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Spiced strips of jerky

Jerky is meat that has been cut into strips, trimmed of fat, marinated in a spicy, salty, or sweet liquid, and dried or smoked with low heat (usually under 70°C/160°F) or is occasionally just salted and sun-dried. The result is a salty, savory, or semi-sweet snack that can be stored for a long time without refrigeration.

Jerked meat was one of the first human-made products and was a crucially important food preservation technique for survival.

The word "jerky" comes from the Quechua term Charqui, which means "to burn (meat)".


There are many products in the marketplace which are sold as jerky which consist of highly processed, chopped and formed meat, rather than traditional sliced, whole-muscle meat. These artificial products, with their higher fat and water content, often include chemical preservatives to prevent spoilage.

A typical 30 g portion of jerky contains 10-15 g of protein, 1 g of fat, and 0-3 g of carbohydrates.Since traditional jerky recipes use a basic salt cure, sodium can be a concern for some people. A 30 g serving of jerky could contain more than 600 mg of sodium, which would be about 30% of the recommended USRDA.


Any particular preparation or recipe for jerky typically uses only one type of meat. Around the world, meat from domestic and wild animals are used to make jerky. Domestic animals include bovine, pig, goat and sheep or lamb. Wild animals include deer, elk, caribou, kangaroo and moose are also used. Recently, other animals such as turkey, ostrich, salmon, alligator, tuna and horse are also used.

The meat must be dried quickly, to limit bacterial growth during the critical period where the meat is not yet dry. To do this, the meat is thinly sliced, or pressed thinly, in the case of ground meat. The strips of meat are dried at low temperatures, to avoid cooking it, or over-drying it to the point where it is brittle.

In present-day factories, large jerky ovens are made of insulated panels. Inside these low-temperature drying ovens are many heater elements and fans. The ovens have exhaust ports to remove the moisture-laden air. The combination of fast moving air and low heat dries the meat to the desired moisture content within a few hours. The raw, marinated jerky strips are placed on racks of nylon-coated metal screens which have been sprayed with a light vegetable oil to allow the meat to be removed easily. The screen trays are placed closely in layers on rolling carts which are then put in the drying oven.

Some additional form of chemical preservative, such as sodium nitrate, is often used in conjunction with the historical salted drying procedure to prepare jerky. Smoking was, and still is, the most traditional method, as it preserved, flavored, and dried the meat simultaneously. Salting is the most common method used today, as it both provides seasoning to improve the flavor as well as preserve the meat. While some methods involve applying the seasonings with a marinade, this can increase the drying time by adding moisture to the meat.

Much like numerous types of foods produced, there are some jerky products that are made naturally and organically. Natural and organic jerky makers use meat from animals which are raised on organic feed and are minimally processed. These animals are not treated with hormone enhancement and are not fed animal by-products. Additionally, these jerky products may be gluten free.


The contents of an oxygen absorber from a package of jerky

After the jerky is dried to the proper moisture content to prevent spoilage, it is cooled, then packaged in re-sealable plastic bags, either by nitrogen gas flushed or vacuumed packed. In order to prevent the growth of bacteria and fungi, the sealed packages often contain small pouches of oxygen absorber. These small packets are filled with iron particles which react with oxygen, removing the O2 from the sealed jerky package, and from the air that is introduced after the seal is broken (due to partial consumption).

Most of the fat must be trimmed off prior to drying the meat, as fat does not dry, thus creating the potential for spoilage as the fat becomes rancid (modern vacuum packing and chemical preservatives have served to help prevent these risks).

Because of the necessary low fat and moisture content, jerky is high in protein. A 30 g (about 1 oz) portion of lean meat, for example, contains about 7 g of protein. By removing 15 g of water from the meat, the protein ratio is doubled to nearly 15 g of protein per 30 g portion. In some low moisture varieties, a 30 g serving will contain 21 grams of protein, and only one gram of fat. This leads to the high price of such brands of jerky, as it takes 90 g of 99% lean meat to generate that 30 gram serving.

Unpackaged fresh jerky made from sliced, whole-muscle meat has been available in specialty stores in Hong Kongmarker at least since the 1970s. The products are purchasable by kilograms, and customers choose from 10 to 20 types of meat used to make the product. Some are sold in strands instead of slices. Macaumarker has opened up numerous specialty shops also, many of which are franchise extensions of stores from Hong Kong. Compared to the sealed packaged versions, unpackaged jerky has a relatively short expiration date.

This type of jerky has also become very popular in convenience stores in the USA. This product is called "slab" jerky and is usually marketed in plexiglass containers.


Most nations have regulations pertaining to the production of dried meat products. There are strict requirements to ensure safe and wholesome production of jerky products. Factories are required to have inspectors and sanitation plans. In the United States, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDAmarker) is responsible for that oversight.

Despite the fact that nearly all of the commercially produced jerky in the United States is inspected by the USDA, many European countries presently prohibit the importation of jerky from the USA without additional and extensive documentation, and further inspections.


Traditional jerky, made from sliced, whole-muscle meat, is readily available in the United Statesmarker and Canadamarker in varying meats, brands and qualities, both as packaged and unpackaged. These products are available in nearly every convenience store, gas station, supermarket, and variety shop in those countries.

A similar product is made with finely ground meat, mixed with flavors, then the mush is processed into thin dried strips. The finished item is often labeled as jerky. This product is generally much cheaper and is widely available in general interest stores, such as supermarkets and convenience stores.

Also popular is shredded dry jerky sold in containers resembling snuff or dip. Jerky made in the traditional style is also a ubiquitous staple of farmers' markets in rural areas all over North America.

In addition to being quite common in the United States and Canada, jerky is also gaining popularity in supermarkets, convenience stores and online retailers. In Australia, New Zealandmarker and the United Kingdommarker, jerky products are available and becoming more common. They are carried by some major supermarkets, and now also smaller stores.

In Ethiopiamarker jerky is called qwant'a. In addition to salt it is seasoned with black pepper and either berbere or awaze.

A similar product, biltong, is common in South African cuisine; however, it differs very much in production process and taste.

Since 1996, jerky has been selected by astronauts as space food several times for space flight due to its light weight and high level of nutrition.

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