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Making Safe Jerky
At Home with UAEX Team Email: AtHomeWithExtension@uada.edu
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Learn from the best Extension Educators on being at home with UAEX!
by Original Author: Anna Harlan, Stone County | Adapted for Blog: Torrie Smith, Carroll
The crisp fall air has settled in and hunters all over the United States are hoping
to add fresh game to their freezers. Enjoying the harvest is simple but many are not
fully protecting themselves from harmful pathogens during the jerky making process.
Jerky is a lightweight, dried meat product that is a handy food for backpackers, campers,
and outdoor sports enthusiasts. It requires no refrigeration. Jerky can be made
from almost any lean meat, including beef, pork, venison, or smoked turkey breast.
(Raw poultry is generally not recommended for use in making jerky because of the texture
and flavor of the finished product.)
Raw meats can be contaminated with microorganisms that cause disease. These harmful
bacteria can easily multiply on moist, high protein foods like meat and poultry and
can cause illness if the products are not handled correctly. If pork or wild game
is used to make jerky, the meat should be treated to kill the trichinella parasite
before it is sliced and marinated. This parasite causes the disease trichinosis.
To treat the meat, freeze a portion that is 6 inches or less thick at 0ºF or below
for at least 30 days. Freezing will not eliminate bacteria from the meat.
When preparing jerky from wild game, it is important to remember that the wound location
and skill of the hunter can affect the safety of the meat. If the animal is wounded in such a way that the contents of its gut come in contact
with the meat or the hunter’s hands while dressing the meat, fecal bacteria can contaminate
the meat. It is best to avoid making jerky from this meat and use it only in ways
that it will be thoroughly cooked. Animal carcasses should be rapidly chilled to avoid
Follow these recommendations for safe handling of meat:
The risk of foodborne illness from home-dried jerky can be decreased by allowing the
internal temperature of the meat to reach 160ºF, but in such a way as to prevent case
hardening. You can use two methods:
When you heat strips in a marinade before drying, you can reduce drying time. Color
and texture will differ from traditional jerky. More on these methods below.
If you are preparing sliced jerky, partially freeze meat to make slicing easier. The
thickness of the meat strips will make a difference in the safety of the methods we
If using ground meat, one option is to roll out meat using wax paper and a rolling
pin. A jerky gun can also be used to form strips or sticks from ground meat. Maintain
a common thickness level to promote even drying.
I chose to scoop out one tablespoon of meat and form a ball. Then I rolled out the
meat to a thin round that will easily fit inside a quart size freezer bag when dehydrated.
I also chose to form large squares of meat that I can cut into strips when the drying
process is complete.
You can also use a tenderizer and follow the package directions. The meat can be marinated
for flavor and tenderness. Marinade recipes may include oil, salt, spices and acid
ingredients such as vinegar, lemon juice, teriyaki, soy sauce or wine. Season your
strips with crushed red or black pepper for an extra kick.
Combine all ingredients. Place strips or ground meat in a shallow pan and cover with
marinade. Cover and refrigerate 1-2 hours or overnight. Products marinated for several
hours may be more salty than some people prefer. If you choose to heat the meat prior
to drying to decrease the risk of foodborne illness, do so at the end of the marination
time. To heat, bring strips and marinade to a boil and boil for 5 minutes before draining
and drying. If strips are more than ¼ inch thick, the length of time may need to be
increased. If possible, check the temperature of several strips with a metal stem-type
thermometer to determine that 160ºF has been reached. See below for method used for
Remove meat strips from the marinade and drain on clean, absorbent towels. Arrange
strips on dehydrator trays or cake racks placed on baking sheets for oven drying.
Place the slices close together, but not touching or overlapping. Place the racks
in a dehydrator or oven preheated to 140ºF. Dry until a test piece cracks but does
not break when it is bent (10 to 24 hours for samples not heated in marinade). Samples
heated in marinade will dry faster. Begin checking samples after 3 hours. Once drying
is completed, pat off any beads of oil with clean, absorbent towels and cool. Remove
strips from the racks. Cool. Package in glass jars or heavy plastic food storage bags.
Vacuum packaging is also a good option.
If the strips or ground meat were not heated in marinade prior to drying, they can
be heated in an oven after drying as an added safety measure. Place strips on a baking
sheet, close together, but not touching or overlapping. For strips originally cut
1/4 inch thick or less, heat 10 minutes in an oven preheated to 275ºF. (Thicker strips
may require longer heating to reach 160ºF.)
Jerky can be made from ground meat using special presses to form or shape the product.
Disease-causing microorganisms are more difficult to eliminate in ground meat than
in whole meat strips. (If ground meat is used, follow the general tips for safe handling
of meat above.) Be sure to follow the dehydrator manufacturer’s directions when heating
the product at the end of drying time. Again, an internal temperature of 160ºF is
necessary to eliminate disease-causing bacteria such as E. coli O157:H7, if present.
Properly dried jerky will keep at room temperature two weeks in a sealed container.
For best results, to increase shelf life and maintain best flavor and quality, refrigerate,
or freeze jerky.
This information was extracted from "So Easy to Preserve", 6th ed. 2014. Bulletin
989, Cooperative Extension Service, The University of Georgia, Athens. Revised by
Elizabeth L. Andress. Ph.D. and Judy A. Harrison, Ph.D., Extension Foods Specialists.
For more information, contact your local Family and Consumer Sciences Agent at your
County Extension Office.