The Ultimate Guide to Freeze-Dried Beef Jerky

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Freeze-Dried Meats

It’s hard to find someone who doesn’t have beef jerky in their bag for camping, backpacking, and hiking. These lightweight snacks are easy to carry around without worrying about spoilage.

Safety Handling of Beef Jerky

One of the main challenges of making homemade beef jerky is avoiding food-borne illness. Raw meat can easily become contaminated through simple surface contact. This contact can come from your hands, utensils used for prepping (such as chopping boards and knives), or trays.

To ensure that your preserved meat is clean and safe, follow these steps:

  • Thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds before and after touching anything, including the meat, counter surface, knives, clothes, skin, and hair.
  • Always use clean utensils and equipment.
  • Wipe drippings from the counter.
  • If you’re not going to use the meat immediately, store it in the freezer.
  • Thaw the frozen meat overnight in the fridge.
  • Keep marinating meat in the fridge and never reuse used marinades.

What Cut Of Meat Should I Use?

While fatty cuts are great for steaks, lean cuts are best for beef jerky, especially when making freeze-dried versions. You want your jerky to be satisfyingly chewy, which can only be achieved with lean cuts.

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The best cuts of meat for homemade beef jerky are:

  • Eye of round: This cut is low-cost and has a grain that runs in just one direction. Remember to remove the fat cap.
  • Bottom round: This cut has a bit of marbling but is the least tender.
  • Top round: With minimal prep, this cut falls between the tenderness of the eye of round and bottom round.

Other cuts like flank, short loin, tenderloin, and brisket are also good options but have a higher fat content, requiring more time and effort to trim the fat.

strips of beef jerky in a bowl with spices

How Do I Prepare the Meat For Beef Jerky?

To make the meat easy to cut and eat:

  • Freeze the meat for 1-2 hours, just enough to make it firm and resistant to cutting. Avoid freezing it too hard that even the sharpest knife can’t cut through. If you have an electric meat slicer, harder freezing is acceptable.
  • Slice the beef between 1/8 and 1/4 of an inch thick.

With or against the grain?

The way you cut your meat determines the taste and texture of your jerky. Some cuts crumble when cut against the grain, while others become tougher when cut with the grain. Achieve a balance by cutting the meat at an angle, going with the grain for a satisfying texture that is still easy to bite through.

Should I cook the meat?

Unlike dehydrators, freeze dryers cannot partially cook the meat. To ensure the meat is safe to eat, pre-cook it until it reaches a tender but not dry state. Some boil the meat with broth or a diluted new marinade.

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Alternatively, you can broil your beef jerky in the oven until it’s cooked but not dry. Just remember to fully drain the meat and pat the slices dry to prevent excessive moisture.

Do I Pre-Freeze?

Pre-freezing is beneficial, especially if you have a deep freezer. Utilize the power of your deep freezer to shorten freeze-drying time, especially when you have a large batch of food to process.

When pre-freezing your meat, use freeze-dryer trays lined with parchment paper. Arrange the jerky slices flat and evenly on the trays. Depending on the strength of your deep freezer, freeze your batch for 3 hours or overnight.

How To Freeze Dry Beef Jerky

  1. Turn on your freeze dryer and select the pre-frozen option for your food.
  2. Allow the machine to pre-cool for 15-30 minutes.
  3. Close the drain valve when the machine is ready and load the trays with the pre-frozen beef jerky.
  4. Press continue and let the machine do its work.
  5. Once the machine completes the process, open the drain valve, ensuring the hose doesn’t touch any water.
  6. Check if the beef jerky is completely dry.
  7. If any meat is still moist, soft, or cool to the touch, either on the surface or in the middle, put the trays back and add an extra 2-4 hours of drying time if needed.

close up look on beef jerky strips

How Does Freeze-Dried Beef Jerky Taste?

Properly freeze-dried jerky should easily snap into two when pulled apart. The flavor is twice as intense compared to traditionally made beef jerky.

The texture of freeze-dried jerky is dry and requires more chewing to rehydrate. It is similar to freeze-dried chicken or pork chops. However, when combined with beans, stew, or other meat dishes on the trail, freeze-dried jerky becomes the perfect addition.

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How Long Will Freeze-Dried Jerky Last?

When properly stored in Mylar bags or Mason jars, freeze-dried beef jerky can last for 25 years or more. However, if you choose beef cuts with a high fat content, the jerky’s shelf life may only be 5 to 10 years.

Beef Jerky Recipes for Freeze Drying

If you have your own beef jerky recipe, feel free to use it. But if you’re looking for other recipes to try, here are a couple of options:

Best Homemade Beef Jerky

This recipe uses easily accessible ingredients to achieve a sweet and savory taste. Smoked paprika and red pepper flakes add a smoky flavor and aroma that will tantalize your taste buds. Although this recipe requires a wire rack and a few hours in the oven, make sure to cook the jerky until it’s done but still moist, considering the upcoming freeze-drying process.

Homemade Beef Jerky

If you want to make a small batch of jerky for experimentation, this marinade is perfect. The addition of honey not only provides a unique savory sweetness but also acts as a natural tenderizer. While honey may not freeze dry well on its own, a small amount won’t have a significant impact. Keep in mind that freeze-dried beef jerky made with honey may not have a shelf life of up to 20 years. However, if you plan to use it within a year or a couple of years, this recipe will work just fine.

So, what are your plans for your freeze-dried beef jerky? Let us know in the comments section.

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