Making Beef Jerky in a Dehydrator

One of the best things I ever got off Craigslist was the Ronco Giant dehydrator.  I’d owned a dinky little one years before that, and though it served us well, eventually we got rid of it. But we were having lots of luck finding retro video games on Craigslist at this time, so on a lark I searched for a dehydrator.

That was a couple years ago, and unlike the rice cookers I keep buying, this thing is an appliance that justifies the space it takes up. I actually keep it on top of the fridge at this point, and it’s almost too tall to go up there. It has 10 trays. I pointed out the part in the manual that references “10 – 15 trays” and my husband told me to “settle down”.  😀

I’ve dehydrated apples, bananas, peaches, pears, and many other things with this sweetheart, but today I want to tell you about the beef jerky I’ve been making with it.

I found the owner’s manual online and printed it out, and there’s a recipe for jerky in there. I’ve been going off that and other recipes on the internet, but so far, the results have been almost complete success.

For meat, I’ve been buying top round, with as little visible fat as possible. My son loves turkey jerky, but I’m a bit hesitant to do other kinds of meat besides beef. I even caught top round on sale once, but I’ve got an idea that if I went to a store like Costco or BJ’s, I could get more of it for cheaper. And when you’re dehydrating meat, you really do feel the cost if you’re buying it.

So I take these cuts of top round and put them in the freezer for a while, mostly because I’ve read to do that. I don’t really think I need to, with a good knife I’ve had no trouble cutting them into lovely thin slices.  Then I put them in a zip-lock bag with the marinade. From the Ronco manual, the marinade consists of:

– 1/2 pound of brown sugar
– 3 cups soy sauce
– 1/4 cup liquid smoke (optional but I LOVE the stuff)
– spices of your choosing

I also add a bunch of Worcestershire sauce, I think from another recipe. Sometimes I’ve added a 7 pepper blend for spices (seen above), sometimes just a bunch of garlic powder (which was an accident but actually turned out great).

The manual says to marinate that for about 10 minutes, but I go for at least overnight. You have to massage and flip the bag every now and then so that the thin slices of meat aren’t sticking together and denying themselves marination.

Then dehydration day arrives. I try to do this on Saturday mornings because while it’s typically been taking 8 hours at most, it can take up to 12.

I haven’t run the numbers yet to see how much this is saving me vs. just buying beef jerky, so that’s going to be worth doing, and I’ll do it at some point here. But just as important is the fact that I know what’s going into this as far as ingredients. And my kids absolutely love it.

If/when I get to the true homesteading point where I may be dealing with a purchase or butchering that results in many pounds of meat, this is a great way to preserve some of it. I’m not sure how long it keeps, because at this point it just doesn’t last long enough around my house to go bad. But I would say the bag from the batch above has lasted at least 3 weeks so far.