Dehydrators are a great way to transform lean pieces of beef into beef jerky. However, when making beef jerky in this way it’s important you follow some crucial preparation and drying steps—steps that can help keep your jerky free of pathogens and food-borne illnesses, and steps that can help flavor the meat for the ultimate in taste.
Food safety is a serious factor when dehydrating any type of meat. The biggest reason for this is that the fat on the beef (or any other type of meat) can turn rancid within a day when not properly refrigerated or frozen—and that fat does not dehydrate well. Instead, it basically remains in its original form, collecting bacteria and other germs that can cause minor to serious illnesses.
Flavoring is another important step of the dehydration process. Most people prefer at least some type of flavoring on their beef jerky, from a simple salt-like brine to a hot and spicy mix that will truly clear the sinuses. Truth be told, one has just as many flavoring options when making jerky as they do when flavoring any other type of roasted, braised, grilled or fried beef, and some people like to try out different flavoring combinations as they go along.
In the following article we will answer the question “how to make beef jerky in a dehydrator” in some detail, explaining everything from how to choose the right cut of beef to preparing and flavoring it to dehydrating it and storing it properly.
Part One: Choosing The Best Dehydrators for Beef Jerky
If you don’t already own a good food dehydrator for meat, then you need to get one before you start this process. There are a lot of options on the market, but we’ve found a few models that we think are the best when it comes to making beef jerky in your own kitchen. Check out our list of recommended best dehydrators for beef jerky:
Last update on 2018-12-15 at 13:05 / Affiliate disclosure / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
Part Two: Choosing the Right Cuts of Meat for Your Beef Jerky
One of the most crucial decisions you will need to make when setting out to make beef jerky in a dehydrator is the cut (or cuts) of meat to use. Quite simply, the cut of beef you choose will determine both the taste and consistency, and the right cut of beef can reduce the chances of picking up bacteria and food-borne illnesses.
As we alluded to in the introduction, cuts of beef with the least amount of fat on them are ideal for making beef jerky. Fat can spoil, go bad and collect bacteria, which is why it should be avoided at all costs. Although finding meat with no fat on it can be a challenge, it’s important that you choose lean cuts with the least amount of fat—and then trim off any of the remaining fat before you begin the dehydration process.
In addition to selecting lean cuts of meat, you should also take taste into account. What is your favorite cut of lean beef? Don’t know? That’s not a problem. You can try different cuts (and different flavoring combinations) until you find one that both dehydrates well and suits your tastes.
Before we introduce you to the various cuts of beef that work well for dehydration and jerky, let us first examine some general ground rules that will apply to any and all type of lean beef. As you head to the store or butcher to select and purchase your beef, try to remember these tips and strategies:
- Old Equals Bad. Although you might think older and dried up pieces of meats are “closer” to being dehydrated, these meats can actually ruin an entire batch of jerky. Avoid old or expired meats at all costs, including those that have been sitting in your freezer for months. These have a tendency to be freezer-burned, which can also negatively impact the jerky making process.
- The One-Third Rule. After beef is dried or dehydrated and made into jerky, it will lose about one-third of its overall weight. Because of this, you should be careful to purchase just the right amount of beef. For one pound of jerky, then, you will need to purchase roughly 3 pounds of lean beef. Two pounds of jerky will require six pounds of beef. And so on and so forth.
- Fat and Jerky Do Not Go Together. Again—and this cannot be stressed enough—fat and jerky do not mix. When selecting the perfect cut of beef, look for pieces with the least amount of fat. This will save you time in the long run, forcing you to trim less and dehydrate more.
- Defer to the Butcher. A great way to choose just the right cut of beef is to ask your local butcher. Tell him/her the process you will be using to create your beef jerky—in this case using a dehydrator—and trust their expert opinion. You should also employ your butcher’s services in helping to trim off the bulk of the fat, and to slicing the meat into the specified thickness (which we will explain later). This, too, is a great time saving measure.
Now that you understand the basic ground rules for selecting beef for your beef jerky, let us now take a closer look at the best cuts of beef for the process. All of these selections, when cut to the perfect thickness, will work well with your dehydrator, so try some or all of them until you find your favorite.
Eye of Round
Eye of Round is one of the perennial favorites for jerky lovers across the globe. Found in the single oval muscle on the rear leg of the steer, Eye of Round is generally considered one of—if not the most—tender of the “Rounds” cuts of beef. Many jerky lovers swear by the tenderness of this piece of meat. With Eye of Round you get a piece of meat that is:
- Very lean. Not only is the Eye of Round lean on its exterior, it also has very little interior fat.
- Long grain. The grain of the Eye of Round typically runs the length of the cut. This makes for easy slicing, whether you are cutting with the grain or against it.
