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FAQ about Jerky Making

We highly recommend that you review the USDA's Fact Sheet on Jerky & Food Safety before making your own jerky. You may also call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-674-6854 or send email to: mphotline.fsis@usda.gov regarding any additional safety concerns that arise during your home jerky making adventures.


What are the best cuts of meat to use when making jerky?

  • Roast
  • Flank
  • Top Round
  • Wild Game – Venison, Turkey, Goose etc.

All of the above should be lean and boneless, with the fat & sinew completely trimmed. After drying, the fat and sinew could go rancid and shorten the shelf life considerably which is why curing salt is generally used.


What is the best way to cut meat into jerky strips?

Slice the meat against the grain for tender jerky, or slice with the grain for a chewier jerky.


How should the meat be ground for reconstructed jerky (ground meat formed into jerky strips with a jerky gun)?

Grind first through a coarse plate, then through a fine plate. The finer grind will allow the meat to be more tightly packed into a uniform jerky strip. Never add fat to the mix. Jerky should be as lean as possible. The Original Jerky Gun - Weston Products with the double jerky nozzle makes quick work of spreading out the ground meat mixture for drying.


Is there anything special that I need to do when using a pre-packaged seasoning kit?

  • When using dry seasoning, such as Weston Jerky Dusts, it helps to add a small amount of liquid (water, soy sauce, whatever makes sense for the flavor that you are trying to accomplish). This will allow the seasoning to be more evenly distributed all over the jerky strips. But also remember: The more liquid you add, the longer your jerky will take to dry. And it is not a necessity to add the liquid.


How do I season jerky on my own without a kit?

When making your own jerky seasoning, there are a few basics to know when it comes to ingredients:

  • Start with a liquid base. The following (and any combination of them) are the most common for jerky recipes:
    • Soy sauce
    • Worcestershire sauce
    • Vinegar
  • If you want a spicier jerky, the following are a good start:
    • Red pepper flakes
    • Coarse ground black pepper
  • To sweeten the jerky, use:
    • Brown sugar
    • Honey
  • For a smoky flavor, if you’re not using a smoker to dry your jerky, use:
    • Hickory or Mesquite Liquid Smoke


Should I use cure (curing salt/sodium nitrate)?

  • If you’re making jerky from wild game, yes you should use Weston Curing Salt. Your wild game meat hasn’t been inspected or regulated, so to be safe, you should use a cure to eliminate any potential bacteria.
  • If you’re making jerky from domestic meats, there are a few things to consider:
    • If you properly dry & store the jerky, there should be no need for cure.
    • If you’d like to play it safe, you can still add cure.
    • If you’re worried about sodium content, cure IS salt. It will add to the sodium content of your jerky.
    • Nitrates debate-ably pose health risks. You can find arguments on either side, so if you’re worried about them, avoid cure, properly dry your jerky, and consume it within a reasonable amount of time after you dry it. We can offer no input as to the safety of nitrates.


What's the best way to marinate jerky?

Vacuum seal the meat with the marinade using a Vacuum Sealer and Vacuum Sealer Bags or Rolls. The vacuum opens the pores of the meat and draws the marinade more fully into the meat.

Helpful Tip: When using vacuum sealer bags and liquids, place a folded paper towel inside the bag just below where you are going to seal. This will help keep liquids from getting sucked into the vacuum sealer chamber during the vacuum sealing process.


How long do I need to marinate jerky?

  • If you’re using a vacuum sealer, 12 hours in the refrigerator will give you a full flavor. Of course, the longer you marinate it, the more flavorful it will be. However, 48 hours is a good time to call it quits. The acids in your marinade will break down the meat, so after too long, you will have mush.
  • If you use a sandwich bag or a covered bowl, marinate it at least 24 hours for full flavor.


How long and at what temperature do I dehydrate jerky in a dehydrator?

Dehydrate at 155 degrees for about four hours. After four hours, check it every half hour. The drying timing is dependent upon several variables. One is how much jerky meat you place into the dehydrator (the more you put in, the longer it will all take to dry). Another is how moist the jerky meat is when you put it into the dehydrator (the more moisture, the longer the dehydrator will take to heat up, and also to remove that moisture).


How do I know when the jerky is done?

It will be completely dry, but still flexible - not brittle (the meat should bend, not break).

 

Do I need to rotate my dehydrator trays?

You do not need to rotate the trays very often if you are using a Weston Dehydrators, but it doesn't hurt to move them around. Round dehydrators definitely require tray rotation.


How long and at what temperature do I dehydrate jerky in a smoker?

  • 155 to 200 degrees for 3 hours. Smoker temperature is difficult to regulate, so as long as you keep the smoker between 155 and 200, you’re in the clear.
  • After 3 hours, check it every half hour (For a full smoker - If you only make a small amount of jerky, you should begin checking it after an hour).
  • Also, you should be sure to change the wood chips regularly, and fill the water bowl. While you are drying the jerky, LOW and SLOW is the key. You want to slow the drying process in the smoker a bit with the moisture provided by the water bowl. If you dry the jerky too quickly, you will end up with ashy, crumbly meat.


Do I need to rotate the smoker racks?

  • Yes, you should rotate them every hour or so for even drying and smoke penetration.
  • You should also open the dampers slightly to allow proper airflow through the smoker. It does not have a fan like the dehydrator, so you must account for that.


How long and at what temperature do I dehydrate jerky in an oven?

Dehydrate jerky at 200 degrees for 2 hours in an oven, checking it every half hour. If your oven goes lower, set it as low as 155.


Are there any special considerations I should make when dehydrating jerky in an oven?

  • Best to use something like the Weston Products 3-Tier Drying Rack because a regular baking sheet will not allow for proper air flow. You would have to constantly rotate and flip the jerky to dry completely. The drying rack allows air flow on each side during the complete drying process.


How do I store jerky properly, and for how long?

  • You can store jerky in a paper bag for about a week.
  • You can store jerky in an airtight container or sandwich bag for a month.
  • If you store jerky in a properly vacuum sealed bag, it should last about six months (1 year if you freeze it).
  • Always store it in a cool, dry place no matter the container, and know that refrigerating and freezing will prolong its freshness.

*This will all vary, and the key is that the jerky must be completely trimmed of fat or else it will get rancid and the safe storage time will decrease dramatically. Also, you must properly dry the jerky. Bacteria will play in ANY leftover moisture. Finally, cool your jerky completely before you store it. If it’s too warm when you seal it, it will sweat, which will lead to mold. These are general guidelines. Please visit the USDA's Fact Sheet on Jerky & Food Safety for expert opinion.