How to Make Jerky

Jerky is a classic travel food.  It’s lightweight, nutritional, and it lasts for a long time.  In the apocalypse, it will also serve as a way to preserve excess meat.  After all, one can only eat so much venison after killing the deer before it spoils.  If you have ever made jerky before, you probably made it using a food dehydrator or the oven.  Clearly this won’t work when gas and electricity are no longer available, so how does one make jerky?  For this we hop in the Wayback Machine and set the year to 1492.  Native Americans, by this point, had developed the technique for curing and drying meat to preserve it for long periods of time.  This is the same technique that has evolved into the modern jerky recipe.

There are two different ways to jerk meat in a post apocalyptic world: sun-dried and smoked.  Smoked is the preferred method, since it takes less time and the meat is less likely to spoil during the process.  But, if you have no alternative, sun drying your meat is still a legitimate alternative.

Initial Preparation

First thing you need to do, regardless of which drying method you choose, is to slice the meat.  The thinner the strips, the quicker it will dry.  I would suggest going no thicker than a quarter inch.  If you have a sharp enough knife, I’d even go as thin as an eigth of an inch thick.  When cutting the meat you should cut against the grain.  Cutting against the grain makes for more tender jerky which you will thank yourself for later.

You need to make sure that you retard bacteria growth on the meat until it has fully dried.  Once the meat is fulled jerked the bacteria will not be able to survive (since there is no water left in the meat), but until then the bacteria can cause spoilage which will ruin your jerky.  The simplest way to stunt the bacteria growth is by curing the meat with a basic salt rub.  Fuuly coat the meat in salt and rub it in thoroughly.  If you want to add some flavor to your meat, you can mix is some honey, brown sugar, chili peppers, etc.

Now it’s time to start drying the meat.

Sun-Dried Jerky

***DISCLAIMER*** You should note that this is not an FDA approved method for making jerky because it is unreliable and there is a chance of spoilage.  If you decide to use this method, take extra precaution to avoid getting sick from your jerky.

You can lay you meat out wherever you want, just make sure you put it somewhere that will get direct sunlight for most of the day.  You can lay it on any surface you want, just make sure it’s clean.  Better yet, tie your meat strips up with string so it hangs in the air.  This allows it to sun and air dry at the same time, speeding up the drying process.  Drying your jerky this way will take 16-24 hours of direct sunlight, so several days work.

There are two concerns to address when sun drying your jerky.  The first, and most pesky, is insects.  You can be sure that your jerky will attract the attention of insects like flies, which can carry bacteria onto your jerky, spoil the meat, and ruin your batch.  The second concern is dew.  You need to make sure your jerky will not accumulate morning dew.  Otherwise it will absorb the moisture and put you back a while, potentially far enough that bacteria manages to spoil your jerky.

Smoked Jerky

You can build yourself a permanent smoker if you are in a more permanent situation (I plan on writing about how to build on in the future).  If not, you can make a makeshift smoker in a few minutes.

The first thing you need is a cover to hold the smoke in.  The easiest way to do this is to make a teepee to cover your firepit.  Just tie three branches (made of living wood so it doesn’t catch fire) together to make a tripod, then wrap something around it to hold the smoke in.  Ensure there is a hole at the top for some of the smoke to escape.  Dig a hole in the ground that is slightly smaller than the diameter of your teepee.  Either make a grate out of living wood or scrounge a metal grate from a department store/abandoned house/etc. and place it over top of the hole.

Make a fire in the firepit and let it burn down to coals.  Place your meat on top of the grate and then put living or soaked wood on top of the coals.  The reason to use living or soaked wood is because either one will cause a lot more smoke and will help prevent it from flaming up and actually scorching your meat.  DO NOT use Pine, spruce, fir, hemlock, cypress, cedar, larch or any pines, conifers or evergreens for your smoking wood!  These will either ruin the flavor of the meat or potentially create posionous smoke that can affect your jerky negatively.  For better flavor, use hickory, alder, cotton wood, apple wood or mesquite as they produce a flavorful smoke.  This will take roughly 6-8 hours to finish.

Final Steps

You can tell when the jerky is finished by trying to bend a piece in half.  If its done, it will start to snap when bent.

After your jerky is done, keep it as dry as possible and it will last you for at least 2-3 months.