An Outdoor Setting
GUESTS: Bikers #1, #2 and #3
[the Bikers are taking a snack break after riding]
BIKER #1: Aw, man. My candy bar's melted. Gimme some of your granola.
BIKER #2: Are you kidding, man. My wife's got
me on a diet. I'm eatin' every bit of this crunchy
BIKER #3: You want half my egg salad sandwich?
B #1: How long's that thing been in your bag?
B #3: Since this morning.
B #2: Are you kidding me? Haven't you heard of the
zone? That might as well be toxic waste.
B #3: Trade you for the candy bar.
B #1: Sure.
B #3: Okay.
AB: [rides up his motorcycle] Greetings,
fellow snackers. Try this.
B #1: Beef jerky. Haven't had that since I was a
B #3: That smells delicious.
B #2: Is it fattening?
AB: Oh, not to worry. Each piece is practically carb-free.
B #1: What's in it, then? Fat?
B #2: Oh, I hope it's not saturated.
B #3: Who cares? Can I have some more?
AB: Sure, help yourself. I've got plenty. And don't
worry, there are fewer than two grams of fat in each
serving. What you've got here, kids, is the perfect
marriage of protein, flavor, and good old-fashioned chewiness. And it's naturally preserved. You know,
American frontiersmen used to live on this stuff for
months at a time. Properly packaged, jerky will keep for
years without refrigeration. [rides away]
B #1: Who was that mysterious rider?
B #3: We'll probably never know.
B #1: Well that's a shame, 'cause this jerky sure
["Good Eats" theme plays]
GUEST: Deb Duchon, Nutritional Anthropologist
Although the word "jerky" is an anglicized version of the Peruvian word
ch'arki** referring to any number of dried meat applications originating in
the high Andes, dried meat strips are known to just about every culture on
earth. And in many cases, they represent the original prepared foods, even
predating cooking itself.
Now, to give us a little insight on this situation and to tell us how beef
jerky may have come to be, we have our nutritional anthropologist, Deb Duchon.
So, Deb, how do you think all this unfolded?
DEB DUCHON: Well, Alton, imagine you're an early
Homo sapien sapiens hunting
on the African savannahs some 65,000 years ago.
AB: Okay, what day of the week?
DD: What difference does it make?
AB: Well, I'm trying to get a visual picture here. You know ...
DD: Okay. Okay. It's Thursday.
AB: Okay, what time of day?
DD: You're hunting. It's morning.
African Savannah (Animation)
DD: You and a couple of buds have just
brought down a wildebeest. After chomping your fill, you notice that the
aroma of the kill has brought a party of proto-hyenas into range.
Thinking that you might move on, you stash a leg in a tree in case you
drop back by later in the day. You don't make it. But a month later, a rhinoceros runs you up that
very same tree, and lo and behold, that leg is still there.
AB: Wait a minute. Wait a minute. I know that the savannah is a
barren place, but what are the odds that I would be run up the exact
same tree, and ...
DD: Hey, who's the nutritional anthropologist here?
AB: [a bit sarcastically] By all means, continue.
African Savannah (Animation)
DD: Okay. After being up there a few hours, you get pretty hungry. So
you rip off a little strip of the dark, shriveled leg, and surprise, it
tastes great: chewy, meaty, and totally not rotten. When the rhino finally loses interest, you lug the leg—which is
considerably easier to carry now that its moisture is gone—back home
where it helps your clan survive the lean season, thus ensuring the
continuation of your DNA.
AB: [with growing excitement] Yeah, that's a great story. Yeah. I think I'll go take down a
Harry's Farmers Market: Marietta, GA – 2:15 pm
[looking in the meat case] Bad news, kids: no wildebeest. That means we are going to have to turn to
the next-of-hoof—ha ha ha ... Bos taurus, or Bos indicus*, otherwise known as the
American Beef Critter. The question of course, which cut?
ANNOUNCER: Well, Bob ...
ANNOUNCER: ... we've got three choices.
AB: Do tell.
ANNOUNCER: Behind window #1 we've got a luscious and lovely
New York strip steak.
AB: Very nice.
New York Strip Steak
ANNOUNCER: Behind window #2 a juicy bottom round roast. A
real hunger stumper, if you get my drift.
AB: I believe I do. And window #3?
ANNOUNCER: Well, behind window #3 the cut for all seasons: the meaty, the flamboyant but flat, flank steak.
AB: Wow. I'm going to have to think this over.
ANNOUNCER: You've got ten seconds.
