A cooking technique that has been around for hundreds of years is now an art form perfected by amateur and professional chefs everywhere. This section will explain to you exactly what dehydration is and how it pertains to preparing the best possible beef jerky, as well as all the modern day dehydration techniques and there functions.
Food Dehydration: is the process of removing water from food (usually through evaporation), which in turns prevents the growth of microorganisms and bacteria.
**If using dehydrator or oven, pre-heat to 145 degrees for 15-30 minutes prior.
**Be sure to check your jerky often. Do not rely on the times given.
Oven – lay out the strips on a cookie sheet lined with foil, in rows and a single layer. The pieces in the middle will dry slower and you will also need to turn the pieces over at the end and dry a while longer to ensure the bottoms get dry. Cook at 140-170 degrees anywhere from 10-14 hours propping open the door to allow moisture to escape and to lower the oven temperature when necessary.
Grill – Lay the meat slices on a grill or grate that allows air to reach both sides and to flow around each piece. You can also place a couple pieces of meat on a took pick and hang the meat from the grate allowing the smoke to flow up the strips. However, any way you do it, the meat will drip so place a stray or aluminum foil under the meat. Space it as far underneath the meat as possible to avoid restricting the airflow. Cook at 200 degrees for 1 hour with indirect heat. If your grill cannot be held at this low temperature, cook for smoke flavor for about 20 minutes and then finish in the oven.
Dehydrator – Use a dehydrator with a built-in electric heater and fat. This allows fast, even drying with little risk of food spoilage. Look for a unit with a fan and a thermostat for best results. Cook at 140 degrees anywhere from 6-18 hours rotating trays every hour.
Smoker – Smokers provides a more natural flavored jerky. The heat to cook the meat is provided by the use of either an electric heating element or charcoal. Because of the difficulties associated with keeping charcoal at a consistent burning rate for the 10 hours required, electricity as a fuel source would be the best option. About 30 minutes before you start the smoke, light your briquettes in your chimney lighter, about 8 pieces aught to be about right, depending on the weather. Then, when the coals are almost ready, put them in the fire pan and start hanging your jerky. Save one or two hot briquettes in the chimney to light new ones as we go. You’ll need to add 2-3 hot briquettes about ever 45 minutes. Now, cover it up and add your soaked wood or foil packets. Use any hardwood for smoking (hickory or mesquite are the most common and one with a pecan base makes the best combo of smoky tasting without ashy tasting), alder chips or apple wood are excellent choices for wild game and never use pine, fir or conifers. Go ahead and smoke heavily for about 3 hours, then stop the smoke and continue drying for another 2 hours. Maintain 150 degrees for the entire cook. At about 4 hours you can start sampling. Somewhere between 4 and 6 hours, depending on taste, pull them off. Cook at 150 degrees for approximately 10 hours.
Microwave – While microwaving jerky is not a common method, it is still doable. However, be aware that it may cook the meat more than it may dry it out. Place the meat strips in a microwave roasting rack. Set the microwave on high for 4 to 6 minutes. After 4 minutes add time in 30-second increments until desired consistency. Traditionally, the idea is to have a dried jerky. This means a color change from brown to dark brown, and a consistency in the meat that has changed from supple to leathery in its texture.
Sun Drying – While sun drying has been around for a long time, it is not a good method for jerky today. However, if you are an experienced jerky maker, a PROFESSIONAL, and truly understand what is required, lean beef, young lamb or venison are able to be sun-dried. Fish should not be unless it is heavily salted, although without proper experience, this can still be very risky and poultry should NEVER be sun-dried. To successfully sun dry meats, you should live in an arid, hot, sunny and windy area, optimal conditions that are hard to find. Please remember, when sun-drying, you put yourself at risk for food poisoning.
**Whatever method you chose, do not place your racks so that one layer can drip on another. The time it takes to dry the meat will depend on the thickness, as well as, the temperature at which the meat is being dried. When you think your jerky is done, it should bend but not break and be a much darker color.
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