Homemade beef jerky is one of my favorite things. It’s almost always more tender, isn’t packed with nasty preservatives like so many brands are, and gives you the freedom to decide how spicy, sweet, or tender you want your jerky to be. It’s also way cheaper than buying store-bought jerky, especially if you choose a more economical cut.
So if you’re ready to get some beef and give homemade jerky a shot, the biggest choice you have is what meat to make your jerky with. We’ve made (and ate) a lot of jerky over the years, and we’ve put together everything you need to know.
In this article, we’re going to cover:
- What beef jerky is
- The best cut for beef jerky
- How to choose the best beef jerky meat
- Where to buy the best beef jerky meat
- How to make beef jerky like a pro
- A few of our favorite beef jerky recipes
What is beef jerky?
Beef jerky is thin strips of beef seasoned and dehydrated to remove water content, increase shelf life, and concentrate flavor.
And while beef is the most popular choice for jerky, jerky can be made from any type of meat, including venison, turkey, and bison.
The best cuts of beef for beef jerky
Because beef jerky can be made from any meat and any cut, there isn’t any single cut that defines jerky. But, there are guidelines to follow and popular choices that most people use.
With jerky, the leaner and meatier the cut, the better. Fat spoils faster than the muscle, and you want to opt for cuts that have low to little marbling and trim off any additional fat as much as you can.
Here are a few of the most popular choices for beef jerky.
Eye of round
The eye of round is the most tender cut from the round primal, which the primal located in the rump of the cow. The eye of round is the most expensive cut from the round, but its tender and lean nature make it perfect for beef jerky.
Top of round
The top of round is a little less tender than the eye of round but is cheaper and an extremely popular choice for making beef jerky. Many companies buy top of round in bulk for their jerky.
The bottom round is the least tender and flavorful of the round primal cuts but is still a great choice for jerky.
Flank steak is from the flank primal, which is located on the bottom rear end of the cattle. Flank steak is the same cut used in fajitas and other dishes that use thin strips of meat, so you may recognize its similarity. The flank is notoriously tough, so you will need to cut against the grain to make this cut yield tender jerky. The flavor is fantastic when prepared correctly, though!
Despite its name, sirloin tip isn’t from the sirloin primal, it’s actually from the round primal as well. It’s more flavorful than the other round cuts, and while it’s not as popular for jerky as the other round cuts, it’s still a great choice.
Best practices for choosing the best meat for jerky
Okay, now that you know your options, let’s talk about quality. Here’s what to look for when picking out your jerky meat.
Opt for grass-fed and finished meat.
Grass-fed and grass-finished beef tastes and works better for jerky. Grass-fed beef is known to taste meatier and be leaner, which are both wins when making jerky. You can also rest easy knowing you’re not eating antibiotic and preservative-filled beef, which affects the nutritional profile and health effects of beef. It is more expensive, but the benefits are worth it.
Always use fresh meat.
Even if you pick up some great beef, if it’s been stuck in a refrigerator or freezer for too long, it will affect the taste and texture. To prevent this, make sure you buy beef that’s well within its “best by” window and is from companies that clearly move a lot of product.
Buy in bulk to cut costs.
Since jerky loses so much of its volume during the dehydration process and keeps a lot longer than other prepared foods, it’s smart to buy your meat in bulk. This cuts costs and is a great way to give yourself snacks for a whole month.
Where to buy the best beef for jerky
The best beef for your beef jerky will come from producers who raise their cattle the right way. That means on grass, from the beginning of a cow’s life all the way to the very end.
It means no antibiotics, preservatives, corn, or other unnatural feed that cut costs or become necessary because the conditions they keep the cows in are so unhealthy.
It’s also a fantastic way to support farmers who are pushing back against the habits and practices of industrial beef.
The point is to do your research. This could be a local butcher or any other company you find and trust.
Try the best grass-fed and grass-finished beef in America.
Pro tips on making beef jerky
Before we give you some specific recipes, here are a few tips from the U.S. Wellness Beef team on making jerky.
Get your strips as thin as possible.
Most people aim for between an ⅛ to ¼ inch slices. If you don’t have a slicer at home, ask your butcher to do it for you!
Marinade them for at least forty minutes.
Before throwing them in the oven or dehydrator, give your marinade time to soak into the meat. I like to soak mine overnight before making it — just don’t go longer than a day or the salt will start to break down the meat a bit too much.
Pick up a dehydrator.
Yes, you can use your oven at a low heat and some aluminum foil, but spending a few bucks on a dehydrator goes a long way for getting that beef jerky feel.
Choose to slice against the grain, or not.
By slicing against the grain when preparing your jerky, you make the end result more tender. When cooking a traditional steak, you always want to do this, but with jerky, sometimes people prefer a chewier end result. The choice is yours, just make sure you know which one you want!
Remember that beef jerky loses about ⅔ of its weight.
If you’re planning on making 2lbs of jerky, you’ll actually need six pounds of meat, so plan in advance for losing a lot of weight during the dehydration process.
Our 7 favorite beef jerky recipes
Now for the best part — cooking! Here are some of the best jerky recipes we know of.
Alton Brown never disappoints, and this beef jerky recipe is the perfect way to get into jerky. He opts for flank steak and even gives you instructions on how to make your own DIY dehydrator!
If you’d rather opt for the oven, then this recipe is perfect. Sommer Collier walks you through how to think about your spice and marinade blend and gives you a good option that uses liquid smoke and oregano.
For the spice lovers out there, give this peppered beef jerky recipe from Hey Grill Hey a shot. It uses beer, pepper, and curing salts to make the jerky pack a heavier punch and last longer.
For a healthier spin on jerky, check out this recipe from The Rising Spoon. It’s an oven-based approach that uses a healthier marinade. This is a great option for everyday snacking!
Smoking jerky is an even more old-school way of dehydrating meat, and this recipe from Spiced Blog walks you through it. This will give you that classic smoked flavor and is a fun way to use your smoker.
This recipe comes from Danielle Walker, Against All Grain. Danielle uses grass-fed Beef London Broil or Flank Steak for this tantalizingly smoky beef jerky.
This is a slightly different take on jerky. Functional Medicine Practitioner and Nutritionist, Ryan Kennedy, uses ground beef or elk in his recipe. This is a less expensive alternative and doesn’t have the typical jerky consistency, but still absolutely delicious!
The bottom line
The most popular choices for beef jerky meat come from the round primal, including the top of round, bottom of round, eye of round, and sirloin tip. Apart from that, flank steak is another popular choice, but you can also technically use any cut or meat you like for beef jerky.
Remember to minimize the fat content as much as possible before you begin, and for the absolute best results, opt for delicious and healthy grass-fed and grass-finished beef.
Order our incredible grass-fed and grass-finished beef now.
Nathan Phelps is a writer, ethical foodie, and outdoors-aficionado hailing from Nashville, TN. He splits his time between helping sustainable businesses find new customers and managing his ever-increasing list of hobbies, which include playing guitar, baking bread, and creating board games.