Venison jerky is a favored snack among those who appreciate the rich taste of game meat, coupled with the convenience and longevity of a dried product. By using a dehydrator, making venison jerky at home is a straightforward task that allows for a high level of customization based on personal taste preferences. The process transforms the robust flavors of venison into a portable and preservative-free treat, offering a homemade alternative to store-bought jerky.
Making venison jerky involves marinating thin slices of venison in a blend of seasonings and sauces, then slowly dehydrating them at a low temperature until the moisture content is significantly reduced. This method ensures the jerky is safely preserved and packed with flavor. Many prefer a dehydrator for this, as it provides consistent heat and air flow, which are crucial for achieving evenly dried meat without cooking it.
The jerky can be flavored to cater to a variety of palates, from smoky and savory to spicy and sweet, showing the versatility of venison. It is a popular choice for those seeking a tasty, high-protein snack that captures the essence of the great outdoors. The beauty of making venison jerky lies in the ease of the process and the satisfaction of creating a custom snack that can be enjoyed on the go.Jump to Recipe
Table of Contents
Choosing Your Venison
The first step in making venison jerky is selecting the right deer meat. A person’s choice will greatly affect the flavor and texture of the jerky.
Varieties of Venison Cuts
When choosing venison, it’s important to understand the different cuts available. Lean cuts are typically the best choice for jerky, as they tend to be more tender and have less fat, which can spoil the jerky. Popular options for jerky include the venison backstrap, which is a lean and flavorful cut, and venison roast, known for its rich taste. These cuts have the ideal balance of flavor and leanness needed for perfect jerky.
Prepping the Meat
Preparing deer meat for dehydration is a crucial step. First, one should ensure that their knife is sharp to make clean cuts. It’s essential to trim any excess fat off the meat, as fat can cause the jerky to go rancid quickly. When slicing the meat, aim for consistent thickness in each piece to ensure even drying. Most recipes recommend slicing against the grain for venison jerky, resulting in a better texture once dried.
Making the Marinade
When preparing venison jerky, creating a flavorful marinade is essential. The marinade not only imbues the meat with flavor but also helps to tenderize it for that perfect chew.
Classic Spices and Flavors
The classic marinade for venison jerky often includes a robust base of soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce. This combo adds depth with its umami notes. To this base, you typically add:
- Garlic powder and onion powder: for a savory aroma.
- Black pepper and red pepper flakes: for a hint of heat.
- Brown sugar or honey: for a touch of sweetness that balances the saltiness.
These ingredients are mixed with a liquid such as water or additional soy sauce to ensure the spices are well dispersed before adding the venison slices.
For those looking to add a unique twist to their venison jerky, there are several creative options to add to the marinade:
- Coconut aminos: A soy-free alternative that adds a sweet and salty flavor.
- Liquid smoke: For a smoky taste without the smoker.
- Minced garlic and whole peppercorns: These add bursts of flavor compared to their powdered counterparts.
- Hot sauce or crushed red pepper flakes: For jerky with an extra kick.
When developing a marinade, they ensure balance among the elements of sweetness, salt, spice, and acidity to suit their specific taste preferences.
The Dehydration Process
The dehydration process is crutial for making venison jerky, as it removes moisture which helps in preservation and concentration of flavors. Proper temperature control, prepping the dehydrator, and determining adequate drying time are essential steps to ensure your venison jerky is both safe to eat and delicious.
Prepping the Dehydrator
Before starting the dehydration process, one must ensure that the dehydrator is clean and ready for use. The dehydrator trays or racks should be arranged so that there is enough space for air to circulate around the meat strips. This will allow for even drying.
Determining the Drying Time
The drying time for venison jerky can vary depending on the thickness of the meat and the dehydrator’s efficiency. Typically, it takes about 4 to 6 hours, with thinner strips drying more quickly. They should be checked periodically to ensure they’ve reached the desired internal temperature of 160°F for safety.
Setting the correct temperature on the dehydrator or oven is critical for making venison jerky. It is advised to maintain a temperature of around 150°F to 160°F. This heat level helps to dry the meat without cooking it too quickly, retaining the texture and flavor specific to jerky.
Alternative Drying Methods
While dehydrators are commonly used for making jerky, ovens and smokers offer alternative methods that are readily accessible in many homes.
Using an oven for drying venison jerky is a practical option when a dehydrator is not available. Home cooks can set their oven to the lowest temperature, usually between 170°F and 200°F. They must arrange the marinated venison strips on a wire rack over a baking sheet to allow for air circulation. Door propping is essential; they should keep the oven door slightly ajar to let moisture escape. The drying process in an oven typically takes about 4 to 8 hours, but this can vary based on the oven and the thickness of the meat strips.
