The Best Cut of Meat for a Jerky Dehydrator

person holding a piece of beef jerky

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.

Quantity

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.

Beef Jerky

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.

diagram of cuts of beef

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 Beef Cuts to Use

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).

Sirloin Tip

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.

Flank Steak

A flavorful cut that is more expensive than other options.  Be sure to trim any of the excess fat.

Chicken Jerky

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.

Pork Jerky

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.

Turkey Jerky

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.

How Thick?

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.

 

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.

 

References

Main Photo credit: HOLLEROTRON via Foter.com / CC BY

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.

 

 


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