Cowboy Cookin': Dried Meats

by Cathy Phillips-Leinneweber


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Having been raised on a cattle ranch, and unaware of food dehydrators, we made our jerky by the pound in the oven. To me, this is the frugal way to do it, in bulk, as the little machines take forever. Below is my recipe for venison (or beef) jerky, old fashioned style, in the oven.

Necessities:

  • Two large glass or ceramic, air-tight storage containers
  • sealable plastic "baggies"
  • soap, hot water and bleach
  • 2 pounds of lean venison or beef (preferably round steak or sirloin), devoid of all fat or remove all visible fat
  • 4-5 cookie sheets (pizza pans or any flat, metal baking dishes or heavy duty aluminum foil)*
  • cutting board
  • razor sharp knife
  • at least 2 racks in oven
  • aluminum foil
  • meat tenderizer (unflavored)
  • distilled (or pre-boiled) crushed or powdered garlic
  • black pepper
  • dehydrated onions
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • If you like the mesquite flavor, liquid smoke.

Place meat in freezer for about 2 hours to ensure firmness. (Firm meat slices easier than limp, cold meat.)

Preparation:

Before handling any meat, wash hands thoroughly with anti-bacterial soap and wash baking dishes in hot water, soap and about 2 tablespoons of bleach. Rinse all well and set dishes and utensils aside, covered. Remove meat from freezer and rinse with clean water. Set aside in clean dish and cover. In a deep, flat pan, mix garlic, 1 T liquid smoke, 1 T Worcestershire, 1/2 cup distilled water, onions. Set aside, covered. Onions or other dried spices will "plump" during this time.

Uncover meat and slice in half. Return other half to covered dish. Rub this half with meat tenderizer. Slice meat lengthwise (not with the grain) in strips about 1/4-inch thick or as preferred. I like ours 1/2-inch thick. Place each strip into pan containing marinade, turning to cover each strip well. Sprinkle with black pepper (or selected other seasonings) to taste, and turn each piece again to ensure it's covered in liquid. Remove second half from covered dish and repeat.

Cover in refrigerator to "marinate" over night. Next morning, turn strips again, mixing with the liquid well. Pre-heat oven to 200 degrees. Remove covered dish from fridge. Drain all strips on paper towels, patting gently, as they will "drip" profusely. Place strips close together on baking dishes/foil, about 1/8 inch apart. Do not overlap the strips. Place pans in oven. I stack my pans, as one has about 1-inch sides and the other only about 1/4-inch sides. Leave your oven door open about 2" to allow moisture to escape. Most oven doors have a mechanism that allows this. "Dry" the meat in the oven for about 2 hours, checking after the first hour and turning strips over if sliced thick. If not, return to open status and cook until no "pink" shows in middle. Two hours is usually long enough. My grandmother sliced a lot of ours much thicker for the ranch hands and cowboys who had to have "hefty portions" on the ranges. If a fork in the middle/thickest part of the meat is unable to penetrate, your jerky is done.

Allow meat to cool for about 20 minutes, covered with clean cloth. Place cooled meat into sealable baggies. "Suck" all air from baggie by sealing it to about 3/4 of the way. Use "open end" to suck air out or "press" the baggie to remove all air. Transfer filled baggies to air tight jars, clean coffee cans, "tupperware" type containers or any container that will not allow air inside. Air destroys food.

Notes:

  • If using heavy-duty aluminum in lieu of baking dishes, cover the bottom of your oven with another layer, as all beef drips. I have had no trouble drying venison, as it is a superior meat devoid of all visible fat.

  • If using pork, turkey or chicken, ALWAYS boil it first for about 10 minutes per pound, then proceed with marinating process. I dry thigh meat for poultry and boneless pork chops (loin) for pork jerky. My grandmother even dehydrated bacon, as we processed our own in the smokehouse and it was rind bacon. However, this had to also be pre-boiled, patted dry and watched very carefully for drips. Boiling removes any chance of botulism or E. Coli.

  • For "Southwest" flavor, add about 1/2 serrano or chili pepper to liquid. Habaneros are far too hot and jalapenos from a can lend only "vinegar" taste and no benefit. For "teriyaki" style meat, omit the Worcestershire and add like amount of teriyaki. For a sweet taste without the teriyaki flavor, add brown sugar. For "Italian" style, add oregano and basil leaves. For "Mexican" style, add comino (cumin) and cilantro (coriander) leaves. Customarily, we barbecue our meat first, on the pit, to half-done status over mesquite and oak (never charcoal), as this is our "heritage" and liquid smoke is unnecessary. My cousin in New York barbecues hers first over hickory.

  • My friend uses the long, thin device on her vacuum cleaner to remove air. In addition, the Mormon Church (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) has a canning machine that they normally let people use for a small fee. However, you must bring your own "cans." I believe each city has an LDS church within traveling distance.

  • Fruits and vegetables can also be dehydrated in a conventional oven and I have done everything from pears to crab apples, bananas to mangoes. My daughter is practicing on dehydrating her own, fresh-grown herbs and onions, which she stores in mayonnaise, pickle and other type jars.

Many of us do not own dehydrators. If anyone wants to try my tried, true and expedient method, I will do my best to assist them or to answer any questions where possible.


Cathy writes country/western/pop songs. Some of her titles include Santa's Texan Too, Como Esta Frijole, If You Cheat On Me and Packing Up My Memories. Her husband, Michael Leinneweber, is a free lance cowboy artist and owner of his own construction company. They are native San Antonians and they have three children and four grandchildren.

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