Kitchen Adventures: Homemade Beef Jerky

I’ve always had a weakness for beef jerky. There’s something satisfyingly primitive about tearing into a piece of dried meat and all its salty goodness. It’s the perfect snack–high in protein, low in fat, and undeniably delicious.  I’ve always eaten store-bought beef jerky out of convenience, but the sad fact is that the  mass produced stuff is chock full of preservatives, artificial flavorings, and nasty additives.

I recently learned that beef jerky is surprisingly simple to make at home with nothing more than a few quality ingredients and your oven–no dehydrator required. But there’s one catch. Homemade jerky does take a little time–six hours to marinade and four hours to bake,  to be exact. But before you freak out, keep in mind that there is very little hands-on effort required. This is actually a great lazy Sunday activity. Prep the meat when you wake up, marinade while you grab brunch and run errands, then cook the jerky while you shamelessly watch hours of Real Housewives on Bravo. Or, perhaps you could actually do something productive around the house while you’re waiting. Your call! But the bottom line is that this doesn’t require a ton of effort, and the results will be worth it.

One of my favorite recipes for beef jerky comes from Rachel Graville, proprietor of Iris Cafe in Brooklyn Heights, where she also sells her delicious hand-cut beef jerky. I made a half batch of the recipe below, because I didn’t have enough baking sheets/cooling racks to accommodate two pounds of meat. A full batch will yield about one pound of jerky, while a half batch will yield about 1/2 pound–which I found to be perfect for two people.

Black Pepper Beef Jerky
Adapted from Rachel Graville via Food & Wine
  • 2 pounds trimmed beef top round (London broil) or bottom round, about 1 1/2 inches thick
  • 3 cups amber ale or lager
  • 2 cups soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons cracked peppercorns, plus additional coarsely ground pepper to sprinkle on meat before it goes into the oven
  1. In a large bowl, mix 2 tbs cracked peppercorn, 2 cups soy sauce, 1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce, and 3 cups beer.
  2. Slice beef 1/4 inch thick either with or against the grain (I prefer against, since it’s easier to chew). Cut away as much fat as possible from the strips to prevent the jerky from spoiling once cooked.
  3. Place sliced beef in the bowl with the marinade mixture, making sure each piece is coated. Cover and refrigerate for 6 hours.
  4. Set three cooling racks on top of three baking sheets. Remove beef from the marinade and pat dry with paper towels or a clean dishtowel. Arrange beef on the racks and sprinkle coarsely ground pepper on top of meat to your liking (about 1-2 tbs).
  5. Bake for about 4 hours at 175° F, until the jerky is firm and almost completely dry, but still chewy. (Note that the original recipe specifies a 200° cook time, but I preferred the taste at 175° which may take a little longer. If you are pressed for time, 200° should still taste delicious.) Let cool completely on the racks before serving.

Use a mortar and pestle, food processor, or coffee grinder to coarsely crush peppercorns for marinade. To season the meat with additional pepper before it goes into the oven, I use my trusty pepper mill. The tricky part is slicing the meat thinly, without sending yourself to the ER. Try putting the meat in the freezer for about 30 minutes prior to slicing. This should do the trick. I like my beef jerky pretty thick so I go for 1/4 inch thick slices. The jerky will harden as it cools, so don’t let it get too dry in the oven. Store your jerky in the fridge in either a plastic baggie or mason jar. I also think this makes great gifts or favors! I found this simple recipe to be a great starting point. From here, you can experiment with different flavors and spices. Rachel Graville has a couple of other fabulous jerky recipes including Sweet & Spicy Jerky and Mexican Lime Jerky. Om nom nom nom.