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How to Make Jerky for Beginners

By Dominic Trimboli

National Jerky Day is here and Grilla Grills and MEAT! have come together to craft you an easy guide to making your own jerky at home. We’ll break down which cuts of meat to use, the difference between smoking and dehydration, and everything else you need to know to start your jerky-making journey.

What are the best cuts of meat for jerky?

While you may love it when a steak has great fat marbling, you’re actually looking for the exact opposite when you’re making jerky. Whether you’re making beef jerky, turkey jerky or any other kind you always want to start with the leanest cut you can find. Fat doesn’t render well when making jerky and takes on a nasty flavor. Even worse, fatty jerky spoils much faster.

The best cuts of meat we like to use when making jerky are:

  • Eye of Round
  • Sirloin Tip
  • Top/Bottom Round
  • Turkey Breast
  • Pork Tenderloin
  • Elk Roast
  • Venison Roast

When you prepare a cut of meat for jerky start by trimming as much fat as possible. Next, cut it into thin slices against the grain of the meat. You can do this easily and quickly with a MEAT! slicer, or simply use a quality set of kitchen knives. Learn more about using a meat slicer for the first time by checking out this article.

The texture of your jerky will depend on the thickness of your slices, and whether you slice with or against the grain. For a thinner and crispier jerky, about one-eighth inch is good. Slicing closer to one-quarter inch will get you a chewier texture. We generally recommend cutting against the grain as it creates more tender jerky.

Pro tip: Partially freeze your meat before slicing it to make your cuts quicker and more precise.

If you prefer jerky sticks to sliced jerky, then we have a separate article about making your own jerky sticks. The first step is to get yourself a MEAT! jerky gun because it comes with all the gear you need to form your jerky sticks.

How to season or marinate jerky

When you make your own jerky you get to customize it with whatever flavor you’re feeling at the time. You can keep it simple with salt and pepper, or if you’re feeling confident try out an overnight marinade. If you like keeping it simple just pat your jerky dry with a paper towel after slicing and then throw your dry seasonings on top. Some common seasonings are cracked salt and pepper, cayenne, ginger, sesame seed, and garlic powder. You could also just cut to the finish line by using a BBQ rub. Grab a bottle of Grilla Beef Rub, and you’ve got all your seasoning in one container.

Pro Tip: If you’re using dry seasonings, you should start cooking your jerky shortly after seasoning it. Otherwise, they can get muddy and clumpy.

If you want to try out a marinade for your jerky, you’ll want to start preparing everything the day before you cook. You’ll want to marinate your meat for at least 8-12 hours, and for the best results, you’ll need to use a non-metal container. Before you put the marinating meat away for the night make sure it’s thoroughly covered in the marinade, you don’t want any pieces clumped together. If you’re not quite sure where to start on seasoning or marinating, then take a look at one of these recipes we made at Grilla and MEAT! for step-by-step instructions.

What’s the difference between smoking or dehydrating jerky?

There are dozens of ways to make jerky but our two favorites are with a Grilla Grills Smoker or a MEAT! Dehydrator. While the jerky you get from either method is going to be delicious, there are some small differences that might make you want to choose one over the other.

A MEAT! dehydrator is going to give you the ultimate control when making your jerky. You’ll have a larger range of temperatures available to cook at and you’ll be able to constantly monitor it through the see-through door. You’ll also have complete control over the flavor of your jerky because there’s no smoke to alter it. All of this combines to make using a dehydrator the easiest way to get consistent results.

If you want to smoke your jerky then you’ll be sacrificing a little bit of the control and simplicity for more intense flavor. When using a Grilla Grills Pellet Grill for jerky you’ll need to set your grill to 180, as low as it goes. The jerky will smoke faster than in the dehydrator, which makes it even more important to monitor your jerky closely. In addition, while the pellet grill will automatically keep itself close to the temperature you set, it won’t hold a consistent temperature as well as a dehydrator. While it may be a little more difficult, the smokey flavor your pellet grill adds to your jerky will be completely worth it.

If you want to make smoking on a Grilla Grill even easier then our jerky rack is a must-have upgrade. These tiered stainless steel racks can add up to 800 inches of cooking space to your smoker. The slide-out racks are perfect for your cuts of jerky letting you smoke pounds at a time.

How do you keep jerky fresh?

Unfortunately, homemade jerky doesn’t last as long as commercial store-bought jerky. That’s the tradeoff when you make it at home without using the preservatives big companies put in their jerky. If your plan is to simply keep it in the pantry or the fridge, you can expect a shelf life of one to two weeks. The best way to keep it fresh is to store your jerky in a sealed container in a dark, cool place. An airtight, vacuum-sealed container will give you a maximum shelf life of around one to two months. If you want it to last as long as possible then use a MEAT! Vacuum Sealer to preserve your jerky. Take a look at this article all about using a vacuum sealer for beginners if you haven’t used one before. If you can get your hands-on food grade oxygen absorbers (DO NOT EAT packets) can help preserve your jerky for even longer.