Venison jerky is one of our favorite snacks around this time of the year. Deer season has just finished and the deer are all processed and in the freezer, ready for delicious meals – this gives us the perfect opportunity to make our own, homemade deer jerky. Venison is a perfect meat for making jerky because it is lean and develops fantastic flavor when we make our own marinade. Making deer jerky at home is easy, fun, and economical. We'll show you our favorite ways to make jerky, along with some recipe tips to help you create amazing, nutritious deer jerky yourself.
How Do You Prepare Deer Meat for Jerky?
Before you can make jerky, you'll need to prepare the meat. This starts with selecting the best cut of venison for jerky meat. We like to use the top round and eye of round, but the sirloin, rump roast, and neck will work well for jerky meat. Venison in general is particularly lean, and these are the leanest cuts. You always want to go with the leanest meat because the fat may give an off-flavor and it makes storing jerky more difficult. If you are new to processing deer or want to pick up some expert tips, check out our ultimate guide to processing a deer at home.
Expert Tips For Cutting Up Venison
The key to making good venison jerky is to have consistent, thin slices of meat. You want to cut the venison into one-quarter of an inch thick slices. Thinner slices will result in a harder jerky, while thicker pieces may not dry all the way. We've got some tips to help you get the perfect sliced meat for jerky.
First, Chill Out
Putting the venison meat in the freezer for an hour or two before slicing will make it much easier to get consistent slices. Partially frozen meat is easier to slice than raw meat. If the meat is too frozen, it will be difficult to cut. If your venison is too frozen, set it in the refrigerator until it is partially thawed out. Don't set it on the counter because the temperature of the outside of the meat may rise to an unsafe temperature before the inside has thawed enough to be sliced.
Second, Choose Your Weapon
You'll have some options for how to slice jerky. There are several good ways that you can get consistent, thin meat slices for perfect homemade deer jerky.
Slicing jerky strips doesn't require any special tools other than a good, sharp knife. Make sure that your knife is as sharp as possible and clean the edge up on a steel hone as you cut. We like using our Victorinox boning knife when we are manually slicing jerky because it gets a great, sharp edge and it holds an edge throughout the process so we don't have to stop and sharpen.
Electric Meat Slicer
For even more consistency, an electric meat slicer is a great investment. An electric meat slicer lets you adjust the thickness and can quickly slice several pounds of venison into strips for making jerky. A full-size meat slicer is the best option, but you can also get good results with a smaller, less expensive 7.5-inch slicer like this one from MEAT!.
Manual Jerky Slicer
Several companies also produce a manual jerky slicer that works very well for making venison jerky at home. These tools have a large chute on top where the meat is fed in. A crank handle turns the blades and quickly gives you consistent thicknesses. These tools typically do not have an adjustable thickness guide but are meant for making jerky, so the thickness is correct.
Which Way to Cut Meat for Jerky
There are differing opinions about the "best" way to slice venison for jerky. Some people prefer to slice against the grain when they make homemade deer jerky. This gives the finished product a softer chew, but can also result in a crumbly jerky.
Others like to cut with the grain. Cutting with the grain will give you more firm meat that is chewier, but tends to pack better. You may want to try slicing some jerky in both directions to find out which you prefer. We often slice some venison with the grain and some against it just to have a little more variety in the texture when we make deer jerky.
Making Jerky from Ground Meat
You can use those packages of ground venison from last year to make deer jerky at home. The process is somewhat different, but it's also a fast and simple way to make jerky. Jerky from ground meat doesn't have the same toughness to it that strips of meat will, but it can have better flavor since it is easier to get the marinade throughout the meat. The trick to making ground meat jerky is to use as little liquid as possible and to use a jerky gun to create consistent, even jerky snacks.
Does Jerky Need Curing Salt?
Curing salt, commonly known as InstaCure #1 or pink salt, is often used in homemade deer jerky recipes. Curing salt is Sodium Nitrate and the purpose of adding it to products like jerky is to prevent the growth of foodborne pathogens like botulism. In small amounts, sodium nitrate is not harmful to your health, and adding it into the marinade will help to prevent spoilage.
You can opt not to use curing salt, we've done it lots of times. The key is that without it, you'll want to make sure that your jerky is consumed or frozen within a week. Curing salt helps to extend the shelf life and stability of deer jerky, so it's a good idea to include it. You can pick some up in our online store, along with some great seasonings and accessories.
Homemade Venison Jerky Recipe
One of the things that makes homemade jerky recipes fun is the freedom to experiment with different flavors. You have the freedom to make your venison jerky spicy, sweet, or anything in between. Once you've got your venison sliced to the thickness you want, it is time to add some flavors.
Making a Marinade for Venison Jerky
A marinade infuses the venison meat with flavor and helps to tenderize the meat. A basic marinade uses salt and sugar along with a variety of spices. This is the basic marinade that we regularly use. This recipe makes enough marinade for about five pounds of venison.
- 1 1/2 cups soy sauce
- 1 cup Worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup honey
- 2 tablespoons lime juice or white vinegar
- 2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
- 2 teaspoons onion powder
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 1 level teaspoon pink curing salt (sodium nitrite)
You'll notice that there is a decent amount of sugar in this recipe with both brown sugar and honey contributing to the flavors. Sugars add flavor and help to enhance the texture of the meat. The addition of an acid (in this case, lime juice or vinegar) helps to tenderize the meat and may help to spread the flavors through the meat.
