How to Make Great Beef Jerky

The Hunting Cabin

Some food groups are a natural fit for certain activities. Think chicken wings while watching football games on the TV (or any sporting event, if you’re in a bar). Or hot dogs at the ball park. Chips and salsa while playing cards.

I’ll add one to the mix: homemade beef jerky in deer camp.

This is a new phenomenon for me “ the 2018 deer hunt was the first time I enjoyed homemade jerky. But I was hooked. Not just on the jerky, either (though it was good). But on the fact it could be made at home.

Our buddy Murdoch broke out a package of jerky one night while sitting in the hunting cabin. I was so impressed with his jerky I asked for his recipe and instructions. Turns out good jerky is fairly easy to make, and the equipment and spices are relatively inexpensive.

Just 3 packages to make hamburger jerky

Ingredients of homemade beef jerky

Of course, the main ingredient of jerky is the meat. Spices and seasonings give the jerky its flavor, and curing salt is used to preserve the meat.

The most common types of curing salt are known as Prague #1 and Prague #2. Prague #1 is comprised of 6.25% sodium nitrite and 93.75% table salt. The more potent Prague #2 has the same amount of sodium nitrite 6.25%, but also sodium nitrate 4% and rest is common table salt. These salts are colored pink to avoid confusion with regular table salt. Due to their color, these powders are sometimes called pink curing powders.

You’ll notice that the curing powders pack a lot of sodium. If you want to reduce the overall sodium content of your jerky, consider substituting your seasonings and reducing the quantities of ingredients that contain sodium.

Your flavor possibilities are nearly endless. I’ve seen seasoning packets in hot, original, peperoni, teriyaki, and more.

Getting started

Look what you get for$35!

First, decide whether to use ground up meat (hamburger) or a slab of beef. Of course, you can change your mind at any time. That’s what I did, as you’ll see.

For hamburger, you’ll need a jerky gun. It looks like a caulking gun and shoots out a neat, uniform ribbon of meat.

A slab of beef needs to be cut into strips; most people buy a slicer. Perhaps the butcher can be talked in to slicing it for you. Conveniently, I happen to own one.

The meat must be dried after curing. While you could use an oven, a dehydrator works really well. They are designed to thoroughly and uniformly dry the meat.

Like Murdoch did, I started with hamburger. I sought out the leanest I could find in my neighborhood supermarket. You’ll notice a lot of hamburger is marked 80/20, meaning it’s 20% fat. That fat content is too high. Fat can cause the meat to go rancid over time, even after curing. So, it’s best to minimize the fat content. I prefer a blend that’s 96% lean. It’s not cheap “ I paid around $5 a pound.

Actually, the jerky resulting from one pound of hamburger is eaten so quickly, it doesn’t last long enough to go rancid. So use 80/20 if you want.

Good starter kit

I found a basic jerky kit on Amazon for $35. It includes the jerky gun, four packets of seasonings (each a different flavor) and a four-stack dehydrator. Each packet of seasoning is enough for a pound of hamburger. This inexpensive dehydrator runs at 160 degrees, which is an adequate temperature suggested for drying meat. A more expensive dehydrator has adjustable temperature ranges.

Soon after the jerky kit arrived, I set about making up my first batch. I mixed one packet of seasoning and one packet of curing salt in a pound of ground beef. This is literally hands-on work: You work the hamburger meat with your fingers to evenly mix in the seasonings. Make sure you don’t end up with clumps of spices.

The jerky gun worked really well, squirting out nice strips of meat. I cut those in roughly 5 lengths and placed them on the dehydrator trays. For thorough drying, the strips shouldn’t touch each other.

I ran the dehydrator for about five to six hours, then finished off in the oven for about an hour at 200 degrees. This is recommended with hamburger to eliminate the risk of salmonella. (I do not subject my sliced beef to the oven.)

Nice even strip out of the jerky gun

I made a total of three batches with hamburger, then switched to a round roast. (Round roast and flank steak appear to the most common cuts used for jerky.) I freeze the steak then let it thaw slightly. This makes it easier to slice. Trim off any fat, and cut the slices so they’re about the thickness of a nickel. That has proved to be challenging, with my older, lower-quality slicer.

Incidentally, how you cut the meat affects its texture. For chewier jerky cut with the grain. If you want a more tender slice, cut against the grain.

The slices are placed in a Ziploc bag with the marinade sauce. Try to get all the meat covered in sauce. Let it marinate overnight, or roughly 12 hours. Spread the slices on the dehydrator shelves, making sure they don’t touch each other. Run the dehydrator for six to seven hours at around 160 degrees. When done the jerky can be bent and crack but not break in half.

I recommend you start with hamburger and just use the prepacked spice packages until you get a feel for the process. It is so good you might not go any further!

Here is a recipe to consider for steak. I started with a standard recipe, and tweaked it slightly. I particularly wanted to reduce the sodium content. I reduced the amount of table salt called for. For the marinade, I switched to a low-salt soy sauce.

Beef Jerky From Steak

The line up of flavor


Just barely enough juice for 2 lbs.


  • One 2 lb. round steak or flank steak (lean cuts are best and will keep longer)
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper (I reduced from 1 teaspoon)
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon salt (reduced from 2; can be pickling salt)
  • ¼ teaspoon Prague #1
  • ¼ teaspoon Cayenne pepper
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar (or white)
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons natural hickory liquid smoke
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice (I added that.)


  1. Thinly slice the roast. Strips should be about the width of a nickel. Cut off all visible fat.
  2. Transfer beef strips to a large Ziploc bag.
  3. Mix ingredients and pour over beef. Toss until all meat is covered.
  4. Marinate for 12-36 hours. Turn strips over several times to ensure thorough coating.
  5. Spread the meat in a single layer on the dehydrator trays.*
  6. Dry at 160 F for 6- 7 hours, occasionally blotting off any fat droplets that appear on the surface. Test using a cooled piece. Properly dried jerky, when bent, should crack but not break.
  7. Package jerky, into individual portions, in air-tight containers (like Ziplock bags) or vacuum seal. Store in a cool, dark and dry place.

*If the slices aren’t a consistent thickness, place the thicker ones near the top. They will be closer to the heater.

While homemade beef jerky tastes great at the deer camp, it’ll taste good anywhere and anytime. Use one of the recipes above to get started. Adjust the seasonings to your liking, then sit back and enjoy some good homemade beef jerky. And remember to be a good sport: Share some with your buddies, OK?

# # #

Did you miss the previous article? This is the list of 2018 articles


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