Making Beef Jerky Safely at Home
Want to make homemade Beef Jerky?
You’ve come to the right place. This article will take you through all the steps to make beef jerky safely at home.
Buy your dehydrator.
The Excalibur 3926TB Food Dehydrator is one of the highest rated and most reviewed home use food dehydrators on the market. If you check the Amazon reviews, you’ll find lots of good uses for dehydrators other than jerky (fruit leather, dried fruit, dried herbs, etc.) We use the Realtree Dehydrator that we purchased from Dick’s for $150. No problem so far — but the camouflage doesn’t work — you’ll still see a huge box in your kitchen.
Want our Illustrated Step-by-Step Guide to Homemade beef jerky?
We’ve detailed a step by step process, email us if you’d like a copy our perfected process, or stop by Sand and Steel Fitness Alexandria VA and we’ll show you how its done.
Read ALL of the articles cited and linked in this post
Jerky can be safely made at home… but it can just as easily get you sick. This article cites some of the most current articles on this subject, so be sure to do your homework before making your jerky.
Choose the right meat. You’ll see on the internet that most recipes call for lean meats… but we all like the fattier meats like ribeye and flat iron right? The reason for insisting on leaner meats is that the more fat the meat has (between 5% and 20%), the less likely that all the bacteria will be killed during the dehydrating process.  (Footnotes at the end bottom)
Marinating with Instacure #1 or prague powder 1
Instacure kills clostridum botulinum (technically prevents the development of spores that create botulism). There are plenty of good marinade recipes available. Personally I like “Marinade 1” from Let’s-Go-Make-Sausage.com.
- 1/2 cup worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 cup light soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon liquid smoke
- 2 teaspoons fine ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon granulated onion or onion powder
- 2 teaspoons granulated or powdered garlic
- 1 level teaspoon cure (prague powder #1 or Instacure #1)
This recipe makes enough marinade for 5 pounds of meat.
What temperature to marinate?
Marinate in the refrigerator below 40 degree F. Sounds like a no brainer, but the point is don’t marinate on your kitchen counter. Or, you can marinate at 160F (hot brining).
There are many great reasons to lower sodium in your diet. Positive effects include less water retention, lower blood pressure, etc. Commercial Jerky is salty for a reason, the extra salt kills the bacteria (particularly for ground beef). So, while we concur that lowering the salt in the American diet, don’t do it when making jerky. But, other studies (not on ground beef found only minor bacteria differences between low sodium and high sodium marinades.
Similar studies have shown that adding sugar to the marinades increases the lethality of the marinade. However, adding sugar to Jerky also adds calories, particularly high glycemic calories.
Yes, research has shown that marinades having high levels of acid (particularly ascorbic acid) increase the lethality of bacteria. Food grade ascorbic acid (vitamin C) can be obtained from a variety of vendors. We use Now brand, since we find the dissolvability to be very good. You can also use lemon juice, but lemon juice has a strong taste. NOW Foods Vitamin C Crystals, Ascorbic Acid, 1 Pound.
Cook the meat #1
This is where a lot of people run into problems. No one wants overcooked meat… so why not just cook it in dehydrator? Well because the dehydrator heats the meat too slowly to kill the bacteria before it’s grown. Once you’ve allowed the bacteria to grow in the meat, YOU CAN’T COOK THE BACTERIA OUT OF THE MEAT. Once it’s spoiled, it’s spoiled. And it can spoil in between the time it reach 160 degrees in your dehydrator. (You can cook to 160F after you dehydrate it, but that’s not quite as safe, and doesn’t taste as good either.)
