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Starting as a method of preserving food, dehydration has become increasingly popular for making the perfect high-protein snacks. You can find packs of dehydrated steak, beef, wagyu steak, and more in supermarkets globally, but making jerky by yourself at home is surprisingly easy, considering you have the right equipment.

Do you have to cook jerky before dehydrating?

What Is Jerky?

Jerky is the name for meat that has been dehydrated. It was initially used as a method of preserving the food and increasing its shelf life but has become very popular as a snack to casually eat. Many forms exist such as beef jerky, chicken jerky, venison jerky, and steak jerky. The cuts used are often very lean and high in protein, which makes them perfect for a snack for anyone who needs to add some extra protein to their diet.

In terms of texture and taste, jerky can be very chewy and a bit like rubber. This is not necessarily a bad thing and many people enjoy it for this reason. Depending on where you buy it, or how you make it, the flavor of jerky can change a lot. There will be hints of the meat you used, but most producers will use a lot of salt and flavorings to add an extra level of flavor to the jerky.

While it is a lot easier to go to a shop and buy some jerky, it is quite easy to make it at home. All you need to do is dehydrate meat and flavor it to your liking. Assuming you have a dehydrator, this will work out cheaper than buying it from a shop as the raw ingredients will be significantly cheaper meaning you can make a batch multiple times bigger than what you would buy, for less money per comparable size. By this I mean, if you buy a pack of beef jerky that is two dollars for 40 grams of jerky, you could make 40 grams of your own jerky for a lot less than 2 dollars.

What Is Dehydration?

Dehydrating meat is all about removing the moisture content as much as possible to improve the shelf life of that meat. This is not done by pressing the meat and squeezing the moisture out. The removal of moisture is done by introducing the meat to dry heat, such as hot air. This will carry the moisture away from the food and its overall moisture content will be lower. The ideal moisture content is different depending on what you are dehydrating and why you are dehydrating it.

If you are dehydrating meat to make jerky, the ideal moisture content will be around 25%. This is to the point where the meat is still bendy, but will eventually snap in half if bent too much. This is different from other dehydrated foods such as bell peppers which are dehydrated until they reach a moisture content of around 10% with the intention of turning them into paprika.

How To Make Deer Jerky / Venison Jerky

Making deer jerky is quite simple and also really fun to do. There are a lot of steps that need to be followed before making the actual jerky itself. The same instructions can be applied to making any type of jerkies, such as beef jerky or chicken jerky, but today we are focusing on deer jerky. The dehydration process is the last step and is what will produce your finished jerky, but before then there is a lot of preparation that must be made.

Choosing The Right Cut

Obviously, the most crucial ingredient is going to be your venison as, wIthout it, you would not be able to make anything. If you are a hunter and source your own meat then you will be able to choose whatever cut you want, but if not, local butchers will be able to help out.

The ideal cut of meat you want for making jerky is going to be very lean. Fiding the cut with as little fat as possible is important to make the best jerky. You can use multiple cuts and trim all the fat off if needed, but it is a personal preference if you want all of the meat to come from the same cut. The size of the cut does not matter in terms of being too big, Using a cut of venison that is too small would be a bit of a hassle to cut up into neat jerky slices. The main factor to look for is meat with low-fat content. Any visible fat can be trimmed but if there is fat that goes deep within the meat then it may be a hassle.

Preparing The Meat

Once you have trimmed off the fat cap and all other visible fats on your meat, it is time to slice it. If you are new to making jerky and only have the bare essentials, then you will want to partially freeze your meat. Depending on the size of your cut, you will want to freeze it for 1-2 hours until it is hard to the touch but not fully frozen all the way through. This makes it a lot easier when you try to cut it into uniform slices.

Once you have removed your venison from the freezer, you will want to cut it into slices that are around 1/8″-1/4″ thick. The thicker the slice, the longer it will take to dehydrate and the chewier it will be. Not only does the thickness matter, but how you cut the meat is also important. Similar to wood, meat has a visible grain in it which affects how chewy it is. If you cut your slices with the grain, they will be chewier than if you were to cut against the grain.

Alternatively, if you own or can get a hold of a jerky slicer, you can skip the entirety of this step. You do not have to freeze the meat at all and only need to trim off the fat. If you are intending to make a lot of beef jerky semi-regularly, then a jerky slicer is a good investment. However, if this is a once in a blue moon kind of activity for you, then you will be fine just hand-cutting it. The beauty of a jerky slicer is that it will cut your meat into identical slices which will ensure that they all dry evenly and will be done at the same time.

Making The Marinade

The marinade is the most common way of flavoring jerky. However, it is also completely optional. A lot of people enjoy the simplicity of salt and pepper being the main flavorings for their jerky. This is easy to do as you can just make a spice mix from the two and rub it into your jerky slices.

