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How to Make Deer Jerky (Plus 11 Recipes)

  • April 19, 2016 /

Sometimes after a particularly good deer hunt, you find you have much more meat than your family can eat. One simple and tasty solution is to make jerky out of the leftover deer meat. Jerky has been used as a preservation method for centuries and has only improved since, as this article will show. This article will outline some preparation methods, what equipment to use, how to save jerky that’s too dry and how to store your deer jerky when it’s done. There are also some delicious recipes at the end of the article if you just want to dive right in. If you want to know the secret to the best tasting deer jerky you’ll ever eat, however, keep reading.

Ground versus Sliced Meat

There are two kinds of deer jerky: deer jerky made with ground meat and deer jerky made with solid, lean muscle. The best deer jerky comes from the deer’s hind quarters, particularly where you would get the round steak from. The top round, bottom round and eye of round are all excellent candidates for deer jerky. The difference, however, is that you need to cut the meat with the grain of the rest of the meat for jerky, rather than against the grain as you would for steak. This gives it the chewy consistency you would expect from jerky. To make the meat a little easier to cut, try cutting it while it is still partially frozen.

Ground meat jerky, on the other hand, is made from very lean ground deer meat that mixed with your desired spices and then pressed and formed into the desired shape, making it excellent for any leftover meat you may have. You can use a jerky gun, which is essentially a caulking gun with a wide tip, or a rolling pin to roll the ground meat to the thickness you want it and help form the ground meat into strips before cooking. For best results, you will need to make this kind of jerky with a dehydrator, but it is still possible to make it in an oven or a smoker if you don’t have one.

The Jerky Gun Method

To use a jerky gun to turn your ground venison into deer jerky, fist pack the ground meat tightly into the jerky gun’s chamber, ensuring there is little to no air inside. Next, squirt the ground meat onto the dehydrator racks directly, leaving a small space between each strip. Once all the ground meat is used, set your dehydrator to 145 degrees and cook for about six hours. Don’t just forget about it completely, though. Come back after about two and a half hours and spin the dehydrator’s racks, placing the front of the racks in the back of the dehydrator. If you find any strips of jerky that are done, take them out and leave the rest to finish cooking.

The Rolling Pin Method

If you don’t have a jerky gun, a rolling pin is another way to form and press your ground venison into jerky. Again, you will need a dehydrator for best results. Place your ground deer meat between two sheets of wax paper, then roll it out with a rolling pin to the thickness you want. Place the rolled-out meat onto a cookie sheet and place it in the freezer for about an hour. This will make it easier to slice it into strips when you take it out of the freezer. After you slice them, you just put them into your dehydrator. Like before, set the dehydrator to 145 degrees Fahrenheit for 6 hours, come back and spin the racks after a couple of hours and take off any jerky strips that are done in between time. One thing to mention about rehydrating your deer jerky, however, is that it is better to eat it sooner rather than later, as this makes the jerky more likely to spoil.

Making JerkyEssential Ingredients in any Recipe

Dehydrating your deer jerky isn’t as simple as just shoving it into a dehydrator or smoker. There are also four ingredients you need to facilitate the jerky’s drying process and make it last longer than a week. These four ingredients show up in nearly every deer jerky recipe regardless of whether you are working with sliced meat or ground meat. We’ll go over each them below and explain why each is important to making your jerky into something great.

Cure

Cures, which contain nitrates and nitrites, have been used since the Ancient Egyptians’ time to inhibit mold growth and kill off any botulism the meat may possess. They also naturally enhance the meat’s color, making it look even better than when you got it fresh. If you buy premade jerky spices, they likely already include cure, but it doesn’t hurt to check. If you add some yourself, you usually don’t need very much to get the job done. You typically only need about a quarter of a teaspoon per pound of meat. Cure is especially great for jerky, since it also inhibits bacterial growth during the cooking process.

Salt

Salt is not only a flavoring, but also a preservative utilized since time out of mind. You will need salt if you are working with raw, sliced meat because you will need to soak your meat in salt water 24 hours prior to making your jerky. This not only keeps the jerky tender, it also draws the blood out of the meat, keeping it moist and fresh. The best salt to use is canning salt because it contains no additives of any kind. Since most cures contain salt anyway, you may not need very much salt to begin with. You can find canning salt in just about any grocery store, usually in the baking aisle.

Spices

Spices may seem like a no-brainer, but some spices are actually more beneficial than others. Fresh garlic, for example, can kill off E. coli, Salmonella enteritidis and Staphylococcus aureus. Cayenne pepper, another favorite in deer jerky, can help relieve intestinal gas and prevent the formation of fungus. There are limitless combinations of spices you can use on your deer jerky, like red pepper flakes, sugar, molasses, Worcestershire sauce and even teriyaki sauce, but some spices have more health benefits and bacteria-killing properties than others. Don’t be afraid to play around with your own spice combinations, either.

