and I think all it costs me is product volume and time drying. A quick look at the Cabela’s website shows models from $80 to $250. Don’t forget: The dehydrator works just as well on fruits and vegetables – and on beef when you run out of game meat. Just make sure you get the leanest beef cuts for jerky. Brisket, London broil and the like work fine. Fat and marbling are conducive to nice steaks and roasts, but not good jerky.
For anyone wanting to go the conventional oven route, no problem. You want your oven at 150 to 180 F. Remember that you are drying, not cooking. Line the bottom of the oven with aluminum foil. You can place your meat slices on the oven grates, or pin each with a toothpick and hang them. Leave the oven door ajar as if you were broiling and let it ride. Again, check in a few hours and test the texture by bending and biting before removing.
Making jerky gives a whole new life to your freezer meat. It works with waterfowl and larger game birds like pheasant and turkey. Just make sure to remove all visible fat from any meat you work with. And while the sodium in the marinades I mention should act as a preservative of sorts, I freeze my finished jerky if it’s not to be consumed immediately. Wild-game jerky ranks right up there with any method I employ to prepare game meat for the table. Give it a try.