Making beef jerky at home is a fun and interesting way to produce clean, healthy snacks for you and your family. It's even something we like to do for little gifts for our friends, particularly when we have unique and interesting products like moose meat or venison for our jerky recipes. If you are thinking about trying your hand at making some homemade beef jerky, you might get overwhelmed looking at the selections at your local store. The Bearded Butchers are here to help you make the best choice for creating excellent jerky products at home.
What Are the Best Cuts of Beef for Jerky?
There is one key thing you'll want to always keep in mind when buying beef for jerky – you want lean cuts of beef. The reason is that fat doesn't dehydrate and it can leave the jerky greasy or with a rancid flavor that is not very appealing. So go ahead and grab those finely marbled rib-eye steaks, pink and tender filet mignon, or huge tri-tip, but save them for grilling, smoking, or braising.
Instead, you are going to look for the leanest cuts you can find. This includes things like sirloin, top round roast, and other lean meat cuts. One of the main reasons we love using wild game for jerky making – other than the fact that it is delicious – is that wild game tends to be much leaner than commercially farmed beef.
Criteria for Choosing a Cut of Meat for Beef Jerky
As we mentioned earlier, you'll want to find cuts that are quite lean for making jerky. While some options may seem like they would work well, like beef brisket that has a very noticeable grain, it is more about the fat marbling than anything else. Even super-tough cuts like flank and skirt steak are better choices for jerky because of the relative lean cuts of beef.
One of the things that we often tell people is that they should simply talk to their local butcher. Butchers tend to love beef jerky and they have the tools and cuts of beef on hand to make the best beef jerky recipes. Most of the time, you can just ask what they have that is the best and the local butcher will steer you in the right direction.
You can even ask the butcher to trim off the fat cap from rounds and slice the meat for you using a commercial meat slicer. This is often a good way to get the most consistent thicknesses of slices without the hassle. Slicing beef for making jerky can be done with a sharp knife, but it is time-consuming and may result in jerky that dries too fast while other sections are not dried enough.
Tips for Buying Meat for Beef Jerky
Let's start out by pointing out what the type of beef used by commercial jerky makers is. This will give you a good jumping-off point for your homemade jerky experiences.
The most common cut they use is called top round. This is a section of the rump roast taken from the top of the hind legs. It is also called inside round or London Broil. This is an affordable cut of beef that is very lean, has a pronounced grain, and needs to either be cooked for a long time at a low temperature or turned into jerky to not be excessively tough.
Eye of Round
Eye of round is part of the round roast. This chunk of beef has very distinct muscle fibers, very little fat, and an ideal shape for easily slicing into jerky. It is slightly less flavorful than top round but has less fat than bottom round, making it a great choice for big, bold flavors in your marinade. Don't hold back on the seasoning, this roast can take it.
The next most common cut to look for is called bottom round steak. This is the lower portion of the top round. It also is very lean and has a pronounced grain, but tends to be a little fattier than the top round or eye of round. It takes to a marinade well and is usually not that expensive, making it a great choice for homemade beef jerky. This is another cut you can get wild with when flavoring.
Flank steaks are tough, heavily grained, and full of extra-beefy flavor. Most often, you'll see them used for carne asada de res or beef fajitas because they need to be sliced thin in order to be chewable. They also make good cuts for jerky making, but they do have higher amounts of marbling. These are good choices for chewier jerky recipes, but it also can become impossibly hard if you over do it.
The sirloin is one of the most popular cuts for making jerky at home. It has a bit more marbling than some of the above cuts and requires a little more effort to trim the fat before you can dehydrate it. But the cut also has some of the most intense, beefy flavor. Sirloin tip is one of the more affordable cuts and is only slightly more expensive than round meat cuts.
Making jerky from ground meat isn't very difficult and it will give you the ultimate in tender jerky. In fact, our Bearded Butcher Beef Bites are made from ground meat. Here is the trick, though – you'll need to have the leanest possible ground beef you can get. You are going to want to find something with 96 to 98 percent lean beef. The easiest way to get this is to make it yourself. It's also a great way to use venison trimmings and other odd cuts of meat to make a unique and interesting snack.
Cuts to Avoid and Why
Some people like to make jerky from brisket and it is possible to do. We don't like it for jerky for two reasons. First, it is too fatty to make shelf-stable jerky from, so you'll need to refrigerate it which sort of takes away from the point of jerky as an easy snack. Second, we like smoking whole brisket too much to waste time trimming it out and then slicing it into thin pieces.
Similarly to the brisket, tenderloin tends to be a finely marbled cut of meat. This is where some of the most desirable steaks come from, like the filet mignon, porterhouse, and others. Like brisket, we prefer cooking this cut of meat for feasting on rather than making jerky and there are more affordable cuts that create a better-finished product.
Whether it is prime rib, cross rib, or just beef ribs, this is not an appropriate cut for jerky making. These cuts are all very heavily marbled with fat, have very fine grain that doesn't slice thinly, and they taste way better when cooked low and slow. Why waste a great meal making a snack?
FAQs About the Best Meat for Making Jerky
Q: Why do I want lean meat for beef jerky?
A: Fat doesn't dehydrate and can result in too much moisture in the meat. Fat reduces the shelf life because it spoils quickly.
Q: Can I make jerky from an expensive cut?
A: Sure. Flank steak makes for great beef jerky and it tends to be expensive. But the trick with jerky is that you don't have to spend a ton of money to get a great product. Less expensive cuts like round roasts make the best jerky.
Q: Can I make jerky from wild game?
A: Wild game jerky is one of the best snacks around. Wild game tends to be leaner than commercial beef and has interesting and unique flavors.
Q: Do I need a jerky gun to make ground beef jerky?
A: You don't need a jerky gun, but it does make the process more enjoyable. Otherwise, you'll need to shape the beef by hand before dehydrating it.
Q: How do I make chewier beef jerky?
A: The secret to more or less chewy jerky is in the way you slice the meat. Cutting with the grain will produce a less tender bite while cutting against the grain gives you a more tender jerky.
When selecting the best beef cuts for making jerky, the key thing to remember is that you want lean beef that has a clear and easily identifiable grain. The good news is that these cuts are often the most affordable at your local grocery store. If you are in doubt about whether the beef you are looking at is a lean cut, ask the butcher. They often can give you helpful tips and advice about what beef is the best for making jerky at home.
Making homemade beef jerky gives you an opportunity to select the type of cut you want to use along with the unique flavors you'll add with a marinade. Making delicious beef jerky is actually quite easy once you understand the process of selecting the right cut of meat and how to prepare it for making into jerky. There are lots of different ways to go and it's fun to experiment with different cuts, marinades, and other options to get the unique and special jerky you crave.