Liquid Smoke

Liquid smoke is another potent flavoring with a variety of uses. They come in plenty of flavors, like mesquite or original, and do not require a lot to get great flavor out of them. Believe it or not, liquid smoke truly is smoke from burned hickory chips, mesquite chips or other hardwood that has been collected in a condenser. This is why liquid smoke is such a potent flavoring. You can use liquid smoke as a marinade, an ingredient in a sauce, or just offer it as a condiment. If you do use liquid smoke directly on your jerky when cooking, use only small amounts, as it can pool and become bitter if you use too much, ruining your deer jerky. In fact, it would probably be best to just brush it on like you would barbecue sauce to prevent pooling.

Smokers vs. Dehydrators vs. Ovens

Make Deer Jerky in OvenNo matter which method you choose, never leave your deer jerky unattended since it can turn to stone or burn to a crisp if you aren’t careful. Plan to devote several hours to making your deer jerky, especially if you have a lot of deer meat to use. Each batch can take from six to eight hours, so plan your day accordingly. Here are a few things to keep in mind with each method of making jerky, as well as some advantages and disadvantages.

In the Oven

Making jerky in the oven will likely use the most electricity, so keep this in mind. To make jerky in the oven successfully, you’ll need to set the oven to the lowest temperature and keep the oven door open slightly. Also make sure that the jerky pieces do not overlap, or else those overlapped pieces won’t dry properly. Making jerky in the oven also has the disadvantage of needing to keep the oven door open, which essentially means heating up your whole kitchen for six to eight hours.

In the Dehydrator

Making jerky in your dehydrator is a bit different. You will need to put your dehydrator on its highest setting, which is usually 145-155 degrees Fahrenheit. The dehydrator will take longer than your oven, at about eight hours of cooking time. Again, do not overlap the jerky pieces. With a dehydrator, you won’t have to worry about air circulation, since many dehydrator racks have small holes in them already. You also won’t have to worry about power consumption or heat, since most dehydrators fit on your countertop with no problem.

In the Smoker

Making jerky in your smoker is a bit trickier than the other two methods, but can be well worth it if done correctly. If you wish to add wood chips to your smoker to give your deer jerky some flavor, soak the wood chips in water about half an hour before cooking. This will prevent the wood chips from producing any smoke and changing the taste of the jerky. Adding the wood chips too soon can also cause a terrible-tasting liquid to pool on the surface of the jerky and ruin the taste.

When you are ready to begin, preheat your smoker to 180 degrees Fahrenheit and place the deer meat inside. Don’t add any wood chips or liquid smoke to the smoker just yet. Let the meat cook for about three hours, then, when it feel like slightly dried paint to the touch, add the wood chips you soaked earlier. Do your best to keep your smoker at 180 degrees Fahrenheit for best results. Also be sure to check on the jerky every hour to ensure the jerky is not too dry. If any of the jerky is to your liking, remove it.

The Unorthodox Method

Hang Dry Deer JerkyBelieve it or not, you can also make deer jerky in the microwave. Slice and marinate your jerky, then take it out and hang the strips over a microwave roasting rack. Set the microwave on high, then cook for 4-6 minutes. Every 30 seconds after the 4 minute mark, stop the microwave and check on the jerky. The jerky is ready when it changes from brown to dark brown and has that leathery appearance. It’s unorthodox and it will obviously tie up your microwave for quite a while, but if the results are just as good, why not try it?

A Note on Sun Drying

Some people make jerky by leaving it to dry in the sun and, while it does get the job done, it is not a healthy way to make deer jerky. The reason is that the sunlight does not warm up the jerky enough to kill off harmful bacteria. Venison, unfortunately, is especially prone to contracting bacteria and even fecal material, so it is crucial to make sure the meat is cooked at no less than 150 degrees Fahrenheit. To avoid giving friends, family or potential customers food poisoning, it’s best to make deer jerky in an oven, a smoker or a dehydrator.

What if the Jerky is Too Dry?

If you dry out your jerky too much, it can still be saved, so don’t throw it away. You cannot reverse any burns, but you can at least make your jerky great again. All you need to do is place your jerky in a sandwich bag, preferably one with a zipper, with a tablespoon of water. Shake the bag to distribute the water evenly, seal it for about an hour, then open the bag just a little and let the jerky stand for a few more hours. You can also substitute the water with a little broth, milk, fruit juice or even a slice of bread. Most consumable liquids are safe to use for replenishing moisture in overcooked jerky, but water will not influence the original flavor.