Okay, let's review what we know. We know that strip
steaks, a good piece of meat, cut from the short loin, and
they're cut across the grain. That means that, when dried, jerky
made from such a piece of meat would look like this [shows a poor jerky specimen], and
would kind of crumble, like that. Not exactly
what I had in mind.
Now, the bottom round, very tempting. There are some very
large muscle groups, nice long muscle fibers, but the problem
is they're hard to get to. A lot of home butchering involved. And you know? I've never been that impressed with the flavor of
Now that leaves us with the flank steak, which, with its flat
shape and long, lean musculature, is bang-on perfect for this
kind of application.
AB: So I am going to take the flank steak.
ANNOUNCER: Congratulations. And you will also receive some
Before we attempt any preservation via dehydration, perhaps we should examine
some of the factors that make goodmeat go bad in the first place. Now, enzymes inside the meat are partially to blame.
But, most of the damage is
done by bacteria, mold, and yeast. Why? Well, fresh meat supplies all their
needs: food, low acidity, and plenty of moisture. Go ahead, take a look. They're in there.
Inside the Meat
Given a little time at room temperature, your would-be dinner will become a
veritable Club Med for every microbe that drifts through the room. [the microbe
party is having fun at the pool] Oh, they'll
come in droves, all right, and they will frolic at the pool, they will eat at the
buffet, they will drink at the bar, and they'll go do their disgusting little
If, however, you remove most of the water via air drying [the
water in the pool drops dramatically], they will pack up
and leave in droves. And of course, you could deflate their cells with salt
["salt" pellets begin hitting the microbes]. And
you can even burn them down with a little bit of acid [microbe begins to smoke]. That would be fun. Either
way, and pretty soon, your Club Med will revert to Club Dead. [the "pool" is
your meat's preserved.
Now, I suppose, we could dry this meat out intact, but odds are very good that
it would take so long to actually dry that it would spoil first. Besides, it
would be kind of hard to eat that way. And we can get around both of these
problems by increasing the surface-to-mass area of the meat; that is, cut it
Biltong is a dried & smoked meat of Southern Africa.
The goal here is to cut this into very narrow strips following the grain of
the meat. Now, the grain is pretty easy to see in flank steak, but this job is
still a challenge because the slab is, well, it's a little bit on the floppy
side. The answer? We either wrap this in plastic or put it in a zip top bag
and stash it in the freezer until it is almost, but not quite, solid. Actually,
you could wrap it and freeze it solid, and then partially thaw it before you cut
Now, yes, I realize that freezing meat in a home freezer is a slow process,
producing large ice crystals in the meat [holds up a bag of broken glass], which may, in turn, puncture cell
walls, which would then weep moisture upon thawing. Now this inevitably results
in drier cooked meat. But, if the meat's going to be dried out anyway, why freak
out over a few perforated cell walls?
Professional glass breaker.
Do not try this at home.
Now, contemplating knives I like to go with either a chef's knife or a santoku-style knife as opposed to a slicer.
A long blade will probably get too much drag, so I like to work just with the
tip. And just look for the line of the grain and start cutting. Don't worry
about the fact that some of them are going to be a little shorter than others.
In the end, we're looking for pieces that are, well, basically, kind of the size
and shape of a small piece of bacon.
1 1/2 - 2 Pounds Flank Steak
There. Now, we could just take this giant bouquet of flavor and slap it on, I
don't know, a fencepost someplace and dry it. But, if we bring a little marinade
to the party, well, everything will change.
Notice that I said "marinade", instead of "brine". Now a brine is nothing
more than salt water and it's got a good bit of preservative power. But we can
make it an even more potent potion if we add an acidic ingredient. And to me, a
marinade is basically a salty, acidic liquid.
Now we will get our salt and our
acid from two off-the-shelf sauces: namely, two-thirds of a cup of soy sauce,
and two-thirds of a cup of Worcestershire sauce. Now you Worcestershire lovers
might want to know that Worcestershire is based on an ancient Roman sauce called
garum which was made from vinegar, grape must, and fermented fish
2/3 Cup Soy Sauce
2/3 Cup Worcestershire
Now that's a good bit of salt, and we could potentially over-cure this meat
so that it would become brittle when dry. So we're going to add a little bit of a
hygroscopic ingredient—sugar in the form of honey, one tablespoons worth—to
keep it from drying out too much.
1 Tbs. Honey
Additional flavor will come from two teaspoons of black pepper—freshly
ground, please—two teaspoons of onion powder which I like to use in
marinades, one teaspoon of red pepper flake, and last but not least, one
teaspoon of liquid smoke, which is pretty interesting stuff. Matter of fact, I
like making my own.
