Chef's Cut Real Jerky uses only hand-cut pieces of premium deli-sliced bacon.
Chef's Cut Real Jerky uses only hand-cut pieces of premium deli-sliced bacon. Flavors include applewood, maple and sriracha.

Shelf-life extension techniques

Because open-air drying is not an efficient or safe jerky-making option in today’s industrial world, manufacturers typically salt and smoke meat to make it a non-perishable food. These techniques also add flavor and influence texture.

Salting, as the name suggests, involves applying salt to the outside of meat. This pulls moisture from the product, thus, drying the product. It also slows the oxidation process, preventing fats from going rancid. Salting simultaneously dehydrates spoilage microorganisms in the meat, preventing their growth. Sugar functions similarly, which is why it is often part of the salting system. By adding sugar, sodium can be reduced along with an overly salty taste.

Curing refers to a salting application that includes nitrates or nitrites in their pure form. These chemicals undergo various reactions in meat and poultry to produce a desirable red color as well as a zingy, tangy flavor. Curing breaks down and tenderizes tough protein fibers, resulting in a compact yet tender texture. But most importantly, curing impedes the growth of harmful bacteria, such as botulism.

In efforts to appeal to natural-foods enthusiasts, many processors use “natural-curing” techniques. This involves the addition of ingredients that are inherent sources of nitrates and nitrites, most notably celery juice powder. The US Dept. of Agriculture defines an uncured product as one that has been preserved without the use of chemical agents. These products can be labeled “uncured,” “no nitrites added” or “no nitrates added,” very label-friendly terminology.

Most jerky production involves smoking, a slow cooking technique that uses wood smoke heat. In addition to developing flavor that the protein and fat components of the meat readily soak up, smoking seals the outside of the meat, preventing bacterial contamination.

There are a range of additional processes and ingredients that manufacturers may include to differentiate their products. Some of these develop flavor, ensure food safety and extend shelf life. Many processors may also choose to use exclusive cuts of meat to differentiate, while others are all about flavor fusions.

For example, Country Archer Jerky Co., San Bernardino, California, prides itself on using only grass-fed beef and turkey free from added hormones and antibiotics. The company uses more than 60 percent organic ingredients, no nitrites or nitrates – not even from celery juice powder – and no chemical preservatives, which is why product labels sport an all-natural claim. The exception is the sriracha variety, as the hot sauce contains chemical additives. Other flavorful offerings include crushed red pepper, mango habanero and sweet jalapeño beef jerky. The turkey line includes hickory smoke and honey Dijon.


Organic Prairie Mighty Bar
Organic Valley offers Organic Prairie Mighty Bars which are made with 100 percent grass-fed organic beef.

Rancho Cucamonga, California-based Golden Island Jerky, a subsidiary of Tyson Foods Inc., uses a tagline of “Asian tradition with a twist.” Whole muscle premium cuts of beef or pork are cut into pieces and individually marinated for intense flavor. The pieces are then either fire grilled or kettle cooked to create uniquely soft textures, according to the company. The all-natural, minimally processed jerky comes in flavors such as chili lime beef and Korean barbecue pork.

Culinary-inspired Think Jerky, Chicago, was developed using recipes from top Chicago chefs. For example, pastry chef, cookbook author and television personality Gale Gand created a sriracha honey turkey jerky – with her own sriracha mix, honey, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar and spices – and a ginger orange beef jerky seasoned with fresh ginger, orange peel and sesame seeds. Chef Matt Troost was responsible for the sweet chipotle beef jerky, which pairs raspberry juice concentrate with a trio of spicy peppers, while Chef Laurent Gras developed the Thanksgiving turkey jerky with cranberry juice, dried cranberries, cabernet vinegar and a spice blend.

Fusion Jerky, South San Francisco, California, layers some unlikely flavors together in its namesake line of artisan jerky sourced from all types of animals. There’s basil citrus beef, island teriyaki pork, lemon pepper chicken and rosemary citrus turkey.

Jack Link’s Beef Jerky, Minong, Wisconsin, wants in on the meat snack revolution and now offers the Lorissa’s Kitchen brand. Made with only responsibly raised proteins, such as 100 percent grass-fed beef and antibiotic-free chicken, the product may look like jerky, but it actually has a higher moisture content than traditional jerky, which gives it a tender and delicate bite, according to the company. The four varieties are ginger teriyaki chicken, Korean BBQ steak, sweet chili premium pork and Szechuan peppercorn beef. The company is also drying thick-cut slices of maple-infused bacon.

Chef’s Cut Real Jerky, New York, also dries out thick slices of real bacon. Flavors are applewood, maple and sriracha. The company built its jerky business on the promise of using only hand-cut pieces of premium meat, including deli-sliced bacon.

Golden West Food Group, Vernon, California, is now in the meat snacks business with the Meat District Jerky Co., brand, which includes 10 worldly flavors of beef and pork jerky products. Bacon jerky comes in hard apple cider and sweet sriracha flavors. There’s also chili citrus pork loin. The seven beef offerings vary in cut and seasoning. For example, tri-tip varieties are: IPA peppercorn, Santa Maria and western BBQ. Then there’s carne asada sirloin, original prime rib, pineapple teriyaki flank steak and Korean BBQ short rib.

Ball Park, a brand of Tyson Foods Inc., Springdale, Arkansas, recently introduced Ball Park Flame Grilled Jerky. Research shows that taste and texture are the primary barriers for why consumers don’t purchase jerky, according to the company. Ball Park brand “chewed” on consumers’ needs for an equally tough and tender jerky and designed an all-new jerky-making process that involves drying the meat to develop toughness, then flame grilling it to tenderize the muscle. There are three beef – bourbon, original and peppered – and two pork – barbecue and teriyaki – varieties.