Best Cut Of Beef For Jerky
When people hear the word, "snack," they think of potato chips or pretzels. They should be thinking about beef jerky.
Americans bought 2.8 billion dollars worth of beef jerky in 2017. The average American household spends more than $25 on jerky every year.
But not all of that jerky comes alike. Beef jerky differs in branding, flavoring, and the cut of beef itself.
What are beef jerky cuts? How do chefs go about choosing beef cuts for their jerky? Once they've selected their cut, how do they cook it?
Answer these questions, and you can enrich your taste in jerky. Here is your quick guide.
Best cut of meat for Jerky
A cow contains a dozen distinct cuts of beef. A chef can use nearly any of these cuts in the jerky process.
Most jerky producers use cuts toward the back of a cow. This is where meat is tender and lean with few streaks of fat.
In particular, the round is common in beef jerky. The eye of round is a muscle in the shape of an oval in the rear legs.
The meat is lean yet flavorful, and its grains run down the length of the cut. This makes it easy to slice and process.
The bottom round lies closer to the legs. It is more tender than the eye of round, yet it is still flavorful and lean. It is not a commonly-used cut of beef, which makes it cheaper to work with.
The top round lies above the bottom round but inside the leg muscle. It is moderately tender, making it ideal for eaters who want a mild bite.
As the name suggests, the flank steak is a flank along the bottom of the cow. It is far more expensive than any round cut. It can be tough to chew, but it has streaks of fat that are easy to swallow and add flavor.
Ground meat is not as common as one might think. It does not hold together well in a jerky, and it may contain a high amount of fat. It is better for burgers than it is for jerky.
You may have heard of other kinds of jerky. Exotic meats like alligator and buffalo can be turned into jerky. But beef and other meats are rarely mixed together.
What cut of beef for jerky
A beef jerky producer cannot just pick a cut of beef at random. They have to take into account several factors.
They must consider taste. Each cut of beef tastes differently, depending on how much fat they have. Round cuts taste meatier than flank steak because they are more tender and have less fat.
They must consider how other ingredients will complement the jerky. Flank steak may not taste meaty on its own, but seasonings like garlic powder go well with it. The flavor of round cuts can overpower added seasonings.
The chef must consider costs. Though ground beef may not have a good texture for jerky, it is very cheap. Round cuts are far cheaper than flank steak as well.
Jerky takes time to prepare, but no cut saves or adds too much time. All cuts can be butchered into amounts that fit inside small ovens or containers.
It is also important for a cook to consider the piece of meat itself. If the butcher cut it wrong, or if the meat is spoiled, it will not produce good jerky. They must take time to find the right cut and piece for them.
Making beef jerky
Once the chef has found the right piece of meat, they can begin the jerky process. They take a large piece of meat and cut it into very thin slices.
Meat has muscle fibers that all align in a similar direction. Cutting along those fibers is called "cutting with the grain."
This produces a chewier jerky since the fibers fall apart. Cutting against the grain makes the jerky more tender and harder to chew.
Once the meat is cut, the chef marinades it. This is where the seasonings mentioned previously come into play. The meat must be heavily salted so it can dry and produce hard strips or planks.
The meat marinades overnight, if not for a longer period. It must absorb the salt and seasonings and become completely dry.
After marination, the meat is then dried. Some chefs use a dehydrator that removes moisture from the meat. Others smoke their meat without exposing it to direct flames.
A few chefs even hang their meat up outdoors and let it dry. This is how jerky was made before modern technology.
Once the meat is dry, the chef can serve it. Jerky can last for months without refrigeration. Though the meat is not traditionally cooked, it is safe to eat because the salt kills harmful bacteria.
The process of making jerky in an industrial setting is only a little different from a home setting. Companies may use preservatives like sodium nitrite to prepare their meat. But the basic steps are the same.
What is the best cut of beef for jerky
There is no one cut of beef that all jerky chefs choose. Round cuts are common, but they are not universal. Plenty of chefs select flank steak or ground beef.
Their choice comes down to taste. Round cuts are tender and meaty, while flank steak and ground beef are fattier.
The process for making jerky is near-identical across all cuts. Thin strips of meat are sliced, then they are marinated and salted. The beef is smoked or dehydrated until dry and tough.