- Inexpensive. Relatively inexpensive compared to other cuts of beef, jerky lovers can buy plenty of Eye of Round for maximum enjoyment.
Although you will have to trim the fat cap on the Eye of Round, generally speaking this piece of meat is ready for dehydrating the moment it is sliced.
Although Bottom Round is considered the least tender of the rounds, it still makes for some great jerky. The Bottom Round cut of beef is the outer muscle of the upper rear leg. With this piece of meat, you get a cut that is:
- Fairly Lean. As we have mentioned, lean is everything when selecting a cut of beef for jerky, and the Bottom Round definitely “makes the cut.” Although it is known for having a little interior marbling, you won’t have to spend hours at the carving station trimming off fat.
- Economical. Perhaps because of its lack of tenderness, the bottom round is a very affordable cut of beef.
- Flavorful. The bottom round makes for a very flavorful steak—and an ultra flavorful piece of beef jerky.
The top round is very similar in flavor and texture to the bottom round and eye of round. The top round is a cut opposite of the bottom round, cut from the inside of the leg. In terms of tenderness, it is a little tenderer than the bottom round, but not quite as tender as the eye of round. Below are some basic notes on the Top Round cut:
- Lean. Like the bottom round and eye of round, the top round cut is fairly lean, making it perfect for dehydrated beef jerky.
- Tasty. The top round has a great taste to it, especially when transformed into beef jerky.
- Inexpensive. Very similar in price to the bottom round, the top round will not put too big of a dent in your wallet.
Sirloin Tip is also considered one of the round cuts. It is similar in tenderness to the eye of round. The Sirloin Tip is not used as often in making jerky as the other three round cuts mentioned above, but it still makes for a great and flavorful piece of jerky. Here is what you get what the sirloin tip:
- Very lean. Like the other pieces of meat on this list, the sirloin tip requires very little fat trimming.
- Very tender. Similar in tenderness to the eye of round, the sirloin tip is very easy to work with when making beef jerky.
- A little pricier. The sirloin tip is a bit more expensive than all the traditional “round” cuts of beef.
Flank steak, taken from the flank of the steer, is a tremendously flavorful cut of beef. Because of this, it is bought regularly by steak lovers, especially for grill cookouts. Jerky made from the flank steak can be very tough when sliced with the grain—very tough—so it is recommended that jerky makers slice this beef against the grain for best results. Here is what you get with flank steak:
- Very lean. There is almost no trimming needed with the flank steak—the leanest cut of beef on our list. There is some interior marbling, but not enough to worry about.
- Very Tasty. As mentioned above, flank steak makes a very flavorful and lip-smacking jerky.
- Can be tough. When sliced incorrectly, the flank steak will make for some very tough jerky.
- More expensive. The flank steak is generally the most expensive cut of beef on our list, but well worth it thanks to its flavor.
Although eye of round, bottom round, top round, sirloin tips and flank steak are typically considered the best cuts of beef for making jerky, other cuts, when trimmed properly will still work. Jerky can even be made out of ground beef—but that’s a subject for a different article. Also, deer meat makes for great jerky, thanks mostly to its leanness.
Part Three: Preparing the Beef
Now that you have chosen the meat you will use to make your jerky, there are several steps you will need to take before it’s ready for the dehydrator.
Trim the Meat
On a clean, dry surface, try to trim all of the fat off the exterior portion of the meat you purchased. This includes any connective tissue you can see, as this can also hinder the dehydration process.
Wrap and Freeze the Meat
Once the fat has been trimmed, wrap each cut of beef very tightly in plastic wrap, making sure all portions of the meat are covered. Once wrapped, put the meat on a plate and place the plate in the freezer. You will want to freeze the meat until it is firm all the way through. For most of the cuts of beef we listed in the previous section, this will take about one to two hours depending on the thickness. You should begin checking the meat for firmness by at least the 90 minute mark.
Cut the Meat
Once the meat you plan to use for your jerky is frozen all the way through, take it out and unwrap it. Lay the meat out on a carving board or carving plate, and begin slicing the meat into (your desired lengths)—pieces that are about ¼ inch in thickness. When using eye of round, bottom round, top round or sirloin tip cuts of meat, be sure to slice WITH the grain; and with flank steak be sure to slice against the grain, as this will produce the best and most tender pieces of jerky. Be sure to trim any excess fat you can see as you slice the pieces. Repeat this process with all the cuts of meat you plan to use.
Bag the Meat
Once you have sliced the meat into the desired lengths and thicknesses, place them in a sealable bag, but leave the bag open, as you still have to flavor the meat. Place the Zip-Loc bag into a shallow dish of some kind, and turn down the edges of the bag as much as you can. This will allow you to add the flavoring ingredients without having to hold the bag open with your other hand.
