Beef jerky is my new favorite snack. Some of you who know me well are doing a double take right now, I know. I blame my husband’s boss, and subsequently our good friend Scott, for making homemade jerky so delicious I had to try making my own. For many years I have been wary about beef; I actually went years without eating red meat, despite craving steak fajitas and grilled cheeseburgers on an almost weekly basis. I refuse to support the unfair conditions that define the living standard of so much of our commercial supply of meat; I won’t get into that now, but will say, again, to anyone who will listen, how lucky I am to have several local sources of meat from which I feel good about purchasing and eating beef. The folks at Rain Shadow Meats have incredible variety and quality, there’s a Bill the Butcher in walking distance of our house and Uneeda Burger and Dot’s Charcuterie & Bistrot are a short drive away, just to name a few. As a snack, a small portion of beef jerky is filling; knowing exactly what is in it makes me feel good about sending a piece to work with my husband in lieu of cookies or crackers. We’ve both made lunch from jerky, cheese, apple slices, pickles and a piece of bread– a version of a ploughman’s lunch, I suppose.
When I first decided to try making jerky, I thought it was going to be a complex and time-consuming process with lots of steps and intricate temperature controls– but it is none of those things. You don’t need special tools, appliances or pans. As many of my favorite kitchen projects are, it’s a matter of being patient over doing lots of work: the beef has to be sliced carefully, then marinated for a while, then dried. That’s it! I use my oven to dehydrate: one benefit of having an older model, small oven is that the temperature settings go down to 125 degrees, so it is ideally suited for jerky. You can use a food dehydrator if you have one (just follow the instructions in the users’ guide) or rig up a box fan system, Alton Brown-style, as he explains here. Though I used my oven, not the box fan, I did use his marinade recipe (minus the liquid smoke) the first couple times I made beef jerky to get the hang of the ingredients and what they contribute to the final product. After that, I combined ratios from that recipe with ingredients from our favorite short rib marinade and our current ingredient obsession, gochujang, a savory Korean chile paste with a deep, wonderful flavor. This is the version I’m sharing today, and it’s pretty darn good, if I do say so. It’s for the heat seekers out there, especially if you use gochujang in your marinade. A little sweet, a little salty and about medium spicy– as a snack, it satisfies all my craving tendencies. If you’re looking for something a little less spicy, you could certainly omit the gochujang, but I haven’t tried doing that– more spice for me, please! As for the kind of beef, you can use any lean cut of beef, but I strongly prefer and recommend flank steak. It’s tops on my list for texture, ease of preparation and flavor.
I am so excited to have learned how to make jerky at home! With spring hikes and summer camping trips right around the corner, this will be a great item to have on hand. I’m going to have to start making larger batches to keep up with demand…
Spicy Beef Jerky
- 1 -3 lbs. flank steak
- 1/3 c. soy sauce
- 1 T. gochujang
- 1 tsp. garlic powder
- 1 tsp. dried ginger
- 1 T. rice wine vinegar
- 2 T. brown sugar
This amount of marinade will accommodate anywhere from one to three pounds of steak. The batch of jerky pictured above came from the piece of flank steak pictured below, which was about 1 1/2 lbs. If you plan to make more jerky than that, you’ll want to double the marinade recipe. To prepare the beef, trim it of all excess fat, or ask your butcher to do so. Put the flank steak, whole, into the freezer for 30 mins. to an hour to make it easier to slice. Slice into thin strips, about 1/4″ wide, against the grain for easier chewing. It is helpful for the pieces to be a uniform size so they cook at the same speed.
Make the marinade: in a Ziploc bag or narrow container with a cover, mix the soy sauce, gochujang, garlic powder, ginger, vinegar and brown sugar until combined. Add the sliced beef and ensure that all pieces are coated in marinade and submerged in liquid. Refrigerate overnight, at least 8 hours. When you’re ready to dehydrate, heat the oven to 150 degrees. (Break from my instructions here to follow the instructions for your food dehydrator, if you’re using one.) Cover the lower oven rack in tin foil to prevent a mess in the oven. Remove the top rack of the oven and wash thoroughly; lay the pieces of jerky directly on the top oven rack, being careful to leave space around each piece so it can dry completely.
When all pieces are on the rack, carefully put it back into the oven, near the center. Use a wooden spoon to prop the oven door open slightly. After two hours, turn each piece of jerky over; you should notice that they’re drying out and shrinking slightly. Dehydrate for another two hours and then check to see if they’re done. Jerky is ready when you can bend it and no beads of moisture form at the bending point. My batches have been very consistently done between four and four and a half hours of cooking.
Beef jerky can be stored in an airtight container for 2-3 months, according to Alton Brown; a batch this size hasn’t lasted more than two weeks at our house yet.