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I just made a batch of jerky last weekend. I used the packet that came with the dehydrator. Marinade for 4 hours, dehydrate at 160 for 14 hours (12 for smaller peices) It turned out excellent! (I did not use the beef jerky gun)

My question is, since I only have 2 more packets left and I want to try my own flavors, what do I need to use to create a cure?

I'd like to stay away from salt if possible or at least reduce the salt content (possibly sea salt?).

What exactly is the cure doing?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 3 down vote accepted

The salt in the cure inhibits bacterial growth (particularly if the salt is one made for curing, and contains nitrates). So you should be warned that you are trading a few blood pressure points for enhanced risk of foodborne illness. Unfortunately, I think your options are rather limited -- either to keep the salt as-is, or forgo jerky in your diet.

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never!! So what salt should I be using? –  DustinDavis Mar 2 '11 at 23:46
this is really a separate question... You do need nitrites (a.k.a. "pink salt", "saltpeter", etc.) in your mix to prevent botulism –  Ray Mar 3 '11 at 1:49
What Ray said.. –  Sean Hart Mar 3 '11 at 2:40
this, sir, is plainly incorrect. Please see my answer. –  Dakatine Jun 18 at 15:55
I read your answer. Your reading comprehension skills need a tuneup, sir. –  Sean Hart Jun 18 at 16:12

While the salt does inhibit bacterial growth, it is possible to safely make jerky in a dehydrator without it if you are careful about the temperature, moisture, and dehydrating time. There is more information on this thread.

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The risk you have is that if you do not inhibit bacteria growths not only can spoilage occur but mold can grow as well. The Biltong I make is hung for 10 - 14 days. That is a long while for micro organism to have there way with your meat. You must take precautions

This is very scary as unless you have a laboratory at hand you are playing the proverbial culinary russian roulette. Not all mold / bacteria produces odours or tastes and you cannot deduce the safety of mold from the colour either.

That being said you do not need excessive use of salt. The biltong I make is doused in the salt for two hours. That being said For a 2kg batch I do use almost a half a kilo of salt but still you do not want a too harsh taste of salt in your end product. You can then use a spiced up vinegar bath to further inhibit spoilage and also reduce the salt without the adding of water.

My advice to you would be that if you have an aversion to salt or maybe have health concerns then it is better to just plainly avoid cured meat. Reducing the salt of the cure sounds to me to very much be a recipe for disaster.

(PS Biltong and Jerky are very similar to each other so I know the question asks about Jerky but these points I believe are valid for both.)

What exactly is the cure doing?

It provides enough acidity to the environment of the meat as to make it impossible for spoilage bacteria and mold to grow. This is usually done by the use of salts, vinegar and / or Nitrates.

When you have provided the meat with a PH balance that does not favour any bacterial growth you can hang your meat and let the cold winter air dry the meat without any risk of spoiling.

This added with the flavour of the salt and the spices gives a cured meat product that is very tasty indeed.

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There are several methods recommended by USDA (US Department of Agriculture) and curing with salt is NOT the best one, so you can totally go without it and have a SAFER result than curing and not do the treatments recommended in the following articles. Please see here:

And also here:

Edit: For the sake of being sure to have understood everything properly, I emailed one of the author of the first article. Here's my original email:

Hello, I read the guide at, many thanks for it.

I am writing you to kindly ask for a clarification, though.

I am trying to realize if marinading and post-processing in the oven are both necessary step or if by using the oven I may skip the marinating step. I would love to be able to make safe jerky without seasoning because of the added salt.

So by using lean meat, that is kept very well refrigerated until dehydrated; dehydrating it at 155F, and then putting it in the oven at 275F for ten (or more) minutes would be safe enough without any marinading?

Thank you VERY much for your kind assistance.

Here's the reply.

Marinating is not required; it is used only to add flavor to the meat.

What you have suggested, without marination, would be fine to do.

That is based on research, not on opinions.

One more article, from USDA itself.

A quote from it:

What research findings exist on the safety of jerky? "Effects of Preparation Methods on the Microbiological Safety of Home-Dried Meat Jerky" was published in the Journal of Food Protection, Vol. 67, No. 10, 2004, Pages 2337-2341. The authors are from the University of Georgia (Brian A. Nummer, Judy A. Harrison, and Elizabeth L. Andress, Department of Foods and Nutrition, and Mark A. Harrison, Department of Food Science and Technology) and from Colorado State University (Patricia Kendall, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition and John N. Sofos, Department of Animal Sciences ).

Marinating meat doesn't make raw meat safe. "Marination alone did not result in significant reduction of the pathogen compared with whole beef slices that were not marinated," concluded the study.

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Neither of those links indicates that jerky is preserved without salt, merely the drying practices to achieve an initial kill of pathogens. Without curing agents, even dried foods will be susceptible to pathogen growth once the food has dropped back into the danger zone. –  Sean Hart Jun 18 at 16:11
Well, it is indeed pretty clear that it is stated that the method to eliminate ANY pathogen is HEAT, not salt. I also emailed one author of the first article, miss Barbara Ingham, and she replied me so: Marinating is not required; it is used only to add flavor to the meat. I am adding this to the answer. –  Dakatine Jun 18 at 21:41
My answer, by the way, is based on research, not on opinions. –  Dakatine Jun 18 at 21:44
Please also read this:… "Effects of Preparation Methods on the Microbiological Safety of Home-Dried Meat Jerky" Marinating meat doesn't make raw meat safe. "Marination alone did not result in significant reduction of the pathogen compared with whole beef slices that were not marinated," concluded the study." I hope you might finally consider to remove that downvote. –  Dakatine Jun 19 at 11:45
I will not, because you are ignoring the requirement of shelf stability for beef jerky. That is achieved through curing agents. Heat kills pathogens, but growth resumes when temperatures fall unless the environment contains agents that inhibit it. Your answer is based not on research, but on poor understanding of research. –  Sean Hart Jun 19 at 14:44

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