Flavor the Meat
Flavoring the meat is one of the most important steps in making great tasting beef jerky. There is an endless combination of flavoring options, so be sure to experiment until you find one that truly suits your tastes. Here are just a few of the options from which you could choose:
A basic brine is a flavoring option that imparts only saltiness to the meat, allowing the beef itself to serve as the main taste people will get. To make a basic brine, merely mix one teaspoon of salt per cup of water, as needed to thoroughly cover all the pieces of meat.
Garlic Black Pepper Beef Jerky
To make Garlic Pepper Beef Jerky, you will actually pour a marinade into the Zip-Loc bag—or you can soak the sliced pieces of beef in the marinade prior to placing the pieces in the bag. To make the garlic black pepper marinade, simply mix all of the following ingredients:
- ¼ cup soy sauce
- ¼ cup cold water
- 2 tbsp brown sugar
- 2 tsp ground black pepper
- ½ tsp sea salt
- ½ tsp garlic powder
- ¼ tsp onion powder
Jalapeno Lime Beef Jerky
When making Jalapeno Lime Beef Jerky, you will simply follow the same steps as the recipe above: either adding the marinade to the Zip-Loc Bag or marinating the beef in a separate dish prior to placing it into the bag. Here is the recipe for the Jalapeno Lime Beef Jerky marinade:
- ⅔ cup orange juice
- ¼ cup lime juice (freshly squeezed)
- 2 tbsp honey
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp garlic
- 2 diced jalapenos (seeds removed)
The best way to work with all three of these easy marinades is to pour them directly into the Zip-Loc bag over the meat. Next, you will need to seal the bag, taking extra care to ensure most of the air has been removed from it prior to sealing. Once the bag is properly sealed, put the marinated meat into the refrigerator. Allow it to marinate for between 4 and 10 hours, depending on how much of that flavor you want to soak into the meat. Occasionally shake the bag to ensure all of the pieces of meat are covered.
Part Four: Dehydrating the Meat
As with selecting and preparing the meat for your beef jerky, there are several steps you will need to follow to ensure you properly dehydrate the meat. These steps include:
Straining and Arranging the Meat
Once the meat has soaked in your preferred marinade for the recommended (or preferred) amount of time, simply take the bag of meat out of the refrigerator and strain off the remaining liquid from the marinade using a colander of some type. Once strained, you should arrange the meat in a single layer using a tray or plate.
Dry the Meat
When arranging the meat onto the tray or plate, be sure to place paper towels on the bottom of that dish, as this will help absorb any excess liquid from the meat. You will also want to place paper towels on top of the meat after it is arranged, and gently rub it with those towels to ensure it is as dry as you can get it.
Last update on 2018-12-15 at 02:47 / Affiliate disclosure / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
Place the Meat into the Dehydrator
After the meat has been thoroughly dried, you will need to arrange your slices on the drying racks of the dehydrator. Try to space the pieces about ¼ inch apart, and be careful that no two pieces are actually touching. Once the meat is arranged, you can slide the racks into the dehydrator.
Dehydrate the Meat
After you have slid the marinated pieces of beef into the dehydrator, you are ready to start the drying-out process. Experts suggest you set the dehydrator’s temperature gauge to about 160 degrees Fahrenheit for best results. Typically, the dehydrating process will take about four to five hours. Your finished product should be cooked all the way through, and it should feel a bit leathery to the touch. You can check the progress from time to time to check and see if these factors are present.
Storing the Beef Jerky
Once the beef has been cooked all the way through and sufficiently dried out by the dehydrator, you now have beef jerky for you and your family to enjoy! Of course, the next step of the process is storing the meat you have dried out. Your best bet is to use a Tupperware or similar type of food-storage container, one that prevents air from getting into the container. As a rule of thumb, beef jerky can be stored for about one month at room temperature before you have to worry about spoilage. Those who want their beef jerky to last a little longer—about two months—can use a silicon oxygen absorber and add that absorber to the container.
As you can see, using a dehydrator to create tasty and tender beef jerky is a fairly simple and easy process. After selecting the right piece of beef, cutting it to the right thickness, and flavoring it with your favorite marinade, the dehydrator actually does the rest of the work for you. Just be sure to follow all the same rules for handling beef and other meats, keeping both your hands and the surfaces you use clean. This will help avoid any chance of bacteria or other food-borne pathogens and allow you to create batch after batch of meat-flavored goodness.
Last update on 2018-12-15 at 02:37 / Affiliate disclosure / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
top image: jirkaejc/Deposit Photos