Storage

To keep your deer jerky tasting great and lasting a long time, it’s best to keep it in the refrigerator in a paper bag or a glass jar. It can last up to a month in the refrigerator. Do not store jerky in a plastic bag unless you are going to freeze it. Otherwise, the plastic bag will promote mold growth because it traps moisture. If any of your deer jerky has mold on it, throw it out. If you have one, a vacuum sealer may not be a bad idea if you are planning to freeze your deer jerky. Otherwise, glass jars are your best bet.

USDA Food Safety Guidelines

If you plan to sell your deer jerky rather than eat it yourself, you may want to know the USDA food safety guidelines for preparing your jerky. It’s good information to know either way so that you don’t make jerky that will get people sick. This is important because deer meat is unfortunately very prone to contracting harmful bacteria.

  • Before handling any kind of meat, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. It isn’t required, but handling deer meat with clean, disposable gloves isn’t a bad idea, either.
  • All equipment and utensils must be clean. You may want to wash them before you start, just to make sure.
  • Defrost any frozen meat in the refrigerator. Do not thaw it on your counter.
  • If you use a marinade, marinate your deer meat in the refrigerator as well.
  • In order to kill off harmful bacteria, cook your deer meat at or above 150 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Store your jerky in the refrigerator for two months at the most.

Recipes

Deer Jerky RecipesHere are some delicious deer jerky recipes to use the next time you make some deer jerky of your own. Although most deer jerky recipes call for sliced meat, the recipes are sorted by whether you need ground meat or sliced meat for your convenience. We recommend using the sliced meat recipes for when you have it and the ground meat recipes for when you’re trying to get rid of leftovers. All of the recipes are excellent, though.

Ground Deer Jerky Recipes

Ground Deer Meat Jerky

What you will need:

  • 3 pounds of ground venison, thawed
  • 3 tablespoons of canning salt
  • Your favorite cure (follow the amount recommended on the box)
  • 1 teaspoon of onion powder
  • 2 teaspoons of garlic powder
  • 1 ½ teaspoons of cracked pepper
  • 1 teaspoon of liquid smoke
  • 3 tablespoons of water

How to make it:

  1. Mix the cure, all of the spices and water in a large bowl.
  2. Add your ground venison and mix well for about five minutes.
  3. Pack the mixture into your jerky gun, ensuring there are no air pockets.
  4. Squirt the meat onto your wire racks, spacing each strip about ¼ of an inch apart.
  5. Heat your oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit and place your racks on top of a drip pan, then place this in the oven.
  6. After about three hours, flip each jerky strip over and cook for another two or three hours.
  7. Make sure the strips are completely cooled before storing.

The Cook’s Deer Jerky Recipe

What you will need:

  • 5 pounds of ground deer meat
  • Your favorite cure (See instructions on box)
  • 4 teaspoons of salt
  • 2 teaspoons of garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon of red pepper
  • 1 teaspoon of butter
  • 1 tablespoon of black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons of liquid smoke
  • 2 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce

How to make it:

  1. Mix all of the ingredients together and form into grapefruit-sized balls.
  2. Using the rolling pin method, put wax paper on both sides of the meat and roll to desired thickness.
  3. Take off the top piece of wax paper and put the bottom piece on a cookie sheet with the meat on it.
  4. Brush the meat with a blend of 4 tablespoons water and 4 tablespoons liquid smoke.
  5. Place the jerky in the oven at 150 degrees for two hours, then turn the strips over and bake for one more hour. When finished, cut the jerky into strips.

The Flexible Deer Jerky Recipe

What you will need:

  • 5 pounds of ground deer meat
  • Your favorite cure (check the box for detailed instructions)
  • 9 teaspoons of salt
  • 2 teaspoons of black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons of garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
  • 1 ½ teaspoons of cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon of marjoram
  • 2 tablespoons of liquid smoke
  • 2 tablespoons of water

How to make it:

  1. Mix ground meat with spices thoroughly.
  2. Roll the meat into one pound balls, then place each ball between two sheets of wax paper and roll to desired thickness with a rolling pin.
  3. Place the sheets of deer meat directly on your oven or dehydrator’s racks and bake between 150 and 200 degrees Fahrenheit.