Adding Flavors to the Marinade
While this is a basic marinade that produces a simple jerky, you can always add additional spices and flavors to enhance your jerky. We like to use our Bearded Butcher Blend seasonings when we make jerky, particularly the Hot and the Original blends. These add additional layers of depth and complexity to the jerky without being too overpowering.
If you like things spicy, try adding dried red pepper flakes, hot sauce, or sliced peppers to the marinade. You can also add things like coffee and swap out the honey for molasses for a sweet jerky recipe. Or you can use a pre-made teriyaki sauce to get the classic jerky flavor that blends perfectly with the slightly gamey flavor of venison.
If you are planning to use a dehydrator or the oven to make jerky, you can add liquid smoke to your marinade to give your jerky a nice smoky flavor. Don't add liquid smoke if you are using your smoker because it will be overpowering.
How to Make and Use the Marinade
Start with a large pot and combine the soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, lime juice or vinegar, and any other liquids you are using and stir well. Place the pot on the stovetop on medium to low heat. Warming the liquid on the stovetop slightly will help to dissolve the sugars, but you want to avoid overheating the liquid because it can lead to some off-flavors.
Once the liquid is warm, add the sugars and other ingredients and stir with a whisk until the sugar is completely dissolved. Allow the marinade to cool to room temperature.
Place your sliced meat in a large zip-top bag or a plastic bowl with a tight-fitting lid and add the room-temperature marinade. Massage the meat to evenly distribute marinade throughout so that each slice is well coated. Ensure that the jerky is submerged in the liquid and place in the refrigerator to marinate overnight. You can knead occasionally to help encourage the marinade to work into the meat.
Prepping the Jerky for the Drying Process
Once the marinade has sat for at least eight hours on the venison, you'll want to remove the meat from the marinade. Shake off as much excess liquid as possible and gently pat dry with a paper towel. Arrange the jerky on a wire rack to drip dry and place in the refrigerator until you're ready to start the drying process.
Making Jerky in a Dehydrator
A dehydrator is probably the easiest and the best way to make jerky at home. You'll want to use a dehydrator that has multiple racks and a good fan to keep air circulating. Place the strips of meat separately on each level, making sure to leave room in between the pieces. If the jerky is too crowded in the dehydrator, it won't finish correctly.
How Long Does Deer Jerky Take in a Dehydrator?
Most dehydrators will have an adjustable thermostat reading between about 105-degrees up to about 165-degrees. The amount of time jerky will take in the dehydrator will depend on a few factors, beginning with the temperature you are drying the meat at. The thickness and cut of the meat will also make a difference in the drying time. Thicker cuts will take longer to finish.
A good rule of thumb is to set the dehydrator to 155-160 degrees and check the jerky at three hours. Then check it once an hour until it has reached the appropriate dryness.
Making Jerky in the Oven
You can make jerky in the oven quite easily. In fact, it's a great way to help keep your kitchen warm on cold winter days, too. You'll simply set the temperature as low as it goes, usually 170-degrees. Place strips of meat on wire racks or hang them on skewers from the oven rack. Line the bottom of the oven in parchment paper or aluminum foil to keep cleanup easy. Opening the oven door slightly helps to allow for air circulation and keeps the temperature from going too high.
Oven jerky usually takes anywhere from four to eight hours. Just like with the dehydrator, start checking at three hours and then every hour afterward.
Making Jerky in the Smoker
Making jerky in the smoker is our favorite way to do it. The smoker adds a layer of complexity and using different types of hardwoods enhances the flavors. You'll want to set the smoker to a low temperature of 160-degrees. Using wire racks or hanging from skewers, put all the meat into the smoker. Check at three hours and every hour afterward.
What is the Best Type of Wood for Smoking Jerky?
The classic go-to for us is a blend of oak and hickory. These mild-mannered hardwoods add the perfect dimension of smoke flavor without overpowering the wild game flavor of the venison. Using fruit woods, particularly apple, can add a sweet note that goes fantastic with deer meat.
Venison Jerky Recipe
- Approximately five pounds of lean, trimmed venison.
- Marinade (see above for our basic recipe and tips on adding flavor)
- A large bag or bowl with a tight lid
- Paper towels
- Slice venison into one-quarter-inch thick slices.
- Mix liquid ingredients together and warm on medium-low heat. Add sugars, stirring until dissolved. Remove from heat and add spices, then allow to cool to room temperature.
- Mix sliced venison with marinade, working the liquid and meat so that all pieces are coated. Refrigerate for 8-12 hours.
- Remove sliced meat from marinade, drain, and pat dry. Allow to drip dry on racks.
- Set the temperature of the dehydrator, oven, or smoker to 160-degrees.
- Begin to check the jerky at three hours, then every hour after until sufficiently dry.
Tips for Storing Jerky
A vacuum sealer is the best solution for long-term storage. Properly dehydrated venison will last for at least six months when you use curing salt in the recipe. It can also be stored in a resealable bag for several weeks.
Making venison jerky at home is a great way to get everyone in the family involved in making delicious snacks. The entire process is time-consuming, but not too complicated. Having fun creating interesting jerky flavors is one of the most enjoyable past-times around our house every deer season.
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