How to Tell When Jerky is Done [5 Easy Ways]

Beef jerky is one of the best camping and hiking snacks out there and is also a great addition to any BBQ. Here are 5 easy tips for how to tell when jerky is done.

how to tell when jerky is done

I think my love affair with smoked beef jerky started when I was 14, when I tasted some for the first time while on a hiking trip in California’s Yosemite Park. Since then I haven’t been able to put it down.

Hiking and camping are one of the perfect situations for wolfing down jerky. There’s a long tradition between those kinds of trips and the food. Jerky provides a good deal of protein on the go, as well as a good pick-me-up on long trips.

close up photo of dark beef jerky on table

More importantly, they’re absolutely delicious and a pack of them is light enough to pack in your pocket while on the go without weighing you down. Heck, if you’re anything like me then you can even stow away several packs.

Like with so many food products, jerky is far healthier and more economical to make at home. Store-bought varieties tend to carry high salt and sugar content, all of which you can do without, especially for a meat product.

Fortunately, making it at home couldn’t be easier, and once you have given it a go then you’ll be hooked on cranking out batch after batch. You’ll save a lot of cash, all while having direct control over the salt, sugar, and fat content of your jerky.

beef jerky resting on grill
Photo: Michael Salazar

Find out the best cuts of beef for jerky

Food dehydrators are really easy to get a hold of and provide a great access point to users new to the world of jerky making.

The big challenge with jerky making is knowing when it’s ready. It isn’t always easy, and if you get it wrong then it can spell disaster for your jerky: Too soon and it’ll still be vulnerable to spoiling; too late and it’ll be overly tough and dry. In either case, it’ll be a nightmare to store safely or east.

Here are 5 easy tips to knowing when your jerky is done.

ted barrera beef jerky chips
Photo: Ted Barrera

Get a Food Thermometer

Any meat preparation is best when done with a food thermometer, and jerky making is no different. Using a good thermometer will help you get a handle on how long to dry your meat, and in a method where drying time is absolutely key, this is invaluable.

Preheat your dehydrator to 145 degrees Fahrenheit, and leave for one hour prior to putting any food in it. This will help kill any harmful bacteria before applying any meat.

It’s also important to heat your beef to an internal temperature of 165F prior to dehydrating. This will help eliminate the bacteria in the meat.

After you have preheated your dehydrator, being the temperature down to 130-140F, which is an ideal target dehydrating temperature.

Pay Close Attention to Time

Just like with cooking, drying time very much depends on how thick or large the cuts of meat are. Larger cuts of meat require longer than thinner, smaller cuts do.

In the case of beef, this can be anywhere between 4 and 12 hours, but in most cases, 10 hours is a good mark at which to test your beef jerky.

The Dry Test

The real test however will come when you are able to be hands-on and actually test the meat.

Use a pair of tongs to take your jerky out of the dehydrator, one by one. Leave to cool on a drying rack or on a paper towel for a few minutes, allowing it to cool down to room temperature.

Once your jerky has cooled, try to bend it slightly. The form and structure we want to aim for is a strip of meat that can bend easily but without breaking. This is the ideal level of dryness we want from our jerky. If it rips in the middle then it’s not dehydrated enough yet, whereas if it snaps then it’s overly dry.

Check the Surface

Pay close attention to the appearance of the jerky’s surface. If it looks greasy and is soft to the touch then it still needs more time in the dehydrator. The ideal bit of jerky should be dry to the touch, and very leather-like in appearance.

Check for Mouthfeel

What makes jerky so delicious and great to eat is its tough, gum-like texture when eating it. It wouldn’t be anywhere as satisfying to eat if it melted away like chocolate, or crumbled immediately into dust.

If the jerky just crumbles away in your mouth then it is definitely overcooked. We also don’t want it so tough that it’s almost impossible to chew down. We need it to retain a degree of softness. It can be a fine line, but that’s what jerky is all about.

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