The last time I was at the forefront of a trend, was when I picked out our new house color and then proceeded to see it popping up everywhere. Truth is, the only time I’ve been cutting edge was when I was 12 and mowing my parents lawn and literally cutting the edging. It always seems that I’m half a step behind when it comes to the “cool” things. Take for instance, cake balls, they’ve been out for a couple of years already when I finally decided to make them…and when I did, I shaped them into mice, not balls. It’s like my subconscious isn’t really sure the trend is going to stick.
Well now it’s my turn to finally be cool (hey, let me have my moment). You’ve probably seen, or heard, the term charcuterie being thrown around as if it’s some new cultish religion (for some people it kinda is). Even though charcuterie sounds like a really fancy term, it is French after all, all it really means is the preservation of meats. Things like bacon, ham, sausage, terrines, gallantines, pâtés and confit all fall into this category of charcuterie.
People like Chris Cosentino (of Food Network fame) and Michael Ruhlman can wax poetic for days about the fine art of charcuterie. But guess what? That prehistoric, hiker food and redneck staple called beef jerky also falls under that fancy moniker – charcuterie (I think I’m falling in love with that word – is it possible to do that?). And I can vouch for the fact that making homemade beef jerky is a lot easier than making sausage or confit of anything.
So how did I end up making beef jerky you ask? One day I was bored and started poking around on the interwebs (fascinating place…I learned a LOT of completely useless things that day – did you know the world’s largest marshmallow was 35 feet tall? I can barely handle the stickiness of marshmallow fondant, I can only imagine what that one was like.). Anyway…I kept running across things for making homemade beef jerky. There was one beef jerky recipe after another – spicy, sweet, smoky, salty…whatever your passion, there’s a beef jerky out there for you. The other beef jerky recipe battle out there was whether to use a dehydrator or the oven for drying the meat. That one was easy for me to decide. I have a Nesco dehydrator and I love it!
Having never really been a fan (or foe) of jerky I asked Craig if he liked the stuff. I know our dog likes it, but I really didn’t think I’d get much feedback on it if I made a batch and fed it all to her (although I do make her chicken jerky…yes, my dog is S-P-O-I-L-E-D). Craig just kind of rolled his eyes and shrugged his shoulders, which in my world is translates to “sure, I like jerky.” So the decision was made that I would try something new and make homemade beef jerky.
I started the endeavor of creating my personal beef jerky recipe by checking out what Michael Ruhlman had to say about it, he is one of the charcuterie God’s. It doesn’t hurt that he’s a Cleveland boy either (if you’re a chef, from Cleveland, you know your meat). His recipe called for the usual cheap cut of lean beef and very few seasonings. It was a good start, but not quite what I was looking for. After looking at some of my previous meat recipes and the seasonings I used in those dishes, I was able to put together my flavoring list for what would become my homemade beef jerky recipe. Unbeknownst to me at the time was that I was creating nirvana in that leather looking piece of dried meat.
The process of making beef jerky is an easy one, albeit a bit lengthy if you are looking for instant gratification. It takes 2 days to make. The first day is marinating the meat and the second day is spent drying it. But the whole process couldn’t be easier. (Thank you Michael Ruhlman for taking the process and documenting it such that I felt that I could do it without being a trained butcher or chef.)
Once my beef jerky was complete, I bagged it up in a zip top bag and waited for Craig to come home. As soon as he entered the kitchen I jammed a piece of it into his mouth. Almost immediately his eyes grew wide and his jaw started chewing. Those familiar grunts and groans of something yummy in his tummy began emitting from his full mouth. Then I was almost plowed over as he made a mad grab for the bag holding his new treasure. I did finally manage to separate him from the bag, but not before he had eaten so many pieces of jerky that he had completely ruined his dinner because he was full. But he had a huge smile on his face because having a dinner of beef jerky was fine by him.
Some things are meant to be tough, dark and shriveled, like beef jerky or prunes, but not your heart. I realize it’s a bit early to start talking about the holidays, but if the stores can have their decorations up before Halloween I can start talking about it too. This year, give a gift from your heart, not your wallet.
