Preparing Safer Jerky
Judy A. Harrison, Ph.D.
Extension Food Safety Specialist,
Department of Foods and Nutrition
Mark A. Harrison, Ph.D.
Food Science and Technology
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
Raw meats can be contaminated with microorganisms that cause disease.
These harmful bacteria can easily multiply of 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 5°F or below for at least 20 days.
Freezing will not eliminate bacteria from the meat.
General Tips For Safe Food Handling
The following general tips for safe handling are based on USDA
Meat and Poultry Hotline recommendations.
Always wash hands thoroughly with soap and running water for
at least 20 seconds before and after handling raw meats.
Use clean equipment and utensils.
Keep meat and poultry refrigerated at 40° F or below. Use ground beef and poultry within 2 days, red meats within 3 to 5 days or freeze for later use.
Thaw frozen meat in the refrigerator, not on the kitchen counter.
Marinate meat in the refrigerator. Do not save and re-use marinade.
When preparing jerky from wild game, it is important to remember
that the wound location and skill of the hunter can affect the safety
or 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. Deer carcasses should
be rapidly chilled to avoid bacterial growth. The risk of foodborne
illness from home-dried jerky can be decreased by allowing the internal
temperature of the meat to reach 160°F, but in such a way as
to prevent case hardening. Two methods can be used: heating meat
strips in marinade before drying or heating the dried jerky strips
in an oven after the drying process is completed. Directions for
both methods will be presented here. When the strips are heated
in a marinade before drying, drying times will be reduced. Color
and texture will differ from traditional jerky.
Preparing the Meat
Partially freeze meat to make slicing easier. The thickness of
the meat strips will make a difference in the safety of the methods
recommended in this book. Slice meat no thicker than ¼-inch. Trim
and discard all fat from meat because it becomes rancid quickly.
If a chewy jerky is desired, slice with the grain. Slice across
the grain if a more tender, brittle jerky is preferred. A tenderizer
can be used according to package directions, if desired. 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, or soy sauce or wine.
¼ cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon worchestershire sauce
¼ teaspoon each of pepper and garlic powder
½ teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon hickory smoke-flavored salt
* (for 1½ to 2 pounds of lean meat (beef, pork or venison)
Combine all ingredients. Place strips of meat in a shallow pan
and cover with marinade. Cover and refrigerate 1 to 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 the strips and marinade to a boil
and boil 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 160°F has been reached.
Drying the Meat
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 140°F 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
If the strips 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 ¼ inch thick or
less, heat 10 minutes in an oven preheated to 275°F. (Thicker
strips may require longer heating to reach 160°F.)
Making Jerky From Ground Meat
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 tips listed
previously. Be sure to follow the dehydrator manufacturer’s
directions carefully when heating the product at the end of drying
time. Again, an internal temperature of 160°F is necessary to eliminate
disease-causing bacteria such as E. coli O157:H7, if present.
Storing the Jerky
Properly dried jerky will keep at room temperature 2 weeks in a
sealed container. For best results, to increase shelf life and maintain
best flavor and quality, refrigerate or freeze jerky.
Reprinted with permission from the University of Georgia.
Harrison, Judy A. and Mark A. Harrison (2003). Preparing Safer
Jerky . Athens, GA: University of Georgia, Cooperative Extension
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