2 tsp. Freshly Ground Black
2 tsp. Onion Powder
1 tsp. Red Pepper Flakes
1 tsp. Liquid Smoke
The Back Yard
All you have to do is build yourself a still. Break out a grill, a smoker, or
an outdoor fireplace, anything that has a chimney on it, and extend that
chimney with a piece of heat ventilation pipe from the hardware store. That's
going to allow the smoke to cool off so that it will be easier to gather. Now I
just use a little collar of foil at the bottom so that it'll seat and I put
another piece of foil up at the top. And I top that with a bundt pan, perfect
for liquid smoke collection.
Chuck in some burning charcoal and follow that with a couple of handfuls of
well-soaked wood chips. Then, the actual distiller part. You're going to need to
place a bowl that's a little narrower than the bundt pan on top. And you've got
to prop it up for air flow with a couple of pieces of metal, I don't know,
pencils, chopsticks, whatever. Then on top of that bowl place a bag—a zip
top—full of ice. That is going to chill the bowl and that'll force
condensation which will then run down—as you can see here—into the bundt pan for easy gathering. Now this is basically the same way that
whiskey and bourbon are made.
Now about ten minutes later, you can come back, and you will notice that
you've got probably about a tablespoon of liquid smoke accumulated in the bottom
of the pan. Of course, the more wood you burn, the more liquid smoke you'll
Liquid smoke is in. Now, I do all of my marinating, at least all that I can,
in zip top bags because it allows more contact between the marinade and the
food. You just have to make sure that you get as much air out as possible. I
also like it because you can mix like this [squeezes the bag around], which is kind of fun.
In fact, if you've got small kids around the house, excellent job for them.
Now once everything is mixed together, put that back into containment and
stash in the refrigerator for three to six hours. Less than three wouldn't be
enough for the cure to take; more than six, and things will get really, really
salty. Once that's done, it's jerky, right?
Having soaked for six hours, we have drained and pat-dried our jerky. Doesn't
that look good? Mmmmm. [eats a piece] Delicious. A little bit smoky, a little bit
hot, you know, but not too much. Got the Worcestershire and the soy in there. Very very meaty, but you know what? Something seems to be missing in our
texture, because I would say that this is more floppy than jerky. Nope, it
appears that we are going to have to apply some mechanical climatology.
If you've got access to game, venison round makes excellent
GUEST: "W", Equipment Specialist
You know, when people think dehydration they usually picture the desert,
which is why nobody lives out here. [camera pans to a tent, then back to AB]
Let's see if somebody's home.
[knocks] Hello? What's this? It appears that I've stumbled into some kind of
traveling culinary bazaar. And look, there's a deserted desert damsel in
W: [she is in a "I Dream of Jeanie" costume]
Who are you calling damsel?
AB: You're right. Veiled threat would be more appropriate.
W: I certainly hope we are not here just so that you could fulfill
some silly, cheap, pathetic, adolescent Major Nelson fantasy, because I
AB: Ha ha ha. Don't worry, Jeannie ... Uh, W, W, ... um ... Although that
sounds mighty fine, this is all really just a visual metaphor for what I
really need which is a desert in a box, meaning, of course, a food
W: Well I don't have one.
AB: You don't have one.
W: Don't have one.
AB: Go ahead. Do the thing. Come on, do it. You know you want to.
W: [folds her hands and nods her head, food dehydrators appear]
AB: Sweet. Remind me to talk to you about Ferraris later. But in the
meantime, tell me about these dehydrators.
W: Regardless of design, all food dehydrators are basically the same.
The pieces of food are arranged on drawers or stackable stages that
are lined with plastic or silicon mesh. A fan in the back or bottom of
the enclosure circulates hot air through the food, thus drying it out.
AB: Well, that certainly looks like a desert to me.
W: That's the problem. Food dehydrators are like deserts.
AB: And that's a bad thing?
AB: I'm not following you.
W: Why does that not surprise me? All right, look. [opens the flap of
the tent] You stumble around out there for a few days, you're not going
to dry up and die, you're going to cook ... literally.
W: Since dehydrators can't move enough air to quickly dry out the
food, they have to depend on heat, sometimes up to 140 degrees.
AB: Ahhh, but wouldn't that result in the food in question having a
completely different flavor and texture?
AB: Ahh, don't you mean, "Bingo, master"? Heh heh.
W: If you really want to dry something out, you need a totally
AB: Like what?
[shoves AB outside, the landscape is now mountainous, and the
environment is now freezing] Like the very arid, very windy, and very, very, very cold Peruvian
AB: Okay, I get it. Cool, dry air that's really moving is better for
drying things out than the more humid, warm air. Yeah, okay, I got it.
