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Keys to better tasting jerky

Bob Frye
| Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017, 8:33 p.m.
Lobel's of NYC Beef Jerky
Lobel's of NYC Beef Jerky

It probably is true that you can make lots of new friends fast by passing out your high-quality venison jerky.

But that's only a theory.

I mean, who needs friends that bad, to give their jerky away? No one I know.

Maybe because really good jerky is rare.

You wouldn't think it would be, necessarily. After all, hunters take lots of deer every year, and many, many pounds of jerky are produced — enough in the next few months to stock plenty of convenience stores.

Sadly, much of it turns out less than stellar on the tastebuds.

It needn't, though, said Rick Fetrow of Carlisle, a retired butcher who at his peak was making more than 100,000 pounds of venison jerky and meat products a year. Anyone can make good jerky by following a few simple steps, he said.

One key is getting the strips — lean muscle meat is best, though even ground meat can be used — to be similar in size and thickness so they dry at an even rate.

“Most people, where they struggle is when they try to slice their jerky. That's the hardest part,” Fetrow said.

A jerky board, like a fillet board, but with a slot to guide your knife, helps there, he added.

Once the meat's sliced, sprinkle it with cure and place it in the refrigerator overnight.

The next day, it's time to dehydrate it. He recommends doing that at 125 degrees.

People often ask him how long to dry it.

Fetrow said there's no easy answer in terms of minutes. Dehydrators vary widely, based on how they generate heat — some use only a light bulb — and if they have a fan to blow that heat around. Not all do.

You really have to look at the meat to know when it's ready.

“When you pull that jerky out, you should be able to lay it across your finger and it not go soft. That's the first thing. It should support its own weight,” Fetrow said.

“The second thing is, you should be able to push it and it should have a little give to it. That's how you know your jerky's done.”

If it breaks like a potato chip, he said, you've overcooked it.

Even then, it can be salvaged to a degree. Put it in a plastic bag, but don't close it. Then stick it in the freezer overnight. The moisture in the air will rehydrate it a bit by morning, Fetrow said.

It's still more than edible then, if not perfect.

No matter what, Fetrow recommends keeping your finished jerky in the refrigerator when you're not snacking.

Even though you used cure, the resulting jerky will not be entirely shelf stable, like the stuff you buy pre-packaged in stores. Refrigerating it will allow it to last forever, though.

Or at least until you gobble it all up.

And you will. There's nothing like homemade jerky.

Bob Frye is the editor. Reach him at 412-216-0193 or See other stories, blogs, videos and more at

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