Jerky is the ultimate travel food. I eat it whenever I’m out in the woods or on the water, driving across the country or hunkering down in a duck blind. And while you can make venison jerky from pretty much anything, venison is the ideal jerky meat—it’s wonderfully lean and loaded with protein. Venison also works great because you can use a big hind leg roast—a perfect candidate for slicing thin, curing and drying—and you get bigger slices that are easier to eat.
There are as many ways to make jerky as there are people who make it. What follows is my personal process for making traditional jerky from whole cuts of venison, not the reconstituted jerky you make with a modified caulking gun. That stuff can be pretty good, but it still kinda freaks me out.
Traditional jerky is both an art and a science. The art is in the flavorings, the cut of meat and how you dry it. The science comes in when you’re dealing with salt, acid, temperature and time. It really isn’t terribly difficult, as long as you follow these guidelines.
- I always use whole roasts from the hind legs of the deer because they hold together well, slice easily and are generally a bit tougher than backstrap, which makes them a better candidate for jerky. Yes, you can use backstrap for jerky, but it seems like a waste to me.
Whatever cut you use, trim as much fat off as you can. Jerky needs to be lean. Meat can dry and cure quite well, but fat left on jerky can go rancid quickly.
Remember, the meat will lose a lot of weight once it’s dried—a four-pound roast will make only about a pound of jerky. The takeaway is simply to make more than you think you need. And don’t worry if you end up with a ton of jerky on your hands; trust me, you’ll eat it.
(Photo by Holly A. Heyser)