Meat jerky is a form of snack food made by marinating and drying the beef, and this meat has a lengthy shelf life and a distinct flavor.
Native Americans invented this method of preserving meat by smoking it. Beef jerky was part of the $240 million meat snack business in 1996. The high protein and low-fat composition of beef jerky have been ascribed to its popularity.
Jerky is any meat that has been brined and dried to less than 50% moisture. It’s usually brown and gritty, and it is harder and has a stronger flavor than unprocessed beef, and this is owing to the moisture removal procedure concentrating the flavor. Beef jerky is marketed as a healthy, low-calorie snack packed with protein and energy.
What is in Beef Jerky?
Jerky has a two-stage procedure as the process has evolved:
- A salt solution to “cure.” This is necessary for the preservation process because it makes the meat unfriendly to the microorganisms that would otherwise infiltrate it. It also enhances the meat’s flavor.
- Next is drying the meat until it has a moisture content of less than 50%. The drying process combined with the salt cure turns the meat “tough,” completely changing its texture.
However, this isn’t all the jerky consists of. It’s become fashionable to marinade beef jerky for added flavor. As a result, a few ingredients may be thrown into the mix, such as:
- Brown sugar
- Liquid smoke
- Soy sauce
- Worcestershire sauce
Additional additives, such as sodium nitrite, could be included in your beef jerky’s ingredient list.
How is it made?
Step 1: Meat preparation
It is made with whole or minced beef. In both circumstances, the flesh is deboned before being fattened. How to de-fat beef? The flesh is sometimes centrifuged. This device spins liquid fat particles away from meat, and the meat is also pressed to remove all fat.
Along with deboning and defatting, various procedures remove unwanted impurities from meat. Workers inspect meat as it passes on a conveyor and shakes it on a metal screen to remove unwanted items. Other approaches include magnets and water separation, and some plants even use x-rays to inspect the meat.
Step 2: Preparation of a Curing Solution
This step is done while the meat is being prepared. A large tank with mixing blades has the water with the salt, spices, etc. In this case, it’s a little too hot, and non-water soluble components must be combined first and others in a later stage.
Step 3: Meat Processing and Seasoning
Next, they freeze the meat and chunk it up with an automatic cutting machine. The frozen meat process partially defrosts the flesh, releasing the natural fluids. Then dip the meat in the cure. You want the liquid to fully penetrate but not so long that it contaminates the meat. Curing solution for jerky can also be injected into the meat using a multi-needle device. The meat is then tossed with extra curing fluid in a big stainless steel tumbler.
If using ground beef, the curing solution is mixed to produce a paste.
It’s refrigerated to 18-28°F (-8-2.2°C) and shaped. It is then frozen into strips. Cut the strips parallel to the meat’s fiber. A more natural texture is achieved.
Then in drying ovens, strips are dried on wire mesh trays or roasted to 160°F (71.1°C) and chill to 90°F (32.2°C). Cooking time depends on the meat’s preparation and until it dehydrates the meat by 20-40%.
Final Step: Packaging
Beef jerky comes in several forms. A vacuum sealer keeps jerky fresh. After that, the meat is packed in a triple-barrier bag, and no oxygen is allowed in, preventing oxidative spoilage. Resealable packages, which include vacuum-sealed containers such as zip-lock closure, are used to pack beef jerky. The meat is then boxed, palletized, and trucked to retail stores.
Some Rules and Regulations
The Food Safety and Inspection Service monitors the production process in all federally inspected plants, and the government has requirements to keep it safe.
For example, before dehydrating jerky, heat it to 160°F to eliminate microorganisms. Most dehydrator instructions for cooking do not include this step, and dehydrators do not reach temperatures high enough to heat meat to 160°F or 165°F. The risk is that if the meat isn’t cooked well enough before dehydrating, the germs won’t be eliminated and will become heat resistant.
During the drying process, producers must maintain “a steady dehydrator temperature of 130-140°F.” Moreover, this step must be fast enough to dry the meat and eliminate enough water to prevent bacteria growth on the meat.
When it comes down to it, beef jerky is a fairly simple snack, and it’s nothing more than seasoned and dried meat—nothing more, and certainly nothing less.
Some beef jerky companies overcomplicate and overprocess their products, but only the best are those made from a simple and traditional process to preserve maximum taste and texture.