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Beef and other types of meat jerky are one of those items that seem to be expensive when bought a grocery store. A price of $20 to $30 per pound is not uncommon. Homemade jerky is easy to make in your kitchen using a food dehydrator and costs significantly less.
In this article, we discuss the best cuts of beef, pork, and poultry to use for making your own jerky.
What is the Best Cut of Meat for Making Jerky?
Jerky can be made from almost any kind of meat: beef, chicken, pork, turkey. Wild game such as deer or elk is also an excellent choice. An important consideration is picking the proper cut of meat that will produce the best results.
One thing to remember is that the process of drying the meat in the dehydrator reduces the volume quite a bit by removing the water content. A rule of thumb is that 3 to 4 pounds of meat are required for each pound of jerky.
Plan on a 3:1 ratio for raw meat to finished jerky
Also be aware the shelf life of homemade jerky is usually around a month or two if properly stored, so only make as much as you will use in that timeframe. For more details, see our article on how long dehydrated food lasts.
This is one of the most popular types of jerky to make. There are several cuts that work best and the good news is they are usually the less expensive cuts.
There are many cuts of beef available, but the best ones to use are lean cuts, especially ones that don’t have a lot of interior fat. The fat in the meat has a tendency to spoil in storage, so we should avoid that.
Large boneless cuts from the back legs such as top round, bottom round and eye of round are good choices.
Sirloin tip can also be used, as it is more tender but usually slightly more expensive.
Another popular choice is flank steak which is very lean and flavorful, although more expensive.
Best Cut of Beef for Jerky
Eye of Round
An inexpensive cut which is the all-around best choice. It’s very lean, with some fat on the outside that should be trimmed. Easy to slice into jerky size strips. It is also the most tender of the round cuts.
All things considered, Eye of Round usually is the best choice
Top and Bottom Round
Also known in some areas as London Broil, these are good choices too. Slightly less tender than the eye of round and may contain a little more marbling (interior fat).
A less popular choice than the rounds, but still makes good jerky. It is more tender, but also tends to be more expensive. Try to find lean cuts with less marbling for use in jerky.
A flavorful cut that is more expensive than other options. Be sure to trim any of the excess fat. It can also be a bit tough, so try slicing it against the grain for best results.
Boneless chicken breast is the easiest to work with and provides the best results. If you buy family packs in quantity, it can be very inexpensive. Boneless chicken thighs can also work, but the meat tends to be more stringy and tough.
Lean pork loin is readily available and can be sliced similar to the beef eye of round. The key here is to select the leanest cuts or have the butcher trim one for you. Trim all visible fat from the outside.
What about Bacon Jerky?
You may have seen bacon jerky at the store. Due to the extra fat, it is more difficult to make and does not produce good results in a food dehydrator. Higher temperature cooking in an oven or smoker is required to cook down the fat and thoroughly cook the meat.
Similar to chicken, boneless turkey breast is the best cut to use. It is naturally very lean and produces good results in the dehydrator. Usually more expensive than chicken, but allows you to enjoy Thanksgiving all year long.
Other Meats like Venison
Most wild game meats like venison and elk are naturally very low in fat. Any large roast from the hindquarters such as rump roast or eye round will be great.
How to Slice the Meat for Jerky
With the Grain or Against the Grain?
There are two ways to slice: with the grain and against the grain. There is no right answer, only personal preference. Slicing with the grain will make jerky that holds together slightly better than against the grain, but will be a little more difficult to chew. Against the grain will produce a softer jerky, that can tend to fall apart depending on the cut of meat used.
With the grain or against the grain: it’s up to you
If you choose to slice with the grain, using a meat mallet to break up and tenderize the meat a bit can help with the chew, while still maintaining a good texture.
1/4 of an inch is a good rule of thumb for slicing jerky. It is substantial enough to hold together during the drying process, yet not too thick so it drys in a reasonable time. You could ask your butcher to slice the meat for you when you purchase it, assuming you plan to use it right away.
1/4″ is the ideal slicing thickness
If you are slicing yourself, invest in a sharp ceramic knife which will give you clean even cuts with less effort. The Kyocera ceramic professional chef knife is one of my favorites.
Here’s a great video on slicing:
The Bottom Line
My advice is to experiment with several types and cuts of meat in small quantities to see which ones produce the best results. Once you have perfected your technique, you will never have to pay the high store prices for jerky again.
Here’s some beef jerky to inspire you:
Frequently Asked Questions About Beef Jerky
Should I trim the fat before making jerky?
Yes, you should choose a lean cut of meat and trim any visible fat. Fat does not dehydrate well and will significantly reduce the shelf life of the jerky.
Does the meat need to be precooked before dehydrating?
