How To Tell If Beef Jerky Is Done

The Risks of Undercooking Beef Jerky: Bacterial Growth and Spoilage

Not only can under-dehydrated beef jerky have an off-putting flavor and texture, but it also poses a major health risk. Meats that are undercooked or raw can serve as a haven for dangerous bacteria like E coli and Salmonella. When we discuss dehydrating jerky, we also mean removing moisture to prevent the growth of bacteria.

Your jerky is susceptible to mold and bacterial growth if it still contains an excessive amount of moisture. This increases your jerky’s inedibility and increases the chance of food poisoning. A compromised batch of jerky may also smell rancid or off, which is a sign that it should no longer be consumed.

If you’re interested in learning more about food safety, have a look at our answers to the questions: does beef jerky expire? and How long does beef jerky last?

We’ll help you avoid that in this guide on how long to dehydrate beef jerky, but you can also read about what happens when you eat expired beef jerky in our blog. But let’s look at the taste and texture aspect of things instead of just food safety.

The Downside of Overhydration: Loss of Flavor and Texture

Dehydrating beef jerky for too long can lead to over-drying. Even though undercooking may not be as harmful to your health right away, the consequences for your taste buds are disastrous.

Over-dehydrated jerky loses its chewy and palatable texture. You might end up with a crumbly, brittle piece that lacks moisture and feels like you’re biting into a piece of hard bark instead of that satisfying tug and pull.

Flavor, too, takes a hit with over-dehydration. A bland taste may remain after all the seasonings, marinades, and natural meat flavors have been diminished. This is particularly disappointing if you took the time to marinate your meat in the hopes of getting a really flavorful outcome.

The good news is that we’ll teach you how to prevent this by explaining how long beef jerky should dehydrate and how to determine when it’s done. Having said that, let us examine the variables that affect the ideal time for dehydrating beef jerky.

Choosing and Slicing the Meat

Your best bets for making jerky when purchasing meat are lean cuts with fine grain and little fat or connective tissue. Eye of round and round roasts are perfect, and they’re usually not too expensive. But if they’re lean, other cuts will also function. Cut off any connective tissue and any sizable fat seams.

It’s difficult to slice meat evenly without a commercial meat slicer, which is essential if you want all of your jerky to dry at the same pace. If you’re slicing the meat by hand at home, freeze the trimmings until they’re firm but not completely frozen. It will maintain its form and be simpler to cut uniformly with a sharp knife.

Slices that are no thicker than 1/4 inch and no thinner than 1/8 inch are what you’re after. More than 1/4 inch will take longer to dry, and less than 1/8 inch will dry too quickly and become crunchy. If you want a jerky that is chewier, go thicker; if you want one that is easier to eat, or if the meat is particularly tough, go thinner. You can also choose to have your butcher slice it for you, skipping this step altogether.

Marinating your jerky is a crucial step in the process. Depending on your recipe or personal preference, you can use a dry marinade (also called a spice rub) or a liquid marinade. Either way, the intention is to enhance the beef’s flavor. You’ll need a blend of spicy ingredients like hot sauce or chiles; sweetness from sugar, honey, or possibly a sweet sauce like teriyaki; and savory ingredients like salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, soy sauce, or liquid smoke. Begin by combining basic ingredients, and then adjust the blend as each batch is made. Make notes so you can recall what worked and what didn’t.

A curing salt, like “Prague powder” or Mortons Tender Quick, is called for in some beef jerky recipes as a component of the marinade or rub. These reduce the growth of bacteria and increase the food safety of your jerky. As an alternative, the USDA advises increasing food safety by heating the marinade to a boil before covering the beef slices. As specified in the recipe, marinate your meat for at least 4 hours and up to 24 hours. Before placing it in the dehydrator, blot it dry if needed.