In an earlier post I showed you how to make whole-muscle jerky with a dehydrator. Well, that batch of dried deliciousness didn’t make it 24 hours before it was devoured. With dried meat in high demand among my clan, I had to get another round in the works. This time I went another route and sent my venison through a Weston grinder before turning it into jerky.
Playing it Safe
As I’ve previously explained: “When processing jerky, the goal is to remove moisture from the meat so harmful microorganisms (bacteria) can’t grow. It’s easier to do this with whole-muscle jerky vs. ground jerky because the nasty stuff lives on the surface of meat, not on the inside. Naturally, a grinder turns meat inside out, so extra precautions need to be taken to make ground jerky safe for consumption.”
I apologize if that initially sounded overly intimidating, because any kind of jerky creation—whole-muscle or ground—isn’t a big undertaking. The toughest part is waiting around for it to finish drying. However, considering food safety, remember it always starts from the moment you decide to penetrate an animal with a bullet or broadhead, and it continues from the meat pole all the way to your plate. Be cognizant of cross contamination from field to table, including during the grinding process, and it ought to be smooth sailing. The heat from your dehydrator should eliminate any nasty stuff (such as E. coli) that might still be lingering in your meat, and you can always use nitrite or nitrate cure as an extra precaution.
You Get What You Give
Just like with whole-muscle jerky, you’ll get the best ground jerky by using high-quality cuts of meat. Keep it clean (free of silverskin or tendons) and lean (minimal fat). Nobody wants to chew on a piece of rubber, and the main reason to avoid fat is because the jerky might spoil faster if it’s not refrigerated.
In my latest batch of ground jerky, I tested some venison scraps that were originally intended for hamburger. It was more difficult to run the fatty ground through the jerky gun, and it was more challenging to keep the strips from breaking apart on the dehydrator trays, but it still worked and my carnivorous friends were more than pleased with the finished product. You can get away with marginal cuts, but you always get what you give.
At its core, creating ground jerky really only requires a few simple steps: grind, season/cure, gun, and dehydrate. But I’ll go through each step slightly more in depth and offer some tips that might improve your final product.
Once you’ve selected the cuts of meat that you want to turn into jerky, you’ll need a grinder. Just get a good electric grinder and be done with it. You can keep a manual grinder in your bomb shelter for when the grid goes down, but otherwise it’s not worth messing with it unless you want to use your grinding session as a workout. Cut the meat into manageable strips and run them through the medium or fine plate of your grinder.
Now that the meat is ground, mix it evenly with your favorite dry seasoning, and add nitrate or nitrite cure if you so choose. You can use a wet seasoning or marinade, but that seems kind of stupid when the central goal is to remove all the moisture from the meat. I recommend running it through the grinder once more after the seasoning is added, as you’ll get a better, more even mix (plus, you’ll have the perfect meat paste for the next step). Because you’re dealing with ground meat, the seasoning is thoroughly distributed across the meat’s surface area, so you don’t need to let the meat and seasoning mingle in the fridge for any amount of time.
You’ll need a jerky gun for creating perfect ground jerky strips. I’m a big fan of the Original Jerky Gun from Weston because it holds almost 2 pounds of ground meat; a small gun is a pain in the ass because you have to refill it multiple times to hammer out a respectful batch. The Original Jerky Gun is also sweet because it comes with some basic sausage-making accessories, along with Weston’s killer jerky seasoning. Regardless of your chosen gun, fill it up and squeeze out as many strips as you can fit on the trays of your dehydrator. Just leave some room for the strips to breathe. The meat will stick together better if you move fast (to avoid air drying) and keep it cool.
Turn the dehydrator to 160 degrees and let it work its magic. You’ll know your ground jerky is ready by bending it—if it’s still soft and cracks without totally breaking, you’re good to go. It usually takes about 6 hours.