Using a Smoker
The smoker infuses venison jerky with a distinctive smoky flavor that other methods can’t match. When using a smoker, individuals should maintain a low temperature, similar to using a dehydrator, to ensure the meat dries without cooking. The smokers should be set around 160°F to 180°F. It’s important to note that smoking jerky might take longer, often up to 6 to 10 hours, depending on the smoker’s consistency and the meat’s thickness. Cooks should check the jerky regularly to prevent over-drying.
After dehydrating venison jerky, it’s important to handle it correctly to maintain its flavor and shelf life. The following steps should be taken to ensure the jerky is properly prepared for storage.
Cooling and Conditioning
Once the venison jerky is removed from the dehydrator, it should be left to cool at room temperature. Avoid stacking or touching the pieces together as they cool; this might cause moisture to become trapped between them. After cooling, the jerky slices should be placed on a paper towel to absorb any excess oil. This step, known as conditioning, helps to distribute moisture evenly in the jerky and can prevent spoilage.
For long-term storage, venison jerky must be kept in an airtight container to prevent it from absorbing moisture from the air. Options for airtight storage include vacuum-sealed bags, jars, or Ziploc bags. If using storage containers that are not vacuum-sealed, it’s a good practice to place a piece of paper towel inside to help control moisture. Store the containers at room temperature in a cool, dark place to maximize the jerky’s shelf life.
Food Safety Considerations
When making venison jerky, it’s crucial to prevent the growth of bacteria and parasites that can cause foodborne illness. Proper handling and storage of raw venison are also key to ensuring safety.
Preventing Foodborne Illness
To prevent foodborne illness, one must heat venison to a safe temperature to kill harmful microbes. According to the Food Safety and Inspection Service, heating meat to 160 °F or 165 °F before drying is essential. Using a dehydrator that maintains a constant temperature of 130 to 140 °F is important for safe drying.
Tips for Safe Dehydration:
- Temperature: Heat venison to 160 °F or 165 °F before dehydration.
- Dehydrator settings: Maintain 130 to 140 °F for effective drying.
Handling and Storing Raw Venison
Raw venison requires careful handling and storage to avoid contamination. The North Carolina State Extension recommends always washing hands before touching the meat and wearing disposable gloves. The venison should be kept in the refrigerator or freezer until it’s time to make jerky. Specific pathogens, such as Trichinella, can be neutralized by freezing the meat for a certain period.
Key Steps for Safe Handling:
- Wash hands: Scrub with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Use gloves: Wear disposable gloves when handling raw game.
- Storage: Keep venison in the freezer or refrigerator to limit bacteria growth.
Venison Jerky Recipes
Venison jerky is a lean, nutritious snack made from deer meat. Both traditional and innovative recipes can transform this wild game into a savory or spicy treat that suits various taste preferences.
Traditional venison jerky sticks to the basics: salt, pepper, and sometimes a hint of garlic or onion. To ensure safety, it’s important to freeze venison for 30 days prior to making jerky to eliminate potential parasites.
- Venison, thinly sliced
- Black pepper
- Optional: garlic powder, onion powder
- Season the venison slices with salt and pepper.
- If desired, add a touch of garlic or onion powder for extra flavor.
- Arrange slices on dehydrator trays, avoiding overlap.
- Set dehydrator to 150°F.
- Dry for 3-5 hours. Check for moisture by slicing a piece in half.
For those who enjoy a little twist, innovative venison jerky recipes experiment with various seasonings and marinades. One can add heat with chili flakes or sweetness with a honey glaze, catering to both gluten-free diets and those looking for a unique homemade jerky experience.
- Add red pepper flakes or cayenne pepper to the traditional mix.
Sweet and Savory:
- Marinate the venison in a mix of soy sauce (or a gluten-free alternative), honey, and a splash of Worcestershire sauce.
- Combine chosen seasoning or marinade with venison slices in a bowl.
- Ensure all pieces are evenly coated.
- Marinate for several hours or overnight for deeper flavor.
- Select a dehydrator temperature between 160°F and 180°F to prevent outer crust formation.
- Dehydrate until internal temperature reaches 165°F, checking for doneness periodically.
Tips for the Perfect Jerky
Making venison jerky with a dehydrator involves careful preparation and attention to detail. Here are some specific guidelines to help ensure that your jerky is both delicious and safe to consume.
For jerky with the best texture, slice the venison into uniform thin slices, aiming for about 1/4 inch thickness. A sharp knife is crucial to ensure clean cuts and to make the process easier. To achieve consistent slices of jerky meat, partially freeze the venison to firm it up. Also, slicing against the grain will make the jerky more tender. Carefully trim any fat or silverskin as these can prevent the jerky from drying properly and can cause spoiling.
