Monday, April 8, 2013

Dried meat: Homemade beef jerky

You can dry many types of meat, including beef, pork, goat, deer, and even some types of seafood, such as mussels. Drying meat tends to significantly increase the meat’s protein content per gram, often more than doubling it. It also helps preserve the meat, as bacteria need an aqueous environment to grow; adding salt helps further prevent bacterial growth.

Dried meat preparation and consumption was common among the Plains Indians (e.g., of the Cheyenne, Comanche, and Lakota tribes), and also a valuable trade item for them. They often ground the dried meat into a powder, mixing fat and berries with them; the result of which was pemmican. Many other hunter-gatherer cultures around the world have incorporated dried meat into their diets.

Below is a recipe for homemade beef jerky, which is very close in terms of nutrition content to the dried meat of the Plains Indians's time; that is, the time when the Plains Indians subsisted mostly on bison. Commercial beef jerky typically has a lower nutrient-to-calorie ratio, in part because sugar is added to it. The recipe is for beef jerky, but can be used to make jerky with bison meat as well.

- Cut about 3 lbs of beef muscle into thin strips (see photo below). Ideally you should buy it partially cut already, with most of the fat trimmed. Cutting with or against the grain doesn’t seem to make much difference, at least to me.

- Prepare some dry seasoning powder by mixing salt and cayenne pepper.

- Season the strips and place them on a tray with a grid on top, so that the fat that will come off the meat is captured by the tray and doesn’t drip into the oven.

- Preheat the oven to about 180 degrees Fahrenheit, and place the strips in it until you can easily pull a piece of the meat off with your fingers (see photos below, for an idea of how they would look). This should take about 1 hour or so. You will not technically be “baking” or "cooking" the meat at this temperature, although the digestibility of the final product will be comparable to that of cooked meat – i.e., greater digestibility than raw meat.

- Leave the strips in the oven until they are cold, this will dry them further.

Homemade beef jerky, prepared as above, is supposed to be eaten cold. In this sense, it could be thought of as a bit like salami, but with a higher protein-to-fat ratio. If your kids eat this on a regular basis, I suspect that their future orthodontist needs will be significantly reduced. Homemade beef jerky, like the commercial one, requires some serious chewing.

The dried strips of meat can be kept outside the fridge for a long time, but if you intend to keep them for more than a few weeks, I would suggest that you keep them in the fridge. Interestingly, adding sugar apparently increases the non-refrigerated shelf life of beef jerky even further. It doesn’t improve the flavor though, in my opinion.

This is a zero-carbohydrate food item, which may be a good choice for those who are insulin resistant or diabetic, and also for those on low-carbohydrate or just-enough-carbohydrate diets. Often I hear bodybuilders who eat multiple meals per day to say that it is hard for them to prepare high-protein snacks that they can easily carry with them. Well, beef jerky is one option.