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Spiced strips of jerky.


Meat that has been cut into strips, trimmed of fat, marinated in a spicy, salty, or sweet liquid, and dried or smoked with low heat (usually under 70°C/160°F) or is occasionally just salted and sun-dried. The result is jerky, a salty, savory, or semi-sweet snack that can be stored for a long time without refrigeration.

The word "jerky" comes from the Quechua term Charqui, which means "to burn (meat)".

Jerked meat was one of the first human-made products and was a crucially important food preservation technique for survival.

Any particular preparation or recipe for jerky typically uses only one type of meat. Around the world, meat from domestic and wild animals are used to make jerky. Domestic animals include bovine, pig, goat and sheep or lamb. Wild animals include deer, elk, caribou, kangaroo, bison and moose are also used. Recently, other animals such as turkey, ostrich, salmon, alligator, tuna and horse are also used.

The meat must be dried quickly, to limit bacterial growth during the critical period where the meat is not yet dry. To do this, the meat is thinly sliced, or pressed thinly, in the case of ground meat. The strips of meat are dried at low temperatures, to avoid cooking it, or over-drying it to the point where it is brittle.

In present-day factories, large jerky ovens are made of insulated panels. Inside these low-temperature drying ovens are many heater elements and fans. The ovens have exhaust ports to remove the moisture-laden air. The combination of fast moving air and low heat dries the meat to the desired moisture content within a few hours. The raw, marinated jerky strips are placed on racks of nylon-coated metal screens which have been sprayed with a light vegetable oil to allow the meat to be removed easily. The screen trays are placed closely in layers on rolling carts which are then put in the drying oven.

Some additional form of chemical preservative, such as sodium nitrate, is often used in conjunction with the historical salted drying procedure to prepare jerky. Smoking was, and still is, the most traditional method, as it preserved, flavored, and dried the meat simultaneously. Salting is the most common method used today, as it both provides seasoning to improve the flavor as well as preserve the meat. While some methods involve applying the seasonings with a marinade, this can increase the drying time by adding moisture to the meat.

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A similar product, biltong, is common in South African cuisine; however, it differs very much in production process and taste. Biltong differs from jerky in two distinct ways:

Left: Homemade beef biltong, based on the South African recipe.

  1. The meat used in biltong can be much thicker; typically biltong meat is cut in strips approx 1 inch wide - but can be thicker. Jerky is normally very thin meat.

  2. The vinegar and salt in biltong, together with the drying process, cures the meat as well as adding texture and flavour. Jerky is traditionally dried without vinegar.

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