If you are wanting a deeply flavored treat, then you will want to make a marinade. For those unaware, a marinade is a sauce that is left on the meat and soaks into it to flavor it both inside and out. A lot of dishes utilize this as a better alternative to using a sauce as a topping. When mixing your meat with a marinade it is important to know how long to let it soak for. Anything under 4 hours will result in your meat not being properly flavored, and anything above 24 hours will break down the protein in your meat and make it mushy. Apart from this, use your best judgment to see how strong you want the flavor to be.

Depending on the marinade you want, your ingredients will differ. There are a lot of different marinades you can make so feel free to search for different recipes. However, if you don’t fancy anything specific, here are two different marinades you should totally try.

Sweet Chili Marinade

To make a delicious sweet chili marinade that is both sweet, spicy, and entirely delicious, you will need to get these ingredients;

  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons cracked black pepper
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup teriyaki sauce
  • 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 5 tablespoons liquid smoke flavoring
  • 1/2 cup pineapple juice
  • 1 teaspoon chili flakes (optional)

Using all of the dry ingredients except the brown sugar, create a spice mix. Throw them all together and mix them up so they are fully mixed. This spice mix should be partially used on the meat before the marinade as a base layer. A few sprinkles of the mix on each side of the meat will be fine.

Over medium heat, mix your brown sugar, soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, Worcestershire sauce, balsamic vinegar, liquid smoke, and pineapple juice together. You will know the marinade is done once the brown sugar is completely dissolved. Once this has happened, refrigerate the marinade. Now that the marinade is chilled, you can pour in the rest of your spice mix and stir it around until they are combined. Pour this marinade into a Ziploc bag and then place your meat in there too. After shutting the bag, you can mix the marinade over the meat by hand and then allow it to rest in the fridge.

Western BBQ Marinade

The ingredients for this delicious western BBQ marinade are;

  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/3 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/3 cup ketchup
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard

In a pan over medium heat, combine all of these ingredients together. Continuously stir to ensure that everything blends together. You will know when this is done as all the brown sugar should be dissolved. Once properly mixed and heated, you can place this in a Ziploc bag to cool in the fridge. Once fully cooled, place your jerky strips inside and shut the bag before using your hand to cover the meat in your marinade.

Preparing The Deer Meat For Dehydration

Once you have your deer jerky all marinaded and ready to go, you will want to quickly do one more step of preparation. You will need to drain the meat and pat off any excess marinade. This is important as the marinade has moisture content and will result in a longer dehydrating time before the jerky is done.

Use a paper towel to pat off the excess marinade. It is important that you pat and not wipe as it is okay for leftover spices such as chili flakes to be on the surface. Be as gentle as you can while still removing the excess and you should be good to go.

Dehydrating Deer Meat

This is simultaneously the easiest yet also the longest step. Now that everything up to this point has been done, you can start to dehydrate jerky. Depending on the dehydrator you have, you can either do it all at once or in small batches. When laying your deer jerky on the racks, it is important not to overlap any of the pieces. This is so the moisture can be released as any overlapping would trap the moisture. It is also advised to leave a gap of a centimeter or two between each piece during the drying process so the air can circulate better.

When your deer jerky is placed and ready to enter the dehydration process, set your dehydrator to about 170 degrees F. Once the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees F, it is officially safe to eat. As the jerky is not cooked at a high temperature, no bacteria is being killed so it is important that while making your jerky, everything is sterile and clean.

at 160 degrees F, the jerky will take between 4-5 hours to properly dehydrate. Some people flip jerky halfway through the process but that is not necessary as the racks have a mesh texture while allowing for the bottom of the jerky to have good airflow too.

Knowing When Your Deer Jerky Is Done

When you think your jerky is done, you can take it out and check a couple of things to see if it is properly done. You can bend your jerky and it should be compliant but not snap in half immediately. When you do break it in half, you should see small white fibers sticking out. If that is the case, then it is done and can be cooled on a rack for an hour or two.

Storing Deer Jerky

Once your deer jerky is done, you will want to properly store it if you are not intending on eating it all within a day or two. Storing it in a Ziplock bag or a glass jar will keep it fresh for just over a week, but for long-term storage, it is best to store it in a vacuum-sealed bag as it will stay fresh for 2 months.

FAQs On Deer Jerky

How long do you dehydrate deer jerky at 160 degrees?

Deer jerky will take between 4-5 hours to properly dehydrate to the right level if at an internal temperature of 160 degrees F.

How long does deer jerky take in a dehydrator?

The timing for dehydrating jerky is decided by many factors such as the thickness of the jerky, the air circulation, and the temperature. At 160 degrees F, deer jerky will take about 4-5 hours to properly dehydrate.