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Characteristics of Great Beef Jerky

You see the packages of jerky sitting on shelves at convenience stores and grocery stores, and it’s always the same two or three brands.

But did you know there are easily a thousand different brands of jerky selling all across the United States? Some more expensive and some more limited in quantity.

How do you know if you’re getting your money’s worth for an expensive brand of jerky? How can you tell the difference between good jerky and cheap jerky?

Does it taste like real meat? – Most major brands of jerky are so full of sugar, tenderizers and preservatives that all of the natural meat flavors are gone. Bite into a piece of jerky and see if you can taste the real flavor of beef, just as you’d taste in a chunk of grilled steak or roast tri-tip.

Does it chew like real meat? – Quite a few brands of jerky either have so much sugar that it becomes gummy, like eating a piece of fruit chew, or has cooked for too long that it becomes crumbly. Often times, brands will add meat tenderizers that make it too mushy. Good jerky should feel just like eating a real piece of steak once it has been chewed down to a soft mass.

What’s that stringy stuff?” – Mass produced jerky utilizes low grades of beef filled with stringy sinews, rubbery gristle, and unchewable tissues. Worse yet, you might find large chunks and streaks of fat. On the other hand, good jerky should be absolutely lean, practically pure meat. It’s OK to have tiny flecks and streaks of fat, as this will add some “beefy” flavor. But too much fat will cause the meat to taste rancid.

Does it live up to its advertised flavor?” – When a jerky packages says it’s “Hot”, then it should be hot, not medium hot, or somewhat hot, or just barely hot, but HOT. The same with teriyaki. Most major brands only use sweetened soy sauce, and don’t bother to add the mirin wine and ginger that makes good teriyaki.

Does it require heavy machinery to chew?” – In the old days, it might have been acceptable to have tough jerky. But these days, most gourmet brands can make simple, all natural, beef jerky in a tender, moist chew, that still retains the chewing texture of a grilled steak. If your jaws getting too tired, then look for something easier to chew.

Does it contain preservatives? – Sodium nitrite and sodium erythorbate are common preservatives used in processed meats, including jerky. But these days, vacuum packaging and oxygen absorbers can increase the shelf life of jerky, consumers don’t have to subject themselves to these ingredients.

Does it make you want to eat more? – Perhaps the true test of really good jerky is if it makes you want to eat more, just like eating potato chips. I call this, “snackability”, a characteristic where you find yourself eating one piece after another without the ability to stop. Jerky is a snack food, and if it satisfies your urge to snack, then you’ve found a good jerky.

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