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I have had some success with making beef jerky at home in my food dehydrator. I would like to try and start experimenting with some original recipes. A whole host of questions:

  • What sorts of ingredients can I use in my marinades?
  • Does it matter how thick / thin the marinade is?
  • Can I use fresh ingredients (chopped ginger for instance) or should I start with dry?
  • Can I use maple syrup / molasses instead of sugar?
  • Is salt (or soy sauce) an important part of the process or can I leave it out?

I'm not looking for specific recipes, but rather the basic attributes of a jerky marinade so that I can be inventive without throwing too many batches out (or being unsafe if salt is required for the drying process).

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I've also recently started delving into jerky and began with Alton Brown's method/recipe (which turned out great btw) - although his recipe is heavy on soy sauce, it's got no salt whatsoever, and actually doesn't even use a food dehydrator (just a box fan) so I thought I'd throw that out there as a partial answer for your last bullet. I trust Alton not to kill me - I ate half a batch last week and my buddy ate the other half and we're both fine FWIW. –  stephennmcdonald Mar 30 '11 at 19:46
    
@stephen, yeah, I meant to lump soy in with salt as it seems more common. I've also used the AB recipe, although I used my dehydrator. It was excellent, and I'm planning on more. But I was thinking about a ginger, maple, soy, bourbon marinade and wasn't sure which aspects of it might work. –  yossarian Mar 30 '11 at 19:49
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up vote 2 down vote accepted

I have to admit that I haven't tried a lot of free-form jerky experiments so take what I say with a grain of salt. (see what I did there?)

Jerky is a double action meat preservation method. You soak the meat with way too much salt and then dehydrate it. Bacteria don't stand a chance. As Alton says in that episode "Club med becomes club dead". Not one of his best puns but it gets the point across.

Salt (or soy sauce, same thing) isn't required for the drying process but it is important for long term preservation. I have seen recipes that try to reduce it but I would never leave it out altogether. I would expect a reduced salt recipe to not have the longevity that most jerky has- If stored in an air tight container it will last nearly forever.

The non-salt ingredients don't really matter as long as they won't oxidize or pick up bad flavors during dehydration. The type of sugar also doesn't matter- although the recipes I prefer don't include any.

I honestly don't know about viscosity- I would expect it to need enough liquid to carry the salt into the meat. That would take some experimenting.

It is very important that there be as little fat as possible. The leaner the meat the better and don't add any to the marinade. Fats will go rancid quite quickly when exposed to so much air.

Lastly- I think I've posted this recipe before as the answer to some other question but it bears repeating. This family recipe is my favorite by far and I use it as a starting point for any experimenting:


Auntie Fern's Beef Jerky

  • 3 lbs. deer meat or beef, sliced thin
  • 1 T salt
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 T pepper (I like coarse ground)
  • 1/4 c. soy sauce
  • 1/3 c. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/3 c. liquid smoke (hickory flavor)

Combine and marinade 12 hours. Drain. Dry.

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