It is not absolutely necessary, but the meat must reach an internal temperature of 160 °F during the dehydrating process if not precooked. To reduce dehydration time, precook the meat.
What size slices are best for jerky?
To ensure even drying, the meat should be sliced to approximately 1/4 in thick slices. You can cut the slices to the desired size to fit in your dehydrator.
What is the easiest way to slice the meat?
A good quality kitchen knife can be used to slice the meat. Partially freezing the meat beforehand will make it a little easier to work with. You can also use a special slicing board like the Shop-Ezy Jerky Cutting Board to make things easier.
Can ground beef be used to make jerky?
Ground meat can be used to make jerky with a jerky gun. The same guidelines apply: use lean meat, cook thoroughly.
What is the highest quality beef jerky?
Jerky you make yourself! You have full control over the quality of the meat and the choice of marinade. You can consider any special dietary restrictions like gluten-free in your choice of ingredients. It is also usually much less expensive the commercially available jerky. Which brings us to our next question.
Why is beef jerky really expensive?
The main reason is the cost and quantity of the ingredients required. Remember the dehydrating process removes water which can account for up to 75% of the weight of the beef. So to make 1 lb of jerky it may require 3-4 lbs of meat. The other factor is the dehydrating process can be time-consuming considering the volume of the product made.
What is the cheapest meat for jerky?
Eye of Round or London Broil are two cuts that are usually affordable and work great for jerky. Buy a family pack or stock up when there is a sale.
Another option is ground beef, which is usually pretty inexpensive as well. It has a slightly different texture than traditional jerky, so experiment to see which you prefer.
What other types of meat can I use for jerky?
You can make jerky from many types of meat, just use your imagination. Chicken, turkey, pork all make great jerky. You can also use wild game such as deer (venison), elk, moose. Just make sure it is a lean cut, and that you heat it to the proper internal temperature (160 °F)
Does the meat have to be marinated?
It’s totally up to you, depending on the flavor of jerky you are trying to make. In most cases, the meat is marinated or dry-rubbed with seasoning. Just make sure to season or marinate prior to dehydrating.
How long should I marinate beef jerky?
It varies based on many factors such as marinade used and cut of beef. A good rule of thumb is 24-36 hours. If the marinade is salty, a little shorter is better to help avoid too much salt flavor in the finished product. If the meat is tender and the marinade flavor is strong, 12 hours may be sufficient. Going beyond 36 hours is probably overkill.
Why is the beef jerky I made so dry?
Most likely the temperature was too high during the drying process. This problem can be worse if you use an oven instead of a food dehydrator. Also, it is possible that the meat is sliced too thin causing it to dry too quickly. Shoot for about 1/4 in thick.
How do I cure meat such as beef or venison at home?
Dehydrating is an excellent way to cure beef or venison, depending on the cut.
At what temperature should I make a chicken jerky in a microwave oven?
It’s probably not a good idea to make jerky in a microwave oven. It is too hard to control the cooking process. A dehydrator is a much better choice. You can precook the meat slightly before dehydrating though. This is important if your dehydrator does not have a setting that allows the meat to reach an internal temperature of 160º.
Can chicken be dehydrated for a soup mix?
Yes, but it is best to stick to low-fat cuts like chicken breast. Fat doesn’t dehydrate well, so it tends to spoil in storage. Dehydrating chicken is a great way to store it for soup. While you’re at it, try dehydrating some vegetables as well, then all you will have to do is add broth.
How should the finished jerky be stored?
Cut the meat to the desired size and store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. Here’s a step by step guide.
What about jerky dog treats?
The same meat you use for human jerky can be used to make homemade dog treats in a dehydrator. You can probably use slightly tougher/cheaper cuts. I’m sure Fido won’t mind!. Make sure you cut back on the salt and seasoning, especially if your pet has a sensitive stomach.
How does dehydrating food change its nutritional value?
That’s a great question. Some nutritional value of food can be lost when dehydrating, but it is often less than other cooking methods. Check out this article for all the details.
How do you take meat camping?
Making jerky is a great way to preserve meat for camping or hiking. It also packs a lot of nutrition in a small volume, so it’s easy to carry.
What are some good beef jerky recipes?
That’s a tough question, it depends on your taste. Here’s a good reference to get started.
Cuts of beef diagram:
File:US Beef cuts.svg. (2016, September 22). Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository. Retrieved 23:23, September 3, 2017, from https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:US_Beef_cuts.svg&oldid=207437204.
Dalton A. says
This is the best jerky advice I’ve seen so far. We just got a dehydrator and I will be saving this page as my go-to reference. Thank you!
Jim Allen says
Thanks, I’m glad you find the info helpful.