Homemade Beef Jerky

Landing in North Carolina, and dragging luggage out of the airport in the peak of summer, is always rather shocking after several days in the cool, dry air of southwest Colorado. Sure, my hometown is hot during the day at this time of year too, but no matter what temperature the mercury hits while the sun is up, the air cools each night jeans-and-sweatshirt weather.

Every trip to Colorado seems too short, but sometimes, I get to bring little tastes of home back with me. And this time, it’s some tasty homemade jerky!

Backstory: my dad and grandfather used to raise cattle. Several years ago during a bad drought, my dad sold all of his, but in years since, he has rented out our pasture to a fellow cattleman. Last summer, instead of charging rent money, my parents got a freezer full of cow. Cow fed on grass I can see from my bedroom window. In the face of this enormous bounty,  I bought my dad a jerky-making kit with several packets of seasoning, several of cure, and a meat-oozy-thing rather like a caulking gun. He had already adopted my grandma’s old and trusty food dehydrator, so while I was home, we decided to take it out for a spin.

Jerky-making, as it turns out, is pretty straight forward. Meat and seasoning are mixed together, along with some cure to help preserve the meat, before it it formed into strips and dried for several hours to produce the tender-tough snack most of us have only ever tasted out of a Jack’s Links bag. It’s also way more fun than gas-station snacking.

After just a few hours in the dehydrator (you can also use your oven!), my dad and I were left with six sheets of warm, dry jerky, ready to make its way to North Carolina.

Now that we’ve tried these packets, I think my dad and I are both curious about the possibilities of homemade seasonings and testing out different cuts and kinds of meat. But for now, I guess I’ll have to live with six baggies of these little buggers. Oh, what a difficult life I lead…

Homemade Beef Jerky
As instructed from Nesco Jerky Spice

1 lb ground beef, fully thaw
1 packet jerky spice
1 packet jerky cure

In a medium bowl, combine beef, spice, and cure. Using your fingers, mix the spice and cure into the beef very thoroughly for several minutes. Mixture should become very sticky. If using a jerky press, form mixture into a cylinder and insert into press. If you don’t have a jerky press, tear off a small section of the mixture and roll out between your palms to create a long stick, then press flat. Continue until the full mixture has been used.

If using a dehydrator, press jerky out onto drying racks and separate evenly throughout the dryer. Dry on high heat (160 °F) for several hours until jerky is dried through.  If using your oven, set oven at 160 °F or lowest setting. Lay jerky strips on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. Allow oven to vent by keeping the door ajar with a wooden spoon to permit airflow.

For whichever method of drying you are using, pat jerky dry with paper towels several times throughout the drying process to remove grease that pools on the top. Jerky is dry when it is tough but still flexible, and drying time will vary based on thickness of meat, humidity, and efficiency of your dehydrator. Remove directly from the dehydrator/oven onto paper towels. Top with another layer of paper towels and press down, soaking up as much grease as possible. Allow to cool completely, wrapped in the towels. Snip into strips of desired length.

Store in an airtight container or ziploc bag at room temperature for up to one month. For longterm storage, store in baggies in the freezer until ready to eat or to take on your next adventure!