Every time deer hunting season rolls around here in Wisconsin I start thinking about the heaps of venison jerky I could potentially make if the hunt goes right.
Fortunately, the hunt went great this year and I’ve found myself with several pounds of tender, trimmed venison to use.
I like my jerky to be savory, a little sweet, and chewy. Not soft like the store-bought stuff but the way they used to make it. Back in the days when jerky was one of the few foods that could last a wagon trip across the U.S.
This is my tried and true recipe I’ve been using since I started hunting as a kid. Simple and tasty, like jerky should be.
You can use trimmings for this recipe with great results. However, if you want the jerky to be more tender you can use steaks and/or roasts from the higher quality muscle groups like the loin, tenderloin, or round.
- 4 pounds venison – this will make ~1.5 lb of jerky
- ½ cup water
- ½ cup liquid smoke
- 2 cup low-sodium soy sauce (use regular soy sauce if you like it salty)
- 1/3 pound brown sugar (or 2/3 cup packed down)
- 1 tsp cure #1 (aka Instacure #1, Prague Powder #1, etc.)
- Dehydrator (I use a version of this Ronco Dehydrator)
- Sieve or small-holed colander
- Partially freeze venison first to make slicing easier. It shouldn’t be like a brick but should be fairly solid. You will know it’s cold enough if your fingers ache when slicing.
- Trim fat from venison. Venison fat (tallow) will eventually spoil if left on jerky and aside from it being unsafe it can also produce off, gamey flavors.
- Slice trimmed venison against or with grain, 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick. You can cut them as wide and long as you want. Slicing the venison with the grain will produce tougher jerky but some people prefer it. Because I use trimmings for my jerky, I do a mix of with-the-grain and against-the-grain to maximize the size of the pieces. I find it helpful to have a bowl for small scrap pieces that are too small to be made into jerky. I save these pieces to be ground up for sausage and burger meat later on.
- Thoroughly mix together water, liquid smoke, soy sauce, brown sugar and cure #1 in large bowl.
- Place venison in brine, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 hours. Since brine moves into meat approximately ¼” a day, it should fully penetrate the jerky pieces. Make sure to stir venison a couple times during this time.
- Dehydrator Method
- If your dehydrator doesn’t have a temperature control/doesn’t get to 160°F you will need to pasteurize the meat first to be 100% safe. To do this, place brine and jerky in pot over medium heat on stove and bring to 160°F while stirring frequently. If you don’t have a thermometer, bring the jerky and brine to a simmer. Remove from heat. Or, try browning instead for a kick of flavor.
- Drain well in sieve/colander.
- Set the vents on your dehydrator to full open. Lay jerky onto trays, making sure the pieces are not touching each other. Make sure to move the bottom tray to the top and rotate it ¼ turn in alternating directions every few hours to ensure the most even drying. You can get away with only rotating twice but if you are home you might as well rotate more often. If you didn’t already pasteurize your jerky, set your dehydrator to 160°F and pasteurize jerky for 2 hours. Then, lower to 145°F for the remaining time (~6 hours). If your dehydrator is like mine and doesn’t have a temperature control, the thinnest pieces will be dried in about 7 hours, while the thicker pieces may need 3 to 4 more hours. You will know when the jerky is done when it is bendable and you can see cracking but the piece does not snap in half.
- Oven Method
- If you don’t have a dehydrator, you can definitely still make awesome venison jerky in the oven! First drain off the marinade. Then set your oven to 160°F, place the strips directly on the racks, and dehydrate for 6 to 8 hours. It will help to put a piece of foil or oven pan in the bottom of the oven to catch the drips from the jerky.
- Store venison jerky in an airtight jar. For storage longer than a few weeks, store in the fridge. Good luck making it last more than a week though!
Pasteurization isn’t necessary, but it is the best way to get peace of mind and know your venison jerky will not give you a food-borne illness.
It is VERY easy for pieces of meat on a deer to come in contact with bacteria or feces from the deer’s gut and intestines. This is especially true if the colon or intestine gets nicked with a knife when gutting or was damaged from an arrow or gunshot.
Although I admit they are usually over-cautious, this is what the FDA has to say on the matter:
The USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline’s current recommendation for making jerky safely is to heat meat to 160 °F and poultry to 165 °F before the dehydrating process. This step assures that any bacteria present will be destroyed by wet heat. But most dehydrator instructions do not include this step, and a dehydrator may not reach temperatures high enough to heat meat to 160 °F or 165 °F. After heating to 160 °F or 165 °F, maintaining a constant dehydrator temperature of 130 to 140 °F during the drying process is important because (1) the process must be fast enough to dry food before it spoils; and (2) it must remove enough water that microorganisms are unable to grow.
Instead of worrying about it, just heat your jerky to 160°F!
There are a lot of jerky recipes out there that don’t use cure. I’ll admit, I never used it in my jerky until recently. However, the benefits of using nitrites far outweigh the risk you take when you make any meat product that sits outside of the refrigerator for extended periods of time.
In the past I used the common method of marinating the jerky slices in a brine high in salt concentration for a relatively short period of time.
When using this method, you may get your meat salted quickly but it’s almost impossible to control the amount of salt that the meat absorbs.
Because I have high blood pressure, it’s important for me to keep track of my sodium intake.
Instead of the traditional high salt concentration method, I now equilibrium brine my venison jerky slices in the exact salt concentration that I want in the final product. This way I can easily control the sodium levels in the final product and adjust as necessary.
And since jerky slices are so thin, it really doesn’t take much longer than the traditional method.
This particular recipe (with low sodium soy sauce) results in approximately a 3% salt concentration. This equates to a 1.2% sodium concentration in the finished product. Let’s say you end up with 1 lb of venison jerky. If you eat 1/8 lb per serving, you will get about 30% of your recommended daily intake of sodium. This is almost half of the sodium concentrations in popular store-bought brands of beef jerky.
Browning Venison Jerky First
I tried browning some of my venison jerky before drying and WOW does it make it taste better. Browning adds a whole other level of flavor to the already delicious jerky. If you want to try it, simply forego the pasteurization step and brown both sides of the jerky pieces quickly in a super hot pan. Then, let the dehydrator do the rest!