Beef Jerky Types
Flying G Jerky prides themselves on making good, old fashioned jerky with just the right balance of spices and of course, nothing but natural smoke flavor instead of using liquid smoke. Ours is smoked with natural hickory, perfectly dried and cut cross grain to deliver a jerky that is on the drier side but also still tender to eat. All this being said, let us look at the different types of beef jerky that are out on the market.
Old Fashioned Jerky
- This is jerky that has been made in North America for decades. This method starts with a whole cut of meat and is sliced at varying thicknesses either with the grain or cross grain. Cutting with the grain gives you longer, tougher jerky that takes longer to chew on and the kind of jerky that gives your jaw a workout! Cross grain cutting provides you with smaller pieces but at the same level of dryness, you can get something that is not as hard to eat. It comes apart easier but still gives you that old fashioned flavor and feel.
Chopped and Formed:
- This style of jerky is made from some of the same cuts of meat as old fashioned jerky but instead of slicing the meat, the meat is put into a grinder and then squeezed through forms onto screens to make round or flat rectangular sticks before drying. This is what you typically see in single stick packs like Slim Jim’s. Many of the large commercial companies use this method for their regular bags of jerky.
- Biltong is made from sliced cuts of meat similar to old fashioned jerky but a different marinating and cooking method is used. Because it is marinated and cooked in a completely different manner, it also has a much different taste and texture. On the cooking methods below, we will cover how Biltong is created to give a better understanding.
- In our honest opinion, this is the method that works best. A Dehydrator is like a convection oven. It uses the combination of a heating element and a fan. The difference is that the dehydrator specializes in working with lower temperatures so it can hold a temperature plus or minus a couple degrees for a long period of time. By doing this, you can count on even cooking and getting the outcome you want for your jerky. Another plus is that most racks in a dehydrator are made to be dishwasher safe. They can easily be rinsed in a sink and put in the dishwasher for easy cleaning. We all love easy cleaning, right!
- Another method that can be used to make beef jerky is to utilize a smoker. This method can absolutely lead to a wonderfully, flavorful batch of beef jerky. If you use a great combination of seasonings and spices and cook your jerky in a smoker, the flavor you can achieve is out of this world due the natural wood smoke that is soaked up by the meat. One great health benefit of using a smoker is that you can get that natural smoke flavor (if that is what you prefer) instead of using liquid smoke, which is not healthy for you. Liquid smoke is an allergen and that is why you see it stated on jerky packages from companies that use liquid smoke. That is a USDA/FDA requirement.
- The oven method can be used to make a good tasting beef jerky. It is a plus if you are using a convection oven because of the air flow provided by the fan in the oven. You can still use a regular oven to make beef jerky but it just takes longer because of the lack of air flow provided by a convection fan. Most ovens are meant to cook at higher temperatures and some of them do not go low enough to cook jerky. Ideally, you want to cook it under 200 degrees. You would want the temperature somewhere around 170 degrees. Also, you definitely do not want to use the broiler function. If it comes on it can really scorch the jerky even at the lowest oven setting. Should the broiler on top come on when the oven is at its lowest setting, foil or a baking sheet would need to be placed above the jerky to deflect the heat. You don’t want to expose the jerky to any kind of direct heat. If the oven can go that low and hold that temperature very well then you are in business. One unfortunate outcome of using your household oven is that it can make a mess of your oven if you do not properly line the bottom of the oven and the racks.
Sun and Air Drying (Biltong):
- One form of jerky called biltong is not cooked. For biltong, they use a combination of a vinegar solution with seasonings and spices for a marinade and then the meat is dried in a large room using ambient air temperature with air flow created to help dry it. By USDA standards, beef jerky needs to cook at ~160 degrees or higher for a certain amount of time with a certain amount of humidity to get a total kill on bacteria. Biltong manufacturers use the vinegar solution to get a kill on bacteria. This cooking process is not outlined with the USDA or FDA so it is up to the manufacturer to prove that their process accomplishes a total kill on all bacteria and mold spores. If they can achieve this proof, they are allowed to make biltong to package and sell to stores for end consumer consumption. This process makes a much different tasting and texture product compared to jerky. The origins of Biltong is believed to come from the southern part of Africa.
That should give you a good idea of the different types of beef jerky and the ways that beef jerky is cooked, or in one case, not cooked. To avoid the risk of food poisoning, one should always want to seek out beef jerky that has been cooked.