2010 is still a tough year for people economically, so the thought of an extravagant Christmas gift will most likely be shelved for another year. So what are you to do? Starting early is great start. Most people aren’t necessarily expecting the latest gadget or sparkliest bauble available, the most appreciated gift they could receive is part of everyday mundane conversation. The something unexpected. The something that, when received, is followed with the question: how did you know?
In order to find out what this “thing” is requires you to listen. You can’t just hear what they’re saying…you have to listen. By taking part in the activity of listening, you are already giving a gift from your heart. Because you are listening to what they have to say and taking part in the conversation instead of the usual act of letting the sound come in one ear and escape through the other. When you listen, you can learn things about the other person that maybe they didn’t even know themselves.
One year, shortly after we were married, Craig and I had several conversations about a pair of slippers that I had worn since college. They were falling apart and had pieces of electrical tape holding the bottoms together. I realized they could no longer be washed and I had been wearing them less and opting for a pair of socks over my slippers. As newlyweds, our financial resources were thin so I didn’t just run out and buy a pair of slippers to replace my beat up one’s, it just wasn’t a priority. For Christmas that year Craig bought me a new pair of slippers that were just like my old one’s. It was one of the best presents he ever got me. You may be wondering what was so great about it.
I didn’t even realize that we had talked about my slippers, beyond his occasional wisecrack that he’s seen better footwear on homeless people. But he picked up on my tone that I couldn’t bring myself to spend the money on new slippers when we had other bills to pay. He also realized how much I loved those slippers, so he knew that if he could find similar one’s that I would really appreciate it – which I did. Eleven years later I’m still talking about it.
Homemade Beef Jerky Recipe
- 1 1/2 – 2 Pounds of London Broil (or other piece of lean beef like eye of round – the cheap cuts of beef)
- 1/3 Cup Orange Juice
- 1/3 Cup Bourbon
- 1/3 Cup Honey
- 3 Tablespoons Kosher Salt
- 2 Tablespoons Chipotle Powder (or less if you don’t want that much heat)
- 1 Large or 2 Small Cloves of Garlic
- 1/4 Teaspoon Fresh Ground Black Pepper
Make a paste out of the garlic by chopping it then sprinkling a tablespoon of the kosher salt onto it. Using the side of your knife, run the edge back and forth over the garlic and salt.
Add all of the ingredients (except for the meat) into a one gallon zip top bag.
Remove any excess fat from the meat (and discard it). Add the meat to the mixture in the bag. Having extra fat on the meat will prolong the drying time and will cause the jerky to go rancid more quickly.
Remove as much air as possible and seal the bag. Work the marinade with your hands so that it gets mixed up and coats the meat. (Most recipes tell you to slice your meat before putting it into the marinade. I like having more of the beef flavor in the jerky. With this method, the marinade penetrates about 1/8″ into the meat leaving the center of the jerky with more of the beef flavor.)
Refrigerate overnight. Turn the bag over halfway through the marinating process so that both sides sit in the marinade evenly.
Remove the meat from the marinade and slice, against the grain, 1/8″ – 1/4″ thick slices.
Put the slices back into the marinade for two hours and refrigerate.
Remove the slices from the marinade and lay them out into a single layer on the racks of your dehydrator.
Set the temperature to 165 degrees Farenheit and dry for 6 – 8 hours. You’ll need to check periodically to see how your meat is drying.
Once done, place the strips into a zip top bag.
Your jerky should last 2 weeks at room temperature or at least a month refrigerated.
* Oven Method – First, place a wooden spoon handle in the door opening to keep it ajar during the cooking process (this allows for more air circulation around the meat). You can also place a cooling rack in a sided baking sheet and lay the meat strips on top of the cooling rack or you can skewer the meat strips with a toothpick or shish kebab stick and drop the meat strips between the grates of your oven rack. Just place a baking sheet underneath the meat strips to catch the drips. Set your oven temperature to 165 degrees Fahrenheit. (But you may be stuck with the 200 degrees Fahrenheit.) The drying time tends to be a bit shorter in the oven than in an electric dehydrator, due to the greater heat. Depending on the quantity and thickness of the meat you’re drying, the drying time will be between 4 and 24 hours. (usually closer to the 4 hour mark)
While convection ovens definitely circulate the air (no wooden stick in the door), they also cook faster. If you use a convection oven to make your jerky, expect a bit of experimentation to find that jerky making sweet spot.