Food preservation by drying has been practiced for centuries. Homemade jerky can be a flavorful, easy-to-make snack. However, as with any meat product, keep food safety in mind so that your final product is both tasty and healthy.
Important Food Safety Guidelines:
- Wash hands often and thoroughly when handling meat, especially after handling raw meat. Hands should be in contact with warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds.
- Do not cross-contaminate properly heated and dried meat with raw meat or unclean utensils. Keep raw meat, cutting surfaces, and equipment that have touched raw meat separate from dried meat, other ready-to eat foods, and other work surfaces and equipment.
- Sanitize cutting surfaces and equipment such as tongs, knives, and drying racks with a solution of 2 tablespoons of chlorine bleach in one gallon of water. Sanitize before and after use.
- Use an approved or tested recipe! The “Hot Pickle Cure Jerky” and “Vinegar-Marinade Preparation Method” are the only recipes for jerky currently recommended by the University of Wyoming Extension.
Use a Thermometer
Use a calibrated thermometer to monitor the circulating air temperature of the dehydrator or oven. Preheat the dehydrator or oven to 145°F for 15 to 30 minutes. Using clean tongs, arrange meat strips in single layers on the drying trays without touching each other. Place the filled trays in the preheated dehydrator leaving enough open space on the racks for air to circulate around the strips. Let the strips dry for 10 to 14 hours or until the pieces are adequately dry.
Test for Dryness
Test for dryness. Properly dried jerky is chewy and leathery. It will bend like a green stick but won’t snap like a dry stick. To test for dryness, remove a strip of jerky from the oven or dehydrator. Let cool slightly then bend the jerky; it should crack but not break when bent. When jerky is sufficiently dry, remove the strips from the drying racks to a clean surface. Pat off any beads of oil with absorbent paper towel, and let cool.
Place cooled jerky strips in an airtight plastic food bag or jar with a tight-fitting lid. Pack jerky with the least possible amount of air trapped in the container. Too much air causes off-flavors and rancidity. Label and date packages.
Store jerky in a cool, dry, dark place or the refrigerator or freezer. Properly dried jerky will keep for approximately two weeks in a sealed container at room temperature. It will keep for 3 to 6 months in the refrigerator and up to one year in the freezer. Check occasionally to be sure no mold is forming.