Now how do we get out of here?
W: Who's we, master? [folds her arms, nods her head, and disappears]
AB: Now that worked out well, didn't it?
So, if we want to mummify meat, we will need an arid, relatively cool, and
very windy environment. Can we make that in our kitchen? No problem. Simply lay out your strips of drained and dried meat on top of the ridges of
standard home furnace filters available at your local friendly hardware store
for, I don't know, something like 99 cents. Then break out your – BLOWHARD 4000!
[a box fan descends from above] Thank you, thank you. Now you may remember the
Blowhard 3000 from our herb show. It's an excellent
herb drier. But that was the 3000. This one's better because it's the ... it's the
4000. There. Okay. So, here's how you do it.
AB: [unhooks the box fan, the hook rises] Thank you.
the filters thusly right on top of each other and then top that with one
empty filter. There we go. Then, lay down your Blowhard 4000 and stack thusly.
Then connect the bungee cords so that the hooks are just around the sides of the
fan into the grate. Nice and secure.
Now personally, I don't mind the house smelling like dried meat products.
But if you or anyone in your home does mind that, just plug up your fan and
kind of prop it up in your kitchen window blowing outward so that the smell
goes out to someplace where it will be enjoyed, you know, like dogs, cats, and
other critters and what not. Now the time on this will depend on your fan, on
the density of your filters, and how thin you cut the meat. I usually start
checking on it after about eight hours, but usually my batches take up to
twelve. And don't worry, your patience will be rewarded.
If possible use cellulose rather than fiberglass based
Now, the only downside to this method is that you're not
going to want to use
these furnace filters in your furnace. I probably didn't have to say that. Now I
realize this jerky is not very attractive. But believe me, this is the best
stuff you will ever lock jaws on. As for storage, well, I would avoid zip top
bags. These things have a tendency to hold moist air right up against the
surface of the meat. That'll partially re-hydrate it and it'll be pushing up
mold within a month. If, however, you use something nice and open, with plenty
of room and air in it, well, this stuff will keep for about 40 years.
Egyptian tribes were drying fish & poultry as early as 12,000
Camp Site: Tent
You know, a lot of people think jerky when they go camping. It is, after all,
the ultimate trail food. It doesn't have to be preserved, it's easy to keep, and
it's gosh darn tasty. But did you know that most of the early American traders,
trappers, cowboys, and frontiersmen who lived off of jerky actually used it as
an ingredient in cooked foods, usually a stew, a soup, or even a gravy? Wanna
make some? Okay!
Well, let's say that we had three to four ounces of beef jerky, which I
happen to have, say, I don't know 10 to 12 pieces—a nice big fistful. And cut that up with either a knife, or even better, scissors or shears. And
just snip it into pieces. Smaller is always going to be better, but one inch,
no longer. Now once you've got that cut up, pour over a cup, at least, of hot water, and
let that steep.
3-4 Ounces Jerky
1 Cup Boiling Water
Now while my jerky gently steeps, we will fire up some aromatics. So for
that, crank up faithful camp stove, pop on a medium-size skillet, sauciér, or
saucepan—it doesn't really matter—add one tablespoon of vegetable oil,
thusly, over medium heat mind you, and add to that half a cup each of chopped
onion and chopped green pepper. There we go. And we're going to put just a little
bit of salt to that. Remember, the jerky itself is pretty salty so we just
want to add enough to help bring out some moisture for the sweat. I'm going to stir this every now and then for, I'd say, four to five minutes or until
the aromatics are nice and soft.
1 Tbs. Vegetable Oil
1/2 Cup Chopped Onion +
1/2 Cup Chopped Green
Pinch Of Kosher Salt
Aww, shoot. [messes up his harmonica playing, sits up and smells
the veggies] Ahh. Now at this point in the cooking process you may
start attracting bears or other predators. Everything looks
okay. Time to add some garlic: two cloves either well-smashed or minced. There
we go. Let that cook for another couple of minutes.
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
Okay, time to add the rest of the ingredients. First, the jerky and all of
the soaking water goes in a 14.5-ounce can or carton of chopped tomatoes and a
quarter cup of heavy cream. Yes, even in the wilderness, there is heavy cream.
Just give that a stir and increase the heat so that we can bring that to a
boil. And then we'll reduce it to a simmer. Oh, this would also be a very good
time to add some additional flavorants, and I always travel with a little dried
parsley. Just a teaspoon to two teaspoons will do nicely. There we go.
Jerky & Liquid
14.5 Ounce Can Chopped
1/4 Cup Heavy Cream
1 tsp. Dried Parsley
Mmmm, my, my, my. