I don’t know that I was aware that beef jerky was a commercial product until college. It pretty much showed up in the Westerns I was forced to watch as a kid, in pioneer books, and about once a year out of the oven, right before the oven got cleaned. Homemade beef jerky was a tradition. Once, my mother tried to send me some in grad school. As far as I can tell, the delivery person literally kicked the package into my tiny mailbox, shattering the protective jar into a whole batch of fantastic jerky. I still mourn that poor jar of wasted tasty goodness (that was, I think, about 15 years ago).
Thinking about food for road trips and vacations, hikes or picnics, jerky is a pretty good staple. If it got people out to the Plains or the west coast by wagon train, it can probably get you through a long drive or a weekend at a remote cottage, and it’s definitely an airport security-safe food. I will say I have no idea how long this is shelf-stable, but I’m pretty sure that the last jar was hidden for a few months at home. So at least a few months?
Jerky is pretty easy to make. It’s a bit time-consuming, but most of that is just waiting around and doing nothing. My plan usually starts with throwing a frozen flank steak in the fridge to thaw all day while I’m at work. That night I make the marinade and slice the meat. The next morning, I stir/flip the meat in the marinade. When I get home from work, I throw it in the oven. So, yeah, it’s a two-day process, but maybe 45 minutes of that 48 hours is active work. One pound takes up about one oven rack, so if you like this, it’s easily doubled without overloading your oven. Know that you will likely need to and want to clean your oven afterward.
This is a variation on our family recipe, altered to removed the soy and a few other ingredients that can be problematic with allergies. If you can have soy, you can use it here — remove all other salt in the recipe; if you need to be gluten-free, use GF tamari, but to me it tastes quite a bit saltier than regular soy sauce. Adjust accordingly. I have not tried this with coconut aminos, but let me know how it works if you do. You will want to make the faux soy sauce (linked below) beforehand if you’re using it, but it does not take long.
Homemade Beef Jerky
- 1 lb. flank steak
- 1/2 cup dry sherry or dry wine
- 1/2 cup faux soy sauce (I used this recipe without the fish sauce and with a bit more salt, closer to 1/2 teaspoon, but I was doing it by taste at that point)
- 1 Tablespoon natural sugar (regular table sugar will work, but unprocessed sugarcane adds better flavor, likely from the natural molasses content)
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon dry mustard powder
- 1/2 teaspoon celery salt (use crushed celery seed if you are using soy sauce or tamari)
- 1 teaspoon lime juice (lemon is probably okay, I just have a lot of limes right now)
- 1/2 teaspoon hot sauce of your choice (absolutely optional)
- salt to taste
Freeze your meat for at least an hour. Alternately, take meat from the freezer and let thaw about 8 hours in the fridge. Having partially frozen flank steak will allow you to cut it more thinly and evenly.
Trim the fat from the flank steak. Then slice into approximately 1/8-inch slices, with the grain of the meat. Or, you know, do your best to slice it thinly, period, and call it “hand-cut” and “artisinal.” This is what I do.
In a glass baking dish, combine the ingredients for the marinade and whisk or stir with a fork until the sugar is dissolved thoroughly. Taste it and adjust the salt. You want this marinade to be salty, but not overly so. Your jerky will be less salty than the marinade.
Add the meat strips and stir to fully coat and mostly submerge. Cover and refrigerate at least overnight (again, I usually do overnight, stir, and most of the next day — that’s just how it works in my schedule).
Lay your meat out directly on the oven rack.
Turn your oven down to the lowest setting (mine goes down to 170°F), and leave the oven cracked. Let the jerky dry out for 5-7 hours — you probably know what jerky should look and feel like, so test it at 5 hours. 6 usually works for how I cut the meat and how my oven works. After one or two batches, you’ll know where this stands for you, too.
Remove jerky to an airtight container, glass if you have it, and travel on.