How to Freeze Dry Beef Jerky

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Freeze Dried Meats

You’ll find it hard to look for someone who doesn’t have beef jerky in their bag for camping, backpacking, and hiking. They’re very lightweight and easy to carry around without worrying about spoilage.

Safety Handling of Beef Jerky

One of the challenges of making homemade beef jerky is avoiding food-borne illness. You can easily contaminate raw meat through simple surface contact. This contact can be from your hands, utensils you’ll use for prepping (ex., chopping board, knife), or trays.

To make sure that your preserved meat is clean and safe:

  • Thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds. Do this before and after touching anything. By anything, we mean the meat, counter surface, knives, even your clothes, or your skin and hair.
  • Always use clean utensils and equipment.
  • Make sure to wipe drippings from the counter.
  • If you’re not going to use the meat immediately, store it in the freezer.
  • Thaw the frozen meat overnight inside the fridge
  • Keep marinating meat in the fridge, and never reuse used marinades.

What Cut Of Meat Should I Use?

You would think that the best-tasting beef is the one with fat, right? That goes for steak, so that’s right on the mark. But leanest is best for jerky, especially if you’re making freeze-dried ones. You want your beef jerky to be satisfyingly chewy, and you can only get that from lean cuts.

The best cut of meat for homemade beef jerky are:

  • Eye of round – grain runs in just one direction and low-cost. Just remember to take out the fat cap.
  • Bottom round – has a bit of marbling, but this is the least tender cut.
  • Top round – minimal prep, just between the tenderness of the eye of round and bottom round.

Others like the flank, short loin, tenderloin and brisket are good too. But they have a higher fat content than the previously mentioned ones. So you’ll spend most of your time trimming fat, only to end up with a tiny piece of meat to work with.

strips of beef jerky in a bowl with spices

How Do I Prepare the Meat For Beef Jerky?

To make the meat easy to cut and eat:

  • Freeze the meat for 1-2 hours. Just enough to make it firm and resist giving way when you cut it. Don’t freeze it too hard that even the sharpest knife can’t cut through. But if you have an electric meat slicer, this is okay.
  • Slice the beef between 1/8 and 1/4 of an inch thick.

With or against the grain?

How you cut your meat is the secret to having tasty jerky that’s enjoyable to chew. And how you slice your meat depends on the cut of meat you choose. Some cuts crumble when you cut against the grain, which is not what you’re looking for in jerky. Some cuts get even tougher when cut with the grain, but they have that satisfying beef jerky chew.

Alton Brown made a demo on how to strike a balance for this. When cutting the meat, go at an angle. This way, you still go with the grain for a satisfying texture, yet with a slight give that will make it easy to bite through.

Should I cook the meat?

One thing that a freeze dryer can’t do that a dehydrator can is to cook the meat partially. What it does is it freezes the meat first before it goes to a higher temperature to dry the meat. Unfortunately, the heat may be enough for drying, but it doesn’t do the cooking.

To make the meat safe for eating, pre-cook it until it’s tender but not dry. Some boil the meat with broth or with a new marinade that’s been watered down.

Some broil their beef jerky in the oven until it’s cooked but not dry. If you’re doing this, remember to fully drain the meat and the slices dry to prevent “stewing”.

Do I Pre-Freeze?

Pre-freezing is always good, especially if you have a deep freezer. You’re already running it on electricity, so might as well use it to your advantage, right? It also shortens your freeze drying time, especially if you’ve got a lot of food lined up for the freeze-dryer.

Since you’ll pre-freeze your meat, use the freeze-dryer trays too. Line the trays with parchment paper and place your jerky slices flat and evenly on the surface. Depending on how strong your deep freezer is, you can freeze your batch for 3 hours or overnight.

How To Freeze Dry Beef Jerky

  1. Turn on your machine and choose pre-frozen for your food.
  2. Let it pre-cool for 15-30 minutes.
  3. Close the drain valve when the machine is ready and load the trays.
  4. Press continue and let the machine do its work.
  5. When the machine’s done, open the drain valve, making sure that the hose doesn’t touch any water.
  6. Check if the beef jerky’s done.
  7. If any meat is still moist, soft, and cool to the touch, either at the surface or middle, put the trays back. Add 2-4 hours extra dry time if needed.

close up look on beef jerky strips

How Does Freeze-Dried Beef Jerky Taste Like?

Done properly, freeze-dried jerky should easily snap into two when taken apart. You’ll also notice the flavor’s twice more intense compared to beef jerky done the traditional way.

What you’ll miss here is the tough leathery texture of traditional beef jerky. The texture is really dry, and you’ll need to chew a lot to get your saliva going to rehydrate it. The consistency is much like what you would get from freeze-dried chicken or pork chops.

But if you would cook it with beans, stew, or other meat dishes on the trail, they’re going to be perfect.

How Long Will Freeze-Dried Jerky Last?

When properly stored in Mylar bags or Mason jars, it can last for 25 years or more. But if you choose beef cuts that are high in fat content, your beef jerky can last only up to 5 to 10 years.

Beef Jerky Recipes for Freeze Drying

If you have your own beef jerky recipe, then, by all means, use it. But if you’re looking for other recipes, here are some you can try.

Best Homemade Beef Jerky

This recipe uses easy-to-find ingredients for that sweet, savory taste. You’ll use smoked paprika and red pepper flakes for a smokey taste and aroma that will tease your appetite.

You’ll need a wire rack and a couple of hours of oven time. But since you’re going to freeze dry the jerky, let it heat up until it’s cooked but not totally dry.

Homemade Beef Jerky

If you want to make just a small batch of jerky to experiment with, this is a good marinade to try. The honey here not only gives your jerky a different kind of savory sweetness. It also naturally tenderizes the meat.

Although honey doesn’t freeze dry well on its own, a little amount won’t have too much of an effect. Still, this will also mean that your freeze-dried beef jerky won’t last up to 20 years. But if you’re making freeze-dried jerky that you’ll be using soon, like within the year or the next couple of years? This will work.

What do you plan to do with your freeze-dried beef jerky? Let us know in the comment section.

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