Modern store bought jerky
is not real jerky. It is too thin, too small,
too soft, and is often preserved with
chemicals. Real homemade jerky is thicker,
longer, and very stout! It is tough! The idea
is not to cook the meat strips, but to dry
them into jerky. The finished product
should be hard enough to kill if one end is
sharpened to a point.
To eat real jerky, you
"worry" off a chunk with your teeth -- if you
can -- or cut off a "flake" with a pocket
knife, then soak the "flake" in your cheek
for awhile until it finally softens. If jerky
isn't that tough, it won't keep!
Meat for jerky is prepared
from lean, trimmed strips about 1 1/2" by
1/2", and as long as practical. Normally the
larger muscles are cut into jerky, and are
cut with the grain rather than across it as
for steaks. All tendons, gristle, fat, etc,
that can be removed should be trimmed off.
The meat strips are then lightly powdered
with coarse, freshly ground pepper (if
available) to keep away flies, and lightly
salted to help with taste and salt craving.
Once prepared, the pepper can be brushed off
the iron like chucks easily, if desired.
Using a smokehouse to make
jerky is not too difficult. The meat
strips can be placed on racks or pierced
through one end and hung on a long wire rod.
Keep the temperature at 100 to 120 F for 24
hours, and it should be done. The wide
temperature range indicated is because of
differences in where the temperature is
measured, the insulation or lack thereof in
the smokehouse, and other variables.
Experience with your own smokehouse will be
the deciding factor.
Without a smokehouse, the
Indian method must be used. The meat strips
should be dried in the sun about four (4)
feet above a slow fire. Non resinous
hardwoods should be used for the fire, and
the flames kept very low. The smoke from the
fire is to keep away birds and flies, NOT
used for drying the meat! Use a low fire,
with little flame or heat. Green hardwood
works fine, but resinous softwoods such as
Douglas fir will impart a bad taste to the
jerky. Fruit woods (except wild cherry)
impart a nice, mild taste to the jerky.
The drying rack can be
made from forked sticks pounded into the
ground, and the cross sticks that hold the
meat made from thin, green wood such as
willow or vine maple. A sharpened end on the
cross stick should be pushed through one end
of the meat strips, which will allow them to
hang down. Allow at least an inch of
separation between meat strips. The cross
sticks may be carried indoors if rain
threatens, and at night to protect from dew.
Do not dry in the sun before 9:00 in the
morning, or after 6:00 at night to avoid
getting dew on the meat. Just the dew from a
single morning may saturate the meat
sufficiently to require an additional day of
Jerky can be used as is,
always having a little flake in the pouch, or
cooked in stews. If cooked, it is best to
soak the jerky overnight prior to use, then
slice across the grain into chunks before
cooking. If possible, fat should be added to
the stew, as well as tubers and corn meal. If
any mold on the meat is detected, it can be
washed off before use with vinegar.
Really hard jerky will
keep for a long time, but should be stored in
a dry place. If you live in an area of high
humidity or frequent rains, the jerky can be
stored by using the same techniques listed
previously for pemmican.
As you can see, preparing
dried meat products requires the expenditure
of lots of energy -- yours! Cutting and
stripping the meat, cutting the hardwood and
hauling it to the racks, keeping the fire
going, bringing in the racks at night, etc,
does require time, but it is certainly not
hard work. If you have the meat available to
make large batches, your effort per piece is
In a real survival
situation, without electricity for
refrigeration or freezing, a large supply of
meat can best be preserved by drying or
smoking. The alternative is to do without,
and that is a poor alternative indeed.