Once sliced, it’s time to marinate the meat to infuse flavor. Make sure every piece is well-coated and the marinated venison should rest in the fridge, ideally for several hours or overnight. Flip the venison halfway through to ensure that all sides of the protein are seasoned. Before dehydrating, lay the slices out on paper towels to blot excess marinade for more even drying.
Testing for Doneness
Jerky is properly dried when it is leathery and chewy but not brittle. The edges should be slightly sharp, and no signs of moisture should be visible when bending a piece of jerky. If you cut into a piece and notice any moisture, continue dehydrating. It typically takes about 3-5 hours to dry jerky at 150°F, but times may vary depending on slice thickness and lean cuts of meat used.
Tailoring to Dietary Needs
When making venison jerky, it’s possible to customize recipes to meet specific dietary restrictions. By adjusting certain ingredients, individuals with health concerns or dietary preferences can still enjoy this protein-rich snack.
For those looking to reduce sodium intake, it’s important to look for alternatives to traditional seasoning methods. Soy sauce, a common ingredient in jerky recipes, is high in sodium. However, low-sodium soy sauce is available and can be a suitable substitute. Additionally, one can opt for salt substitutes or simply use less salt when preparing the marinade. It is essential to ensure that the venison still has enough flavor, so incorporating a variety of herbs and spices can help complement the reduced salt.
To create gluten-free venison jerky, scrutinize all ingredients that may contain gluten. Soy sauce typically includes wheat, so one needs to utilize a gluten-free soy sauce or tamari. Marinades and spice mixes should be checked for gluten, as many commercial blends can contain additives or fillers with gluten. Using fresh, whole ingredients to create a marinade can help one avoid gluten while not compromising on taste.
Ground Venison Jerky
Making jerky from ground venison is a great way to preserve and enjoy deer meat. With the right preparation and tools like a jerky gun, you can make delicious meat snacks that are both lean and flavorful.
Preparing Ground Venison
For a successful batch of jerky, they need to begin with lean ground venison. Fat can cause the jerky to spoil faster, so it’s best to remove as much as possible. They often combine the venison with a small amount of beef fat for flavor, though it’s important to keep the fat content low. Once they have the meat ready, they’ll want to add their chosen seasonings and mix everything thoroughly to ensure the flavors are well distributed.
- Ground venison: 2 pounds
- Seasonings: as per recipe (salt, pepper, garlic powder, etc.)
- Ensure ground venison and any additional beef fat are blended evenly.
- Mix in seasonings until fully incorporated.
Using a Jerky Gun
After the venison is prepared, a jerky gun comes in handy to form uniform meat strips, which is key for even drying. A jerky gun resembles a large caulking gun and works by loading the seasoned meat into the barrel. Then, by squeezing the trigger, the ground venison is extruded out in neat strips. These strips are then laid out onto dehydrator trays covered with plastic wrap or non-stick sheets.
- Place seasoned ground venison into the jerky gun barrel.
- Squeeze the trigger to extrude meat strips onto prepared trays.
Once the meat strips are laid out, they’re ready to be dried in a dehydrator. Maintaining a consistent temperature during dehydration is essential to prevent bacterial growth and ensure that the jerky is dried evenly, resulting in a safe and delicious snack.
When making venison jerky, paying attention to the time of year can influence the flavor and approach to your recipes. Deer season brings fresh opportunities for jerky-making, while holiday periods offer a chance to create festive flavors that everyone can enjoy.
Deer Season Specialties
During deer season, hunters often have access to fresh game, making it the prime time to create venison jerky. One can incorporate seasonal flavors like smoked paprika that complement the bold taste of deer meat. It’s important to ensure that all venison is properly handled; for instance, game should be frozen for at least 30 days to eliminate parasites before being used in jerky recipes.
Holiday Jerky Recipes
The holiday season is when people enjoy flavorful and aromatic foods. Venison jerky can be made festive with the addition of holiday spices or even a hint of liquid smoke flavoring for that cozy, fireside taste. Creating jerky during this time allows for experimenting with various seasonings that might include cinnamon, nutmeg, or allspice for that special holiday touch.
Bourbon & Brown Sugar Venison Jerky
- 2 lbs venison thinly sliced
- 1/3 cup bourbon
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper optional for heat
- 1 teaspoon liquid smoke optional for added smokiness
- Start by slicing the venison into thin, even strips.
- In a bowl, mix together bourbon, brown sugar, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper, cayenne pepper, and liquid smoke.
- Place venison strips in a large ziplock bag, pour in the marinade, and ensure they are well coated. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.
- Preheat your dehydrator to 160°F (71°C).
- Arrange the marinated venison strips on the dehydrator trays, ensuring they do not touch or overlap.
- Dehydrate for 4-6 hours, or until the jerky is dry but still pliable.
- Let the jerky cool before storing in an airtight container.