Sunday, November 16, 2008

Herky Jerky

With deer season upon us, hunters in Virginia will harvest thousands of deer. Some will be filling their freezers and enjoying venison for months. Others will donate deer through Hunters for the Hungry (or call 800.352.4868) which does an outstanding job bringing together hunters, butchers, and food pantries to provide quality meat to folks in need. BTW, Hunters for the Hungry also sells cookbooks, prints, caps, etc. and accepts donations to support this worthwhile program.
Mullins Slaughter House in Stuarts Draft is one of four butchers in the Augusta County area that work with Hunters for the Hungry. The butchers charge a minimum fee for butchering, cutting and wrapping. Last year in Virginia, over 370,000 lbs. of high quality protein, or nearly one and a half million 4 oz. servings, were provided. Check out the News Leader article for more info.
Other hunters will use some of their kill to make deer jerky. Now you can enjoy the joys of jerky with almost any meat, but most popular in the Shenandoah Valley is venison or beef. Traditionally, jerky was sun-dried or smoked but today most people probably use the oven or a dehydrator - which lends a great aroma to the house or garage! A charcoal or electric smoker has the advantage of lending a nice smoky flavor which can be varied with the type of wood used. I've sometimes used a smoker to begin the drying process and then moved the meat to an old forced fan dehydrator that I've had for a quarter of a century and have also used for fruits and veggies. One problem is that the smoker doesn't hold enough!
For me the bottom line is ease of use, consistent quality, and food safety. The dehydrator wins on all three points. I bet newer ones are even better. Let me reemphasize the food safety point - you don't want to get sick from something so good! Follow directions and recipes carefully.
I shouldn't admit this during hunting season, but I actually like beef jerky better. For both venison and beef I prefer whole muscle meat over ground. Prime cuts are nice, but not necessary. On the other hand, I stay away from cuts that are too fatty, stringy, or tough. Look for specials!
You can buy a jerky marinate such as Jim Melton's which is available online or at his shop in the Dayton Farmer's Market. Or, just buy his jerky - excellent but a bit pricy. Plus, for many of us the fun is in the making!
My recipe is less than exact and changes slightly each time depending on my tastes at the moment and what I have in the pantry, but here are the basics for red meats:
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon liquid smoke (omit if using smoker)
  • 1 teaspoon hot sauce (more or less)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon black pepper (fine grind)
  • 1 1/2 lbs of beef or venison, thinly sliced across grain
Mix ingredients and place in glass bowl or sealable plastic bag. Add meat. Cover bowl or seal bag and refrigerate for at least 24 to 48 hours, mixing several times. Remove meat and drain excess marinate.
Place in dehydrator (or smoker) and sprinkle with coarse black pepper if desired. Dry following dehydrator instructions. Store in a glass jar or plastic bag.
What's your favorite jerky recipe? Would love for you to post it here. Experimenting is half the fun. The other half is in the eating!!

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