Exploring Salt In Jerky

I was pretty despondent after my miserable failure with my own recipe.  I got cocky and flew too close to the sun.  What does that get ya?  Ruined jerky, that’s what!  I mentioned in my previous post that research seemed to indicate that salt content was very important.  While lean ground beef was still on sale I wanted to experiment with a very simple recipe and alter only the salt content.  I measured out carefully four 1 pound batches of meat.  Each got 1/4 tsp of cure, 1 tsp of garlic powder, 1oz water, a different amount of salt.  No flying high here, we are staying well grounded with this recipe.

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Of the previous two recipes, the simpler one had roughly 1/2tsp of salt per pound.  It also had a ton of other ingredients which may have mucked up the results.  I started with a 1tsp of salt version and moved up in increments of a whole teaspoon.  The 4 tsp/lb version might be way too salty, but I would know the upper limit in that case.  I noticed when mixing the 1tsp batch that my gloves came back very clean (left picture), but the 2tsp version (right) started getting rather sticky.  Progress!

I continued mixing up batches going slowly and carefully so as not to miss anything.  I don’t currently time how long I mix up the meat, but a voice activated smart phone timer might have to be in order.  These 4 batches will go in the fridge for an overnight rest just like all my previous versions have.

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The dehydrator load showed the difference again.  The lowest salt batch wouldn’t hold together (left), while the 2tsp (right) and above stayed continuous and made great spirals.

They all got the same trip through the dehydrator.  The results were quite different.  It is hard to see in the image below, but the 1tsp jerky is dry and crumbly like my previous batches.  The 2-4 tsp versions all came out pretty chewy and with a proper texture.  It seems 1-2 tsp per pound of meat is the required threshold.

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I cut up each batch and bagged them with a number, leaving out batch 1.  I gave all my coworkers an opportunity to try them without comment and gathered feedback.  Most considered 4 too salty, though one guy really liked it.  It was kind of a toss up between 2 and 3 as to which one was more favorable.  2 was maybe a touch blander.  The 1tsp of garlic powder was very subtle, most didn’t detect it.

Final Conclusions:

  • You need more than 1tsp of salt per pound of ground beef, 2 is safer
  • 4tsp per pound is excessive for most people
  • more than 1tsp of garlic powder per pound is needed to have it taste like garlic

Home Jerky Recipe Failure

Why buy a spice packet when you can just gin up your own flavors for a lot less?  Failed jerky apparently!  I thought I was going to be cute, and make my own seasoned jerky from now on.  I may still, but I hit a huge setback.  Everything started nice, I looked at a few recipes online and came up with two ideas to try on my own.  A basic traditional style, and a taco seasoning style.

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I mixed them both and ran into my first difference.  Normally, the meat is really sticky.  Even wearing nitrile gloves it sticks like crazy.  These didn’t seem to leave much of anything on my gloves.

I left them overnight for the flavors to mingle, then fired up the jerky cannon.  Another odd feature, they don’t hold together well at all.  Normally I can get long continuous strands, but these fall apart immediately.

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One thing I remembered after firing up the dehydrator was that I forgot the curing salt on the taco version.  That was going to hurt the shelf life, but no reason to stop.  The final results were garbage.

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Instead of being chewy this stuff was dry and crumbly.  I did some reading and found a few possible explanations that could apply to my batches.

Don’t use acids: I didn’t use any in the traditional recipe, but my taco version had a few tablespoons of hot sauce.  Lots of vinegar in that sauce. That one was worse than the traditional.

Low salt: This is possible with both batches, I didn’t want it to be too salty.  Checking around, salting ground beef can do important things.  Serious Eats has an article on the subject.

My next experiment will be with a simple recipe of just ground beef, salt, and maybe a single seasoning like garlic powder.  I will increase the salt content and see how that goes.  An early indication of stickiness while mixing might help bound the lower end of salt.  Too salty won’t be clear until I have cooked and eaten some.

Continued Jerky Lessons

This is my 4th round of jerky and I feel like I am still learning a lot every time.  My co-worker uses a 3/8″ nozzle, where as my jerky gun came with only a 1/2″ nozzle.  Thankfully the sell these little road cone looking things that you can cut to size.  DSC_0937I switched jerky seasoning brands because I had run out of the original stuff and wanted to try something different.  They recommended mixing their seasoning with water first, then mixing with meat.  This is a great idea, it helps ensure that the seasoning and cure are well mixed and distributed throughout.  I am feeling confident enough to wager 5 pounds of extra lean to make this happen.  In retrospect the seasoning should have been mixed in the big metal bowl before adding meat.  It saves a bowl.

Loading can be tricky.  One clean hand, one dirty.  You ball up a small wad with the dirty hand and load while holding the barrel with the clean hand.  They make a tool that helps tamp it all down.  Which hand holds that?  My new 3D printed hand of course!  I came up with this clip to hold the barrel while my clean hand tamps.  The overnight print came complete with a really good game of filament chicken.  About 2 wraps left before I would have been in trouble.


The mix and extrusion went well.  I used every tray I had and in 5 hours was able to dry a pretty good looking batch of jerky.

I weighed the final product and came up with about 2.5lb.  That is probably at the low end of dry enough, but it shouldn’t go bad in the 4 days it will take for me and everyone around to eat it.  It occurs to me that I could monitor the progress of my jerky simply by taking the initial weight and weights throughout the process.

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Jerky Dehydrator Hack

I have been experimenting with jerky in the oven after a co-worker introduced me to the idea of making jerky from ground beef.  I had no idea such a thing was even possible.  It is easier and can be cheaper than whole muscle jerky.  Plus it isn’t nearly as jaw bruisingly chewy.  I started in my oven, but the long lingering cooking smell is disagreeable with my wonderful wife and the oven doesn’t seem to vent enough to properly dry the meat.  Enter my new Nesco Snackmaster!

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Good ole black Friday deals got me a discount on a damaged box item.  I cleaned and assembled everything and used the dehydrator to dry all the piece parts.  I stuck my grill probe in various places checking for consistency.  It is a surprisingly consistent unit, but there was an issue.  The temp was too low.  You are supposed to dry jerky at 160F, and it stalled at 145.  An hour later, it was still at 145.  I didn’t really feel like sending it back, or finding out the bad way that my jerky wasn’t cooked enough.

The dial has a hard stop (brass piece in lower right picture).  I wondered if it needed adjustment.  I tried tweaking the metal shim that hits the hard stop, and broke it off completely (Sad bent metal in lower left picture).  No sending it back now!  I gave it a slight turn past the previous hard stop and reassembled everything.  Hey presto, 160F without issue.  It super voids the warranty, but now I know I can get one of these things to higher temps if I ever need to.

 


Fast forward to actually mixing up some meat and making a test run.  I had a jerky seasoning sampler pack, and wanted to stick with known spices while I worked on the mechanics of jerky making.  Once I get the basics down I will venture off into recipe development land.  I mixed it all up, put it in my jerky gun and shot 1/2″ round extrusions into the snackmaster.

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Not highly appetizing at this point, but give it some time.  I was dubious of the temperature control still, so I put my probe back in and monitored.  It still didn’t come out to the right temp, so I had to do more adjusting.  No clue if I am being overly controlling, or if something is wong with the built in temperature control.  6 hours later it was looking a bit more like jerky, and I was looking for bed time.

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My previous batches got stopped before this point.  They weren’t chewy enough, but lasted about a week before mold set in.  I figured they would be ok overnight, and restarted them in the morning.  Not ideal, but it should be safe. After 4 more hours of drying I had other events that were becoming press, so it was time to call it quits.

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10 Hours total yielded a pretty good looking jerky.  Drier than my previous attempts with a good amount of chewiness.  I will hold a small sample of this in a bag and check it for mold routinely to get an idea of shelf life. The only round nozzle I have is 1/2″ in diameter. I need to get a thinner diameter to help speed this process up. Then again, 10 hours would be easy to do overnight.

More jerky updates to come over the next few weeks. I hope to have a full suite available for Christmas gifts.

iPad Stand

I recently bought an iPad for use during travel and for things around the house.  One such thing is for use as a recipe holder while I cook.  I have slowly been collecting my various scraps of paper and bookmarks into an organized google drive collection.  Most fit nicely on a single page in portrait mode.  I needed a way to prop it upright and started with a nice swoopy 3D printed part.  I liked the shape, but it was a little too light and the color clashed with my kitchen.

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Unusual for me, I built a test piece first.  Typically I just launch into this sort of thing head first and start making mistakes.  The pine shape was made using the green 3D print as a tracing template.  I liked how it came out and proceeded with maple.

As I was cutting the groove on my router I made a huge mistake.  I wanted to rout the groove a little wider, and moved the fence closer to the bit to make a second pass.  CHOMP!

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I forgot, when I moved the fence closer I used the wrong side of the bit.  When pinched between the fence and bit, the bit bites in and drags everything forward.  I made a little graphic below to show the issue.  The bit rotates counter-clockwise.  Keep out of the red zone and use the green side.

I recovered by starting over and moving on to a new piece of wood.  This time without any issues.  20171013_121914

Once I got the groove completed I tapered the back a little.  It doesn’t need to be 3/4″ thick all the way across, so I thinned the back end down.  I like the effect a lot, but in retrospect I could have gotten a lot more aggressive.

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With the tapering done I used the green printed part as a template to lay out the two curved cutouts of this part.  I made the center cut wide enough to help lighten the look, and provide a cutout around the speaker ports at the bottom edge of the iPad.  I was able to orient the front to show off some lovely rays (little speckles in right hand picture) in the maple.

I am really happy with this, a past version of me would have cut the groove and called it good.  The block would have been functional, but chunky and brutal.  This is lighter and more elegant.  Truth be told I could have done more lightening and still had a functional part, but as always it is a learning-by-doing experience.  A spray coat of lacquer sealed the deal.

Ladder Feets

I have a trusty little 3 step Werner ladder that is great for doing work inside and outside the house.  It is small, light and provides enough height to be really useful without making you feel too high up.  I bought it when I got my house 8 years ago and have used it a lot since then.

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The back two legs are basically straight tubes with rubber feet slipped on.  They did a good job keeping the ladder stable and level, but over the years the posts have pushed through the rubber.  The final straw was when I was doing something in the yard and the bag legs sank 6 inches down.

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I pulled the feet off and tried to salvage them.  The only real issue is the bars pushing through.  Maybe “re-soleing’ these shoes is all it takes.  I tried screwing down some plywood to the bottom, but ran into issues.  The post is only resting on its edge, and the squishiness of the feet means they want to wobble around a lot.  No good.

Time to ditch these feet and go with something new.  I would try to make it all in wood, but the post diameter is not close to any standard drill bits.  I want the new feet to fit tightly.  On to 3D printing!

The foot design resembles the original rubbery version.  The difference is that these will be hard.  I added a flat parallel to the bottom of the post.  The reason being is that when you fold the ladder up it only sits on the tips of these feet.  Probably a lot of the reason they pushed through.  This flat spot will help spread the load when stored and hopefully help it last longer.  The larger flat in the upper left picture is what touches the ground when the ladder is deployed and in use.

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I started with basic PLA, as a test, but they fit so well I am going to stick with the first prototypes.  I might make a higher infill PETG version in the future.  Until then the ladder folds up and stores well, and most importantly sits flat and stable when in use.