So when you slow cook (with dry heat) or heat with a dehydrator, the heat causes the moisture in the meat to evaporate. This allows the meat’s temperature to stay low, because most of the time cooking (until three quarter’s the way through), the heat transferred to the meat, really just causes evaporation of water. The meat doesn’t get hot enough (because the evaporation of water keeps the meat cool acting as a heat sink… works just like sweating while exercising.) So you have to cook the meat 160 degrees using conventional methods (pan frying, broiling, roasting, poaching, etc.) before you start dehydrating. “This study indicated that the traditional drying process for whole-meatstrip jerky (10 h at 60 degrees C) was insufficient for destruction of pathogens in jerky made from ground meats. The authors concluded that ground-meat jerky should be oven heated to 71 degrees C prior to drying to ensure microbiological safety.” And guess what, 71 degrees Celsius is that famous temperature every cook knows to kill bacteria… 160 F. See also, Harrison analyzing the existence of E-coli in ground meat beef jerky.
Cook the meat #2.
OK you read #1, but your dehydrator goes up to 170 F, so you’re good right? Do you really trust your health to the company that created the food dehydrator. Just cause knob on your dehydrator says 170 degrees, do you really know it’s 170 degrees. Maybe it’s off by 10 or 15 degrees, and maybe you’ll get sick because your particular machine doesn’t heat to the temperature is says. You need a thermometer to know for sure. Sand and Steel Fitness uses OXO Good Grips. Plus the meat won’t get hot enough, so you’ll have to cook in the oven afterwards, which creates an undesirable texture. So cook it or boil it before, and check your temperatures.
160 degree and dry jerky?
Sadly yes, cooking your meat to 160 F creates a less desirable taste. So what alternatives are there? Albright studied four different methods:
- immersing in boiling water (15 seconds), then marinating (118.4F, 24h)
- seasoning (118.4F, 24 h), then immersing in a hot pickling brine (172.4F, 90 s)
- immersing in a vinegar-water (1:1) solution (134.6F, 20 s), then marinating (118.4F, 24 h);and
- marinating (118.4F, 24 h), then immersing in a vinegar-water (1:1) solution (57.5C, 20 s)
All four methods had about same taste results from the 120 people surveyed, but immersing in the pickling brine killed the most bacteria. So go with the second method.
Ways to kill bacteria:
Harrison also studied the order of heating the meat. His four way test studied:
- Marinated whole beef strips at 140F,
- Boiling strips in marinade at 160F,
- heating strips in an oven at 160F before drying, and
- heating strips to 71F in an oven after drying.
Interestingly, this research concluded that you could safely cook your jerky after you dry it, but lower levels of bacteria were found in the boiling in marinade method.
USDA weighs in
So what does USDA say? Cook your meat to 160F and dry at 140F. But research across scientific journals show that the hot pickling method works just as well (if not better) with improved taste. As it should, boiling at over 160F is probably better at killing bacteria that air heating because there are far less cold spots in boiling water/brine.
How thick should you cut your meat?
Instacure 1, and other sodium nitrate salts can safely penetrate jerky up to a ¼ inch, so don’t go thicker than that.
How much instacure?
1 tsp per 5 pounds of meat will work
Other pink salt
Himalayan pink salt looks just instacure, but it is completely different. Instacure contains sodium nitrate (NaNO3), Himalayan salt is just sodium chloride with some minerals in it. If you use Himalayan salt at home, make sure you label it. Consuming instacure as a table salt can cause illness or death!
No. What was the last time you saw chicken jerky for sale in the supermarket? If companies can’t make it safely, you probably make it safely at home either. Our research into the topic, resulted in very few papers looking into the topic. Probably because the bacteria in chicken can’t be easily killed to make consumption safe for jerky preparation.
From 1990 -2000 there were 263 cases of botulism. 103 of them occurred in Alaska. Home canned vegetable were responsible for 70 of the events. Two Restaurants results in the other 25. What this means to you? If you are doing home preparation of foods is small, but with proper precautions can greatly be reduced to almost zero.
What is botulism?
An illness that can cause paralysis. Clostridum Botulinum is generally responsible for the cause, but also C. baratii and C. butyricum can create the same neurotoxins.
Causes of botulism.
