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Making My Own Jerky & the Mystery of Marinades

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For the past 5 years, I have been making beef jerky to provision our big sailing trip with. It might sound very lush, but it's 4-5 guys stuck in a 26-foot sailboat for 3 weeks on our way to Maine.

Okay - it is pretty amazing, but it's also pretty rough.

My question is about marinades. I create recipes (I’ll include a few below) and then make the jerky at home. It’s a simple process, but often the flavors I imagine or the ones that I create are not the exact ones that come out. A black pepper jerky, just the way I imagine it, has been something that I have been trying to get right for years. I might need to simplify my recipe, but many of the ingredients I use really help make the flavor unique and keep the salt & sugar content much lower than commercial brands, in my opinion.

So – what is happening with the marinade? I imagine that there is some kind of interaction with the meat itself or that the ingredients meld over time, but flavors that go in often come out very differently. Heats build – or drop, depending. Sweetness mellows, acidity mellows, black pepper spikes and soy can overwhelm – or not, even when the recipe is calling for the same basic ingredients.

I am just trying to figure out how to make the process more predictable. Any thoughts on this subject?

Recipes & tasting notes:

Black Pepper Jerky

This recipe is a basic, traditional “jerky” jerky with flavors like you might find in a lot of supermarket jerkies. Strangely, this recipe has been my own white whale, never getting as black pepper spicy as I’ve imagined.

Ingredients
• 1 1/2 to 2 pounds steak
• 1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
• 1/3 cup water
• 2/3 cup soy sauce
• 1 tablespoon maple syrup
• 2 tbsp sugar
• 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
• 1 teaspoon liquid smoke
• 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Slowly the marinade to a simmer and let simmer for 3-5 minutes to allow flavors to incorporate. Let cool.

Slice beef into small pieces, ideally less than ¼” thick and 3-4” long.

Soak in marinade for 10-12 hours.

This recipe has a lot more soy than others that I do, giving it a big salt, sweet, black pepper dominating flavor. That said, I would put in even more black pepper for the next version.

The Chew: chewy, moist, well-cooked beef

The flavor: soy sauce savory & smoky sweet, balanced by worchestershire for a full mouth feel

The finish: roasty soy & bbq, light black pepper

The Result: More smoky bbq flavor than I expected. Soy dominates, Maple & liquid smoky seemed to meld really well.

 
 
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    I have been liking a sweetish viet style jerkey often used . In their salads.

    The grocery will slice up meat for you. Any pieces with fat I reserve for stir fry. I have been using what they call London broil but any low fat cut works. You don't have to remove all fat especially if you plan on eating it soon. It is much better than commercial jersey and disappears fast.

    I give trays a very light spray of Pam for easier clean up.