DIY Jerky: Food for the Post-Nuclear Family

Posted by & filed under homeec, inthekitchen, kitchen.

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(Guest-blogger Ross Brown lives in Boerum Hill Brooklyn with his wife Lisa and teenage kids Tobin and Avery. A still-new urban gardener, he is adding his second beehive on his roof this year and proud to be one of the founders of the Backwards Beekeepers of NYC. An avid runner, you can find him crossing the boroughs with NYC Bridgerunners.)

When I began keeping bees on my Boerum Hill rooftop, one of my main concerns was how my neighbor, whose balcony abuts my roof, would react. Gabe is a lovely young fellow who was thrilled to see the hive being set up. He told me he thought beekeeping was super-neat (maybe those are my words, but you get the point) and that he, too, was a bit of a DIYer. He makes his own jerky. He gave me a bag of some beef jerky with a spicy dry rub he made and I was blown away. As a baseball coach and father to a teen athlete, I spend a lot of time at the ball field and often depend on jerky for quick easy protein snacking. Unfortunately it’s typically packaged, commercial jerky, so receiving something so freshly made was a real treat. It was delicious, flavorful, and the freshness was unmistakable. I asked if he could teach me and he was kind enough to spend an afternoon in my kitchen sharing his expertise. And when my mom and step-dad visited recently, my step-dad Bob was kind enough to help me make a fresh batch, and he took these great photos so I could share the process with you.
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The first step is deciding if you’re going to make a dry-rub or marinade, or both. Think of flavors you like and don’t be afraid to experiment. I use a broad range of flavors: cumin, turmeric, ginger, cayenne, chili powder, salt, pepper, brown sugar, molasses (lots of molasses), soy sauce, onion, garlic, orange/ lemon zest and juice, anything you can consider. I mix the rub together and set it aside for application, and I also cook up a batch of fresh marinade.

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The same is true for the meats you’ll be using. The most important point is to select something lean, as the fat doesn’t do so well. Remember, we’re not cooking the meat, merely drying it out. For this batch I used ostrich, venison, and beef. You can use whatever you’d like: wild boar, elk, etc. I prefer rump roast for the cut of beef, but again I urge you to experiment and find your favorite. I am fortunate to live close to a wonderful butcher, Los Paisanos on Smith Street. Mike, the proprietor, is always happy to help me obtain some interesting meats. You’ll find that if you put the meats in the freezer for an hour or so beforehand it will be firmer and thus easier to cut. Of course, it is essential that you have good sharp knives. I keep a sharpening stone handy to ensure a fresh, clean edge. You want strips of meat, cut across the bias, about 1/8″ think, so accuracy is key. Be sure to trim any fat from the outer surfaces; a little veining in the meat is fine, but you really want to trim it down as best you can. A chef’s knife is good for cutting the strips, while a paring knife is a good size for any trimming you’ll be doing before you cut strips.
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There are many ways to apply your seasonings to the meat. For the dry, I simply toss the meat in a bowl with the rub, making sure I get good coverage. For the wet, I put the meats in Ziploc bags with the marinade and slosh them around. In both cases, I let the seasonings work overnight to get full flavor. You may wish to use rubber/ nitrile gloves at this stage, especially with the dry (turmeric can leave your fingers stained yellow!)
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Get your oven ready. The goal is slow, low heat, around 160°. It’s a good idea to have an independent thermometer in your oven all the time, and it’s especially helpful when making jerky. I set the oven low, but I find it is perhaps still too high so I block the door open a crack to get it just right. You want the meat to dry out, not cook, so no metal surface should be touching it. I use bamboo skewers (those nitrile gloves come in handy again) and lay them across the wire shelves in my oven, with the strips of meat hanging down. I also try to put some foil pans on the bottom of my oven to keep the dripping and mess to a minimum (I often fail here.) Keep an eye on the time, but know that you’re looking at anywhere from 3 1/2-4 1/2 hours.
Patience brings rewards, in this case delicious, perfect jerky. It’s hard to describe how much of a difference there is between the chemically-preserved schmutz you buy in the checkout at the drugstore and the fresh, aromatic, flavorful jerky I get to eat as I am coaching first base in a ball game. I urge you to try this and to be as creative as you can. Have fun!
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Some recipe suggestions:

For a dry rub, mix a tablespoon of each of the following in a nice, big bowl: turmeric, cayenne, cumin, onion powder, black pepper, and ginger, and then mix in a half-tablespoon of kosher salt. I then use a second bowl for applying to the meat so I don’t contaminate the mixture, and I can save any leftovers for a future batch. You can also add a tablespoon of light brown sugar, or anything else you’d like to try.

For a marinade, begin with anywhere from 6-12 ounces of molasses (it comes in 12 ounce jars) in a good heavy sauce pan and the contents of one bottle of good soy sauce. Add a 1/2 cup of cider vinegar and begin stirring over low heat. The goal is not to produce a boil but to integrate the flavors. Rough chop a nice big onionand one whole bulb of garlic and add to the pot. Stir in a good pinch of kosher salt, several twists from your pepper mill, 1/4 cup of brown sugar, the zest and juice from an orange, and a 1/4 cup of good red wine if you happen to have a bottle open and sitting on the countertop. Again, please experiment and use the flavors you like.

Special thanks to my step-dad Bob Bailey for taking all the pictures and for helping me with this batch. That extra set of hands was a real plus.


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