Grease is the word

I did something last week that I’d never done before: I threw out about half of a batch of homemade beef jerky.

Since upgrading to a box-style dehydrator right after the holidays, I’ve made a lot more beef jerky. I love it, and my co-workers seem to enjoy it too — most of the time.

But my last couple of experiments were less-than-overwhelming. The next-to-last batch was mostly ignored by my co-workers, and the most recent batch I didn’t even take to work. And I didn’t really like either batch myself.

Jerky, of course, was created as a way of preserving meat. Nowadays, of course, they tell you to store jerky long-term in the fridge or the freezer, although it’s fine to be out for a day or two. I’ve never had to worry about long-term storage before.

It’s the fat that usually goes rancid in jerky first — that’s one reason you always want to use the leanest meat possible. If you’re making whole-muscle (sliced) jerky, you want a cut of meat with little or no marbling and from which it’s easy to trim any external fat. If you’re making ground meat jerky, you want the leanest blend of meat you can get from the store — preferably something labeled as “extra lean” or “diet lean.”

My last batch, though, had been sloppily trimmed and some pieces had a little bit of fat around the edges. And it had been sitting in a sealed plastic tub in my living room for weeks. I picked at it occasionally, but it wasn’t a temptation the way jerky usually is for me. (Also, I had some store-bought jerky on my desk at work for a week of that time — a thoughtful gift from a friend and former classmate who knows I like jerky but apparently doesn’t realize I make my own.)

I finally took a piece one night and thought it tasted a little off. That may or may not have been objectively true; I may have been looking for an excuse to do what I did, which was to throw the remaining jerky away. I felt guilty about it.

Today, I was at the grocery store and decided I wanted to get back on the horse that threw me. But I had an appetite for ground meat jerky rather than sliced jerky. The super-diet-lean ground meat was a little more expensive than I wanted, so I got the leanest of the grades of the ground meat packaged in plastic links, like breakfast sausage.

Despite the fact that my two disappointing batches were the result of experimentation, I experimented again today. I bought some Montreal steak seasoning, and seasoned the jerky with that and a little liquid smoke. I also added the recommended amount of Prague Powder #1, a meat cure. I don’t worry about nitrate cures when I’m making sliced jerky, but with ground meat you have to be more careful.

I think the jerky is going to taste just fine. It may be a tiny bit too salty, but not badly so, and the Montreal seasoning is right on point. The only change I’d make next time would be to add some red pepper flakes or hot sauce, which I didn’t think about this time.

However, the jerky has given off a lot more grease than I expected, and I had to pull the strips out of the dehydrator just now and blot them with paper towels before putting them back in. If the strips are completely covered in grease, it makes it hard for the remaining moisture to evaporate. There was so much grease that I almost think the meat was mislabeled. No, it wasn’t the “diet lean” meat, but it should not have been this greasy. I will probably have to blot the strips again when I take them out of the dehydrator for good.

Maybe, if I can find a good price on a lean piece of meat this week, I’ll make a batch of sliced jerky at the end of the week to take with me to camp. If so, I’m going to use one of Keith Rainville’s recipes rather than winging it.