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Drying is a traditional way of preserving meat products. It takes away the water content of the meat that breeds unwanted microorganisms causing food spoilage.
To dry beef jerky you first cut up the lean meat of your choice. The meat should be trimmed of fat and sliced into thin strips for drying. After these procedures have been done, the actual drying process begins.
Old-fashioned ways of drying include using the sun's heat or air to dehydrate the meat. Today, using dehydrators or ovens are recommended safe drying methods and are ideal to sufficiently heat and dry the meat strips without overcooking them.
Typical Beef Jerky Drying Times
Using a good standardized food thermometer is essential in checking the air temperature circulated by the oven or dehydrator. Pre-heating the dehydrator or oven to 145°F ensures that any bacteria are killed before drying. The heating should be done for at least 15 to 30 minutes.
Use a clean gripping kitchen tool to assemble meat strips on a dry baking tray in a single file without piling them up or having them touch each other. Set the tray in the pre-heated oven or dehydrator and let strips dry for 6 to 10 hours or until sufficiently dry. Remove the strips from the oven or dehydrator to test for dryness.
When Is Beef Jerky Dry?
In testing the strips for dryness, get clean tongs to hang the strips on a wire rack. Let them cool at room temperature then slightly bend the beef strip. When bent, an adequately dry jerky does not break in half but should crack instead.
The dry strip should exhibit a firm, flexible form that can easily bend completely back on itself without snapping. Dried jerky should not be crumbly but instead displays a leathery texture that tastes palatably chewy. The chewy quality of dried jerky should have a nice crunch that breaks easily whenever you bite off a strip. Plus, even if it has a dry surface feel, it should still be tender on the inside.
Another good sign that it is dry is that it leaves no greasy or sticky residue when handled. Even if they are dried meat strips, they should feel that there is a substantial amount of meat crammed into them.
General Guidelines for Drying Beef Jerky
The following are basic guidelines in simply making jerky the scrumptious and healthy treat that it should be.
To begin with, the inside of the meat should dry thoroughly so do not heat it too hastily. The external surface of the meat may get crusty which can retain internal moisture. Use a thermometer to determine temperature and how much time it takes to dry the jerky. Heat the meat at temperatures 40°F to 145°F to take away most of the moisture so that food-borne microbes won't get a chance of growing.
Once the jerky is satisfactorily dry, take out the strips from the drying trays and place them on a clean surface. With a paper towel, pat off excess oil and allow it to cool.
Package the dried jerky in airtight plastic bags or glass containers with heavy lids and refrigerate. Keeping the jerky cold helps prevent bacterial growth. If the strips do not come out dry after heating in an oven or dehydrator, adjust the settings to 160°F to complete the drying process.
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