Common causes include home canning, smoking, making dried meats, etc.? From our research, the most common cause is by people who do not kill the bacteria before preserving. For example, it’s widely known that oil is an excellent preservative. And if you want to make a infused garlic oil, that’s great. But do you know if that garlic has any pathogens in it? Here’s the rub, botulism requires a low oxygen atmosphere… that’s worth repeating low oxygen atmosphere. So while you may think that heavy duty smoker you got running will kill everything, because there’s no oxygen… it paves the way for Clostridum Botulinum. So how do you kill Clostridum Botulinum? Three main ways:
- Boiling for ten minutes (like if you are making jams and preserves)
- Pressure cooking at 250 (for vegetable canning, etc.)
- Instacure or Prague Powder (which is sodium chloride and sodium nitrate.
But with all these methods there are places to still cause problems. Most common, problems are reintroduction of bacteria after you heat-kill the bacteria. Not waiting long enough for the instacure to penetrate the meat. Not refrigerating meat while it’s curing, etc. There are a number of great website you should visit before attempting home preservation of food for yourself. Alton Brown did a few series on these technique on his show Good Eats (and also appears in his books). The Smoking Meat Forum is also an excellent resource. Virginia Tech also has a nice publication on the topic. About.com has a nice article on instacure as well.
Want to Be Safe with Meats: Know your pathogens and how to destroy them
|Bacteria Responsible||Description||Habitat||Types of Food||Symptoms||Cause||Temperature Sensitivity|
|Staphylococcus aureus||Produces a heat-stable toxin||Nose and throat of 30 to 50 percent of healthy population; also skin and superficial wounds.||Meat and seafood salads, sandwich spreads and high salt foods.||Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea within 4 to 6 hours. No fever.||Poor personal hygiene and subsequent temperature abuse.||No growth below 40o F. Bacteria are destroyed by normal cooking but toxin is heat-stable.|
|Salmonella||Produces an intestinal infection||Intestinal tracts of animals and man||High protein foods – meat; poultry, fish and eggs.||Diarrhea nausea, chills, vomiting and fever within 12 to 24 hours.||contamination of ready-to-eat foods, insufficient cooking and recontamination of cooked foods.||No growth below 40o F. Bacteria are destroyed by normal cooking.|
|Clostridium perfringens||Produces a spore and prefers low oxygen atmosphere. Live cells must be ingested.||dust, soil and gastrointestinal tracts of animals and man.||Meat and poultry dishes, sauces and gravies.||Cramps and diarrhea within 12 to 24 hours. No vomiting or fever.||Improper temperature control of hot foods, and recontamination.||No growth below 40o degrees F. Bacteria are killed by normal cooking but a heat-stable spore can survive.|
|Clostridium botulinum||Produces a spore and requires a low oxygen atmosphere. Produces a heat-sensitive toxin.||Soils, plants, marine sediments and fish.||Home-canned foods.||Blurred vision, respiratory distress and possible DEATH.||Improper methods of home-processing foods.||Type E and Type B can grow at 38o F. Bacteria destroyed by cooking and the toxin is destroyed by boiling for 5 to 10 minutes. Heat-resistant spore can survive.|
|Vibrio parahaemolyticus||Requires salt for growth.||Fish and shellfish||Raw and cooked seafood.||Diarrhea, cramps, vomiting, headache and fever within 12 to 24 hours.||Recontamination of cooked foods or eating raw seafood.||No growth below 40o F. Bacteria killed by normal cooking.|
|Bacillus cereus||Produces a spore and grows in normal oxygen atmosphere.||soil, dust and spices.||Starchy food.||Mild case of diarrhea and some nausea within 12 to 24 hours.||Improper holding and stroage temperatures after cooking.||No growth below 40o F. Bacteria killed by normal cooking, but heat-resistant spore can survive.|
|Listeria monocytogenes||Survives adverse conditions for long time periods.||Soil, vegetation and water. Can survive for long periods in soil and plant materials.||Milk, soft cheeses, vegetables fertilized with manure.||Mimics meningitis. Immuno- compromised individuals most susceptible.||Contaminated raw products.||Grows at refrigeration (38-40o F.) temperatures. May survive minimum pasturization tempertures (161o F. for 15 seconds.)|
|Campylobacter jejuni||Oxygen sensitive, does not grow below 86o F.||Animal reservoirs and foods of animal origin.||Meat, poulty, milk, and mushrooms.||Diarrhea, abdomianl cramps and nausea.||Improper pasteuriztion or cooking. cross-contamination.||Sensitive to drying or freezing. Survives in milk and water at 39 o F for several weeks.|
|Versinia enterocolitica||Not frequent cause of human infection.||Poultry, beef, swine. Isolated only in human pathogen.||Milk, tofu, and pork.||Diarrhea, abdominal pain, vomiting. Mimics appendicitis.||Improper cooking. Cross-contamination.||Grows at refrigeration temperatures (35-40o F.) Sensitive to heat (122 oF.)|
|Enteropathogenic E. coli||Can produce toxins that are heat stable and others that are heat-sensitive.||Feces of infected humans.||Meat and cheeses.||Diarrhea, abdominal cramps, no fever.||Inadequate cooking. Recontamination of cooked product.||Organisms can be controlled by heating. Can grow at refrigeration temperatures.|
 Journal of Food Protection, Vol. 67, No. 10, 2004, Pages 2337–2341, 2338 (Faith, N. G., N. S. Le Coutour, M. B. Alvarenga, M. Calicioglu, D.R. Buege, and J. B. Luchansky. 1998. Viability of Escherichia coli O157:H7 in ground and formed beef jerky prepared at levels of 5 and 20% fat and dried at 52, 57, 63 or 68 degrees C in a home-style dehydrator. Int. J. Food Microbiol. 41:213–221).  http://www.lets-make-sausage.com/beef-jerky-recipes.html  Harrison, J. A., M. A. Harrison, and R. A. Rose. 1998. Survival of Escherichia coli O157:H7 in ground beef jerky assessed by two plating media. J. Food Prot. 61:11–13  Effects of Home Preservation Technique for Making Meat Jerky  Journal of Food Protection, Vol. 67, No. 10, 2004, Pages 2337–2341, 2338.  Harrison, J. A., M. A. Harrison, and R. A. Rose. 1998. Survival of Escherichia coli O157:H7 in ground beef jerky assessed by two plating media. J. Food Prot. 61:11–13.  Albright, S. N., P. A. Kendall, J. S. Avens, and J. N. Sofos. 2003. “Pretreatment effect on inactivation of Escherichia coli O157:H7 inoculated beef jerky.” Food Sci. Technol./Lebensm.-Wiss. u. Technol/LWT 36:381–389.  http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/10/9/03-0745_article.htm  http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/10/9/03-0745_article.htm
4 thoughts on “Making Beef Jerky Safely at Home”
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Paul, it’s been 2 years since a comment was posted. Hope you are still monitoring the outcome of posts. The instant pot electric pressure cooker has cut cooking times drastically over the years and has gained popularity. Is the instant pot somethibg that could make jerkey or at very least be an assistance. Havent made jerkey at home ever, but spend a small fortune monthly on this product. Would like to venture in making it in an instant pot, oven, or purchasing a dehydrator. Thank you for your research.
I personally prefer the Breville Fast Slow Pressure cooker over the cheaper Instapot Model. Here’s an amazon link. That said, you can cook meat in a pressure fairly easily (flank steak works wonders.) It won’t be preserved like you can with a dehydrator, but it tastes similar. Also, I’ve found that although Jerky made the way I explained in the post technically lasts a month, it only tastes amazing for the first 48 hours. So pressure cooking your meat is a viable alternative. Technically, it wouldn’t be jerky, but it can still be delicious.
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