The Hardest Part is Deciding Which Flavor to Make
Of all the outdoorsman’s food groups, trail mix, sausage and salami are good, but jerky is the best in my book. Packed with protein and low in fat, it’s just enough to get you through a long morning in the deer stand or waterfowl blind. In a pinch, it can even double as a meal. Heart doctors might frown at the amount of salt it contains, but aside from that, it’s downright healthy.
When they first appeared on the shelves of sporting goods stores a few years back, I looked with skepticism at the contraptions that looked like caulking guns and carried names like Jerkey Shooter, Jerky Blaster and Jerky Cannon. Mix ground meat with some dry seasoning, fill your shooter and out come strips ready for the dehydrator or oven. “No way that’ll be as good as my muscle jerky,” I thought, “and it looks like work.”
Boy am I glad someone fed me some of the jerky they made with one of those things. I headed straight to a local big box store to get my own and have since wore it out and moved on to a bigger and better model.
There simply isn’t a faster way to eat a deer, which in today’s era of long seasons is good news for Nebraska hunters. Plus, knowing there’s another outlet for deer burger also simplifies the butchering process for do-it-yourself hunters like myself. Now I only have to be precise with my cuts while removing the tenderloins, backstraps and a few roasts. After removing as much fat as possible, the rest of the meat I can get to the grinder in any shape I want.
A run through the web site of one major outdoor retailer found 10 seasoning flavors, including original, inferno, Cajun and bourbon barbecue. I’ve tried several and haven’t found a bad one yet. It takes me just a half-hour to mix the seasoning and cure with some ground meat, which sure beats the time it takes to slice meat, mix a brine and keep it stirred until it’s ready to go in the smoker.
You can use either an oven or dehydrator to dry ground jerky. Either way, the one thing you don’t want to do is overcook your jerky, unless you like chewing on shoe leather. Unfortunately, if you’re like me, you can’t always babysit these kinds of projects, so I use an automatic light timer (like the ones used to turn Christmas tree lights on and off), to ensure mine is cooked properly. Wherever you’re cooking it, I recommend holding your jerky gun close to the tray, forcing the meat to bunch up slightly and form thicker strips. The end result is a chewier jerky that also takes up less space in the oven or dehydrator. Just don’t press it into the tray, or you’ll wish you hadn’t when it’s time to get it off.
I set my dehydrator to run for four hours, then let it cool a little before rotating the trays and firing it up for another two hours. I feel the time spent cooling helps leach some of the moisture out of the middle of the jerky that would have required extra time to cook out. About six hours after shooting the meat onto the dehydrator trays I’m taking the first bite of a batch that will last two weekends in the goose blind, one if the house is full.
No dehydrator? With the proper drying racks, ground jerky can be made in the oven just as easily by following the directions on the back of the dry seasoning.
Store your jerky in the refrigerator or a cooler if you won’t be eating it fast. But you will be. With the various flavors available to season your jerky, your biggest problem will be figuring out which one to try first.
Then again, trying them all could be considered the fun part. Not that I needed another excuse to eat more jerky. I should probably take notes. It would be my luck to find the world’s best jerky mix and not be able to remember the name. ■
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