If you catch the bug, making beef jerky is a slippery slope, and let me tell you it’s a fun slope to slide down 🙂
I started out my jerky adventure with about five batches of what is called “Muscle Meat” jerky – that’s when you buy a hunk of meat (Eye of Round, Top Round, Bottom Round, London Broil, Beef tenderloin, Venison, etc.), slice it into strips, marinate, then dry. There
Don’t get me wrong, I love doing it this way, and there are shortcuts you can take, such as:
Having your butcher slice the meat for you
Using a home Jerky Slicer
Reducing the time your meat marinates
Using a "quick marinate" device/vacuum sealer
(That last one is scientifically debatable)
As I found myself getting deeper into it, I started stumbling upon recipes for ground beef based jerky. Intriguing! Using a very low-fat ground beef blend/package (93% or higher), you can season it up, park it in the fridge for a much shorter marinating duration, then load it into a “Jerky Gun” and shoot out various shapes and sizes for drying.
Ground meat mixtures use very little by way of wet ingredients and more heavily rely on dry spices/seasoning for the flavor punch. This reduces the amount of time needed for optimal marinating since you aren’t really waiting around for liquids to penetrate and swap places with internal moisture.
Being the adventurous chef that I am, I was itching to get this into the test kitchen and see how it went. There are a couple mainstream ways to form ground meat jerky into edible shapes:
Using a jerky gun
Spreading the meat out flat on a sheet pan and cutting the shapes
With the latter, I can see the upside to using cookie cutters to make fun shapes (Skulls, anyone?!) or getting groovy on some funky knife skills to make traditional or unique pieces, but I was terribly distracted by the shiny new jerky guns that I saw while browsing Amazon for accessories.
I actually had a Nesco Jerky Gun on the wishlist that I share with my wife for Christmas gift ideas, and at around $15 chances were low that she wouldn’t come through, she’s awesome like that! But it was mid-October, I was on sabbatical, fresh out of Culinary school boot camp, and just couldn’t wait to act on this newest idea so I pulled the trigger (pun intended), and sat Santa back down in his place.
All in all, it was a super-fun experiment and gave us a new bag of snack food in just five hours (one hour to marinate, and four hours to dry in my dehydrator).
SIDE NOTE: The texture is completely different from traditional muscle meat jerky, so I’ll have fun in the test kitchen figuring out how to balance all the differences out with the ground meat version! Stay tuned for the outcome.
Very similar to making meatballs or meatloaf, you simply combine your seasoning and ground meat in a bowl…
…load up the jerky gun with up to one pound…
…and shoot out onto the dehydrator rack
I ran the dehydrator at 165 degrees for four hours and viola, we had snacks!
Regarding the flavor profile for this batch, the Jerky Gun kit came with five packets of Traditional Beef Jerky flavoring so I just used that, no recipe required! I don’t believe I added anything else, wanting to capture the most basic and indistinguishable of flavors for this first batch. the kit came with the curing salt, so it was as simple as opening a package of ground beef, adding the seasoning packet, adding the curing packet, and gently mixing by hand before heading to the refrigerator to chill out.
Needless to say, I’m happy to have a ground beef jerky variety (and way cool accessory gun) in my arsenal of tricks and look forward to developing recipes and other techniques to share with you!