Homemade Venison Jerky? Start With a Good Food Dehydrator
OutdoorHub Reporters 12.18.18
As at least some of you in the room may know, venison jerky can be a fantastic thing, and with the right equipment it’s not terribly challenging to make yourself. Sure, you can buy all sorts of game and exotic meat jerky (thanks, internet), but the DIY method is a simple matter of proper slicing, preparation, seasoning/marinating, and temperature control. Both home/kitchen retailer as well as our favorite outdoor gear shops like Cabelas and Sportsman’s Guide offer an assortment of food dehydrators that are just the right tool for the task, from which we’ve selected a few of our favorites. Before we get to that, though, here are a few crucial pointers to get you started.
Consistency Is Key — When cutting your meat, you can choose the thickness you prefer, but you’re going to want to make sure your slices are as even as you can get them. This will ensure you don’t have to go picking through your jerky to see what pieces are done when. Freezing your meat before you slice it will help you keep slices a consistent width.
Cut Against The Grain — Remember that feeling of chewing on a piece of jerky forever, to the point that you’re getting frustrated? That’s what happens when you cut along the grain with your jerky. For the perfect balance of chewiness that doesn’t require a blade or bionic jaw, make sure to pay attention to this.
Marinade & Seasoning time — If you already know your way around the kitchen you already know, don’t rush your seasonings or marinate. If you just dump it on and throw it in the dehydrator, you’ll get some flavor on the outside of your meats, but to make it count you’re best to plan ahead. Cut and marinade one day, tuck it back in the fridge, then get the dehydrator running the following day.
Taste Test After a Few Hours — Because many of these dehydrators have 8-10+ racks, the last thing you want to do is overcook a massive stack of jerky. Depending on the settings of your dehydrator, we’d suggest a taste test somewhere between the 2 and 3 hour window to check consistency. If it hits the spot, you’re golden, but if not then keep checking in roughly on the half hour.
Now that those essentials are out of the road, there’s the matter of your dehydrator itself. There’s a lot on the market right now, so rather than inundate you with too many options, we broke out three simple options covering budget-friendly, mid-tier value, and a premium option.
Budget Pick — Cabela’s Six-Tray Heavy-Duty Dehydrator
$129.99 SHOP NOW
Though one of Cabela’s other offerings offers digital controls, a few spotty owner reviews caught our eye as a point of concern. This unit is still pretty basic, with 6 racks, analog controls, and per its owners a slightly flimsy door. That said, it’s a good entry point into the category and most buyers seem to have had a hassle free experience. Unlike a higher end model, you have to pay attention to this one, as there’s no timer built in. Its 800-watt heater and fan provide a base operating temperature between 80 and 160 degrees.
Midrange Pick — LEM Products 1154 Stainless Steel Professional 10-Tray Digital Dehydrator
$264.99 SHOP NOW
Though it’s about double the price of our budget buy (currently 26% off, FYI), you’re getting a serious upgrade in features and materials with this dehydrator from LEM. 10 sturdy chrome-plated trays, a digital control panel with multiple programmable presets and built-in timer, and whisper quiet operation are the core selling features of this unit.
Premium but Worth It — Excalibur Stainless Steel 5-Tray Dehydrator
$349.99 SHOP NOW
Another step up the food chain, Excalibur dehydrators are manufactured in the US, and are significantly more sturdy and resilient than most others out there. What’s more, they’re also sold with a 5-year manufacturer warranty, so you can rest assured you won’t be replacing it prematurely either. There are larger models available, but a a starting point the added premium for this 5-rack model is pretty easy to stomach if you’re committed to the idea of whipping up your own jerky on the regular.
For a more in-depth look at food dehydrators, check out our sister site DehydratorJudge.com