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Princesses Beware

What you will need:

  • 2 pounds of ground venison
  • 4 tablespoons of creole seasoning
  • ½ a teaspoon of salt
  • 1 teaspoon of garlic powder
  • ½ a teaspoon of ground habanero or cayenne pepper
  • ¾ of a teaspoon cardamom powder
  • ½ a teaspoon marjoram
  • 20 shakes of hot sauce
  • 10 shakes of Worcestershire sauce
  • 5 ounces of liquid smoke
  • 1 tablespoon of coarse black pepper

How to make it:

  1. Combine ground meat with all ingredients except the liquid smoke and coarse ground pepper. You can use an electric mixer if desired.
  2. Place the meat between two sheets of wax paper and roll out with a rolling pin to desired thickness.
  3. Put the liquid smoke into a spray bottle.
  4. Take off the top piece of wax paper and spray the liquid smoke, then sprinkle the coarse black pepper all over the meat.
  5. Put a fresh piece of wax paper on top of the meat again, flip the meat over and repeat step 4 with this side.
  6. Place the meat into your oven, smoker or dehydrator and cook at 150 to 200 degrees Fahrenheit for 6-8 hours. If you place the meat in the oven, don’t forget to leave the oven door open slightly.
  7. Check on the meat after five hours and every half hour after that. When the meat is done, take it out and use a pizza cutter to cut into slices.

Teriyaki Deer Jerky

What you will need:

  • 2 pounds of ground venison
  • 2 tablespoons of salt
  • 2 tablespoons of brown sugar
  • 4 tablespoons of teriyaki sauce
  • Pepper to taste (optional)

How to make it:

  1. Mix all ingredients into the ground meat thoroughly, using your hands. When thoroughly mixed, refrigerate overnight.
  2. The next day, load the chamber of the jerky gun with your ground venison mixture and squirt onto greased smoker trays.
  3. Smoke for 4 hours at 150 degrees Fahrenheit. Allow to cool completely before storing in your refrigerator or freezer.

Note: You can also substitute the venison with beef or buffalo for this recipe.

Sliced Deer Jerky Recipes

Smoke Flavor Venison Jerky

What you will need:

  • 2 pounds of sliced venison
  • ¼ of a cup soy sauce
  • 1-2 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce
  • Your favorite cure (see package instructions)
  • ½ of a teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ of a teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ of a teaspoon onion powder
  • ¼ of a teaspoon seasoned salt
  • 2 tablespoons of brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of liquid smoke

How to make it:

  1. Mix all of the ingredients together except for the meat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved.
  2. Slice the venison and add it to the marinade, then refrigerate overnight.
  3. Let the venison drain before drying, ensuring no liquid is running from it when it comes time to put it in your oven.
  4. Place the slices on wire racks and space each slice about ¼ of an inch apart to promote air flow.
  5. Cook in the oven for 200 degrees Fahrenheit for 5-6 hours and turn the strips over halfway through cooking.
  6. Cool for a few hours before storing them in your refrigerator or freezer.

Pro-Style Venison Jerky

What you will need:

  • 3 pounds of sliced venison
  • 1 tablespoon of salt
  • Your favorite cure (see package directions for details)
  • 1 teaspoon of onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon of garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon of ground black pepper
  • ¼ of a cup soy sauce
  • 1/3 of a cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon of liquid smoke (optional)

How to make it:

  1. Freeze your venison for at least an hour before slicing it up. This will help keep the pieces roughly the same thickness when you slice them.
  2. Mix all spices together in a large bowl.
  3. Coat each slice individually by dipping each side into the marinade, ensuring all surfaces have been covered. After coating, place each slice into a large sandwich bag. A sandwich bag with a zip top works best.
  4. Pour any excess marinade over the meat in the sandwich bag, then close the bag. Refrigerate the meat for at least 24 hours.
  5. During the marinating process, mix up the meat and marinade a couple of times. This is so all of the meat absorbs the marinade equally, ensuring each piece is equally flavorful.
  6. Place on racks and into your oven, smoker or dehydrator, cooking at 150 degrees Fahrenheit at least. If you cook your jerky in the oven, leave it open slightly to allow moisture to escape.
  7. Cooking should take at least 5 hours. Turn the strips halfway through the cooking process, then continue cooking until strips are dry and dark brown.
  8. Allow to cool completely before storing in your refrigerator or freezer.

The Best Venison Jerky

What you will need:

  • Fresh venison meat
  • Salt
  • Water
  • Your favorite cure (follow package directions for details)
  • A dry spice mixture or a blend of your favorite spices

How to make it:

  1. With a sharp knife, cut your venison to pieces about the size of your index finger. Ideally, you should keep the pieces under half an inch in thickness.
  2. Soak the venison in saltwater for 24 hours to draw out the blood. This also keeps the jerky tender when it’s cooked.
  3. Mix your cure and dry spice mix, then remove the venison from the saltwater. Place the venison in a zip top freezer bag and mix in your cure and spice mixture from earlier. Coat the meat in your spice and cure mixture, then refrigerate for at least 24 hours.
  4. After 24 hours have passed, preheat your oven to 200 degrees. Place the deer meat on either a pizza pan with holes in the bottom or on a wire rack over a cookie sheet. This is to allow air flow under the pieces.
  5. Cook the jerky for five hours, flipping each piece after two and a half hours.
  6. Allow to cool completely before freezing or refrigerating.

Note: If your jerky turns out softer than you expect, that’s fine. This deer jerky is supposed to be larger and softer than most traditional jerky recipes. This gives it wonderful versatility, making for excellent sandwiches, stew meat and, of course, eating it as it is.

The Know-It-All’s Deer Jerky

What you will need:

  • 2 pounds of deer meat cut into ¼ inch thick strips
  • 1 teaspoon of onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon of black pepper
  • ¼ of a cup soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of garlic powder or ½ of a cup diced raw garlic
  • 1/3 of a cup Worcestershire sauce
  • Liquid smoke to taste

How to make it:

  1. Mix together all of the ingredients in a large bowl, except the meat.
  2. Place the meat into the marinade, seal and refrigerate overnight. Zipper bags also work well.
  3. Remove the venison from the refrigerator the next day and drain well.
  4. Preheat your oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit.
  5. Next, either place the venison strips directly onto the oven racks with a pan beneath it to catch splatters, or place the strips on a wire rack placed on a greased cookie sheet. If your oven has an upper rack, you can also pierce each piece with a toothpick and hang it from that rack.
  6. Place the meat in the oven and cook for 4-6 hours. If the jerky is on a cookie sheet, make sure to turn the jerky halfway through the cooking time to help it dry evenly. Also be sure to keep the oven door open slightly to allow moisture to escape.
  7. When the jerky is dry, it’s done. Remove from the oven and let it cool completely before refrigerating or freezing. The jerky will last about a month or two in the refrigerator.

Note: If you want to offer condiments, some steak seasoning, Worcestershire sauce or simple salt make great additions.

The “No Frills” Deer Jerky Recipe

What you will need:

  • 3-4 pounds of deer meat
  • Your favorite cure (see package directions)
  • 1 cup of soy sauce
  • 1 cup of Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon of coarse black pepper
  • ¼ of a cup liquid smoke
  • 3 tablespoons of meat tenderizer

How to make it:

  1. Mix all ingredients except for meat.
  2. Cut deer meat into strips and soak in the marinade for 24 hours, stirring every once in a while.
  3. The next day, pierce each piece of meat with a toothpick and hang from the highest rack in your oven. Place a pan on the rack beneath it to catch any drippings. Don’t let the pieces of meat touch one another.
  4. Turn the oven on to 150 degrees and leave the oven door open slightly so moisture can escape.
  5. Allow at least 4 hours to cook. Allow to cool completely before storing.

Apple Cider Vinegar Jerky

What you will need:

  • 1 ½ to 2 pounds of lean venison, cut into strips
  • ¼ of a cup apple cider vinegar
  • ¼ of a cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of packed light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of kosher salt or smoked salt
  • 1 teaspoon of garlic powder
  • ½ a teaspoon of ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon of dried mushroom powder

How to make it:

  1. Place all ingredients into a zipper bag and refrigerate it for at least eight hours.
  2. Place the meat on dehydrator trays and cook at 150 degrees until dried, at least 5 hours.
  3. Allow to cool completely before storing in your refrigerator or freezer.

Note: You can make your own mushroom powder if you do not have any at home. Slice up some mushrooms and place them in a dehydrator. Set the dehydrator to 145 degrees Fahrenheit and cook them until they are very dry and brittle. Then, put the dried mushrooms into a coffee grinder, blender or food processor and grind them to powder. You can do this with many other vegetables as well. If you do this with red bell peppers, you’ll be able to make your own paprika at home.

Conclusion

As you can see, there are plenty of creative ways to make delicious deer jerky. On the off chance you honestly don’t like our recipes listed above, you can always get creative and make up your own jerky recipes, as long as you keep the basics in mind. The best part about deer jerky is that it not only tastes great, but it also lasts for a long time whether you refrigerate it or freeze it, making it perfect for any leftover deer meat you happen to have laying around. The only bad thing about venison jerky is that venison contracts some pretty bad bacteria, making it vital to cook it at 150 degrees Fahrenheit at the minimum. Some people go as far as briefly steaming or precooking their venison before making it into jerky. With our professional tips and delicious recipes, perfectly good venison doesn’t have to go bad ever again.