So, about a week into my quit, I decided that I could NOT have a Jolly Rancher in my mouth every second of every day. I was putting on weight, and just didn't want all that high fructose corn syrup coursing through my veins.
Don't remember who, but someone suggested that I try beef jerky. Now, I have always liked the stuff well enough, but never enough to try making it myself. After spending $1.99 on the little packages of Jack Links for a few days (a two-link-a-day habit), I decided to experiment.
The result is a darn tasty jerky that is now my standard--not too mild, not too sweet, not too spicy. I plan to experiment more with new flavors like Chipotle & Lime now that I have the basic recipe down. When I finally get my commercial kitchen license, I plan on selling this locally.
Mongrel's Beef Jerky
You will need to be able to keep the drying beef at a steady temperature of 145–165 degrees Fahrenheit. This can be done with:
a food dehydrator that allows you to set the temperature (Excalibur is one such dehydrator. I wish I owned one).
OR a food dehydrator that you can verify, using a food thermometer, holds a steady temp between 145°–165°F (mine has only one temperature, which happens to be 150°F; this is my method).
OR an electric smoker that allows you to set the temperature, or holds a steady temp between 145°–165°F.
OR a gas or electric oven that can be trusted to hold the temp between 145°–165°F.
I have a hard time keeping my wood fired smoker at a constant temp, so I don't recommend them for this. A rack of ribs is more forgiving than steak sliced to an eight of an inch.
OKAY, so what we're looking to do is create a baseline Beef Jerky that anyone will probably like. From there, y'all can modify the recipe to suit your individual tastes.
The most important thing here is creating a "Shelf-Stable" dried meat product; in other words, jerky that won't go bad at room temperature and exposed to air. I would refrigerate any jerky I wasn't planning to eat within a week if it was made without nitrates or other preservatives, just to be on the safe side.
Obviously, since we're starting with raw meat, food safety has to be our number one goal. Remember the two magic numbers in food storage and preparation, and you'll usually be alright: Keep cold foods below 40°F and keep hot foods above 140°F.
Acquire one pound of lean beef (you don't want a lot of fat—fat doesn't dry well and also goes rancid at room temperature after a few days). I have had the best luck with either sirloin or top round steak cut to about an inch thick. Don't spend a lot of money; if bottom round is on sale for $2.99/ lb. go for that. Many supermarkets have "Manager's Specials" on beef that is about to go past the Sell-By date. Save yourself some money any give that a try, since you're only going to be drying the ever-loving hell out of it anyway.
Throw it in the freezer for about an hour and a half to get it firm enough to cut without it being all wobbly when you slice it.
In a medium bowl, mix the following:
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 tbsp malt vinegar (apple cider vinegar is just as good)
4 tsp Kentucky bourbon (this is optional—the alcohol evaporates during the cooking. Still, if you're trying to lay off the sauce, you may want to skip the Bourbon altogether)
2 tsp soy sauce
6 tbsp BBQ sauce (This is a short cut—equal parts molasses and tomato paste would do about the same job.)
4 tbsp maple syrup (or brown sugar)
2 tbsp salt (I don't recommend using less—salt is one of things keeping your jerky from spoiling.)
3 tsp garlic powder
3 tsp onion powder
2 tsp black pepper (or more or less depending on how spicy you like your jerky)
2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (or more or less depending on how spicy you like your jerky)
Take it out and trim off the excess fat around the edges.
Some people suggest slicing the beef into 1/4 inch strips that you pound with a tenderizing mallet until the strips are 1/8 inch thick. I tried that, and it worked fine, but I like my jerky a little tougher. The tenderized beef melted in my mouth instead of hanging out for a while between my cheek and gum.
I recommend very carefully slicing it against the grain into 1/8 strips with a VERY SHARP knife.
Place the sliced beef into the bowl of marinade, cover, and place in the refrigerator for 8 hours or overnight (remember that vinegar and alcohol will cause the beef to break down after about 12 hours. You don't want to leave thin strips in the marinade for much more than 12 hours).
This marinade recipe should cover one pound of beef in a medium bowl. If not, you could add more of any of the liquid ingredients until it does. OR you could mix the beef around in the bowl every couple of hours to make sure all the strips get covered will the marinade.
After 8–12 hours, remove beef from the refrigerator and place strips on dehydrator trays. Do not overlap. Leave a tiny bit of space around each piece.
If you are using an oven or a smoker, you will have to improvise a makeshift tray with maybe a hibachi / BBQ grill or something so that the beef gets air around it. Even a broiler pan would probably work.
The beef WILL DRIP as it dries. Take precautions not to let the juices ruin whatever you're doing the dehydrating in. Aluminum foil. Parchment paper. Something.
Discard marinade. Seems a damn shame to waste all those good ingredients, but I'm told that it's just not safe to re-use. What are you gonna do, right?
If you are using a portable dehydrator that doesn't let you set the temperature, DO NOT place in a cold garage or something due to the strong aroma of the drying jerky. The cold ambient air will LOWER the temperature of the dehydrating chamber to an unsafe range! If my vegetarian wife can put up with the smell of drying jerky, your family can deal with it too.
Dry the jerky at 145°F–155°F for at least four hours.