Those food scientists and chemists jerky companies employ might actually be worth their salt. I learned that salt is important to jerky, but it isn’t the only factor. Something in the laundry list of unpronounceable ingredients really seals the deal flavor-wise, and makes ground beef jerky’s texture ideal. I tried another few experiments with greater amounts of seasoning. They turned out all right, but still nowhere near as good as some of the seasoning packs I have used before. On the bright side, I am getting pretty good with my extrusion spiral.
These last batches happened a week or so before Christmas. I was really hoping to make something good, and replicate it once or twice for everyone as gifts. It was a flop. Probably going to start up again in the new year with a basic batch from one of the jerky companies. Once I get my confidence back with a few rounds of decent jerky I can try adding to their seasonings, or maybe attempt to pick out which of their magic ingredients make such a big difference. Until then, as Yoda says, failure can be the best teacher.
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.
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.
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.
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.