Saturday, September 23, 2023

Frugal beef jerky

I took a deep dive into our chest freezer last week, inventorying as I went. It's too easy for things to get lost in the bottom depths.

Which is why I was surprised to find four five-pound bags of solid beef, left over from the last cows we butchered before we moved. Twenty pounds! The butchers had pulled these extremely lean chunks aside (at our request) for beef jerky. After the chaos of moving, we forgot all about them.

Don loves beef jerky. He immediately pulled out two of the bags, ten pounds of meat, to make into his favorite treat.

After (mostly) defrosting it, he realized the meat wasn't sliced. So he got to work cutting it thin. I hadn't planned on turning this project into a blog post, so I didn't think to get a photo of the slicing process. Suffice it to say he kept the knife very sharp. (It also helps to slice the meat when it's still slightly frozen.)

After slicing, he marinated the beef in two different sauces (one was a basic sauce made with Worcestershire and soy sauce, the other was mostly the same except he used teriyaki). He marinated each bowl of meat in the fridge for about ten hours.

We have two dehydrators, but he opted to just do one batch at a time. He started with the regular jerky.

Before putting the meat on the trays, he sopped up the extra liquid with towels. (Good thing they're washable.) On some of the slices, he sprinkled red pepper flakes for a bit of extra zing.

The meat can be touching, but is not supposed to be overlapping on the trays.

He set the dehydrator up on a table on the porch and set it at 165F for six hours.

It took, oh, about ten minutes for the yellow jackets to find it. We were swatting at the nasty beasts for the duration of time the meat was dehydrating.

When the first batch was finished...

...he transferred the meat to cookie sheets and baked it at 275F for about 10 minutes, until the meat was sizzling. This "finishes" the drying process and renders the meat safer.

This is the first batch. Now double the quantity (after the second batch was done) and that's a lotta snacks! He got about three pounds of jerky from the original ten pounds of meat.

Interestingly, Don had just purchased a bag of jerky a couple weeks ago. The bag cost about $5.

This bag contained the curiously precise amount of 2.85 oz.

This meant three pounds of this commercial beef jerky would cost about $84. We calculated the cost of making three pounds of our own (from our own beef) was about $35 (based on original butchering costs, electricity costs for running the dehydrator, and ingredients for the marinade).

But of course since we paid for the butchering many years ago, essentially the batch was free. Hard to beat that price.

By the way, a yellow jacket somehow made it into the dehydrator and got dehydrated itself. I found it when I was washing up the trays.

Look at the stinger on that critter! No wonder they hurt.


  1. That looks so delicious. I love jerky, but the sodium is off limits to me. Is it possible to make a sodium-lite jerky? Who would guess yellow jackets would like beef jerky?

    1. You could try low sodium soy sauce but salt seems to be an important ingredient. I've used pineapple juice along with the soy and wort and teriyaki sauces and brown sugar, red peppe flakes

    2. I think you probably could. Salt is a preservative, but it's also for flavor. I think the recipe is what's important and that how it's dehydrated preserves the meat. On one of those Alaskan TV shows years ago they caught a bunch of salmon, built a homemade smoker outdoors, and smoked all that fish. All that meat sliced up and smoked for so long probably dried out. I'll bet Native Americans didn't use salt and they dried meats too.
      I've used Moores low sodium before, and rinse it off after marinating then cooked and dehydrated. It's not jerky, but similar.
      Try googling for salt free or low sodium jerky recipes. I'll bet there's a jackpot of them online.

  2. I've never made Jerky but have dehydrated meats. Last time I marinated and cooking the meats first. Two years ago I did some chicken in teriyaki and some in a sugar free orange orange marinade made by G.Hughes found at Walmart. I like many of his sugar free products, especially that orange marinade. It all did well.

    My original intent was for stir fries but recently wanted a snack. I tried to rehydrate it together with instant rice, That didn't really work well because it needed significantly more time than the rice. Also the water from the rice watered it down some.
    Normally I rehydrate things in the cooking liquid , or for fruits like apples, in apple juice. Now I decided it would be better next time to rehydrate the meat first , perhaps with some more orange sauce, before incorporating into a rice dish. If it were plain dehydrated chicken, Better Than Bullion
    chicken flavored would work in the liquid. But I could taste good flavor in that chicken after two years on the shelf which is why I marinated it. Also it may help preserve meat better.
    Generally, everything dehydrated keeps best in a jar in the fridge, but there's not always room. This experiment from 2 years ago worked, but it'll be eaten up this fall since it wasn't refrigerated.
    With temps cooling off it's time to dehydrate again, letting that power used do double duty with its heat. Oh! It's an Excaliber so it's size probably is generating more heat.

  3. For those in the west that buy meat and want to make homemade jerky, get carne asada sliced beef, works great. WinCo sells whole bottom rounds in the bag, buy those when on sale and have them slice it like carne asada or double the thickness if you like it thicker. They slice it for free as long as it's during regular hours and the slicer is still assembled, and it's even thickness slices. A lot of local people in my area that sell jerky buy it like that and they do the double-thick carne asada slice. It's way cheaper than buying jerky.

    1. Thanks for this tip. We have a new Dollar General Market nearby and I noticed they had sliced beef and it looked good but I wasn't sure how I'd use it. I think jerky can be made in the dehydrator. I have a book called The Dehydrators Bible and it has several jerky recipes.

  4. I think your comparison is incomplete. At $35.00 for three pounds, by your calculations you’ve invested $11.66 per pound so far but there are other costs you’re not taking into consideration:

    The value of the beef. That meat wasn’t free. You had production costs such as feed, housing, vaccinations, electricity to pump water, etc. What did it cost you to produce those five pounds of meat? You can only claim it was free of charge if it was gifted to you.

    Unless you ran/run your freezer on solar energy, there was the electricity to keep it frozen the past four years.

    Don’s labor had value and opportunity costs. Since there is hired personnel involved in the retail product, you should assign a value to Don’s time too.

    Inflation factors into the equation too. Remember you’re comparing 2019 costs with 2023 costs.

    1. From one bean counter to another, I've been thinking lately that a dollar on hand not spent but saved, should have higher value accorded it than face value, in spite of the inflationary destructions we're going through. It is so hard to not spend every penny, but what if there were some catastrophe tomorrow? We will still need savings. I think this meat should be thought of as a previous deposit into guaranteed savings since here we are in the future. It doesn't have to be shopped for, butchured, or anything but sliced and prepared to eat.

  5. I sure would like to try some of your gourmet jerky! I say gourmet because it's homemade and not loaded with cancer causing chemicals to preserve it! As such it is worth far more to your health than a dollar value could assign.

  6. An idea for you. As a survival and travel food jerky is well known. Another well known but almost non existent survival and travel food is hardtack. Awhile back I heard that hardtack could be ground down and used as flour. That kind of surprised me but once I thought about it, it made sense. It would be interesting to your readers if you were to test this theory. Take some hardtack biscuits and grind them into a flour and using yeast etc. bake a bread and see if this is a viable idea.

  7. If the power went out and seemed like it would stay out a period of time, it's time to can everything possible in the freezer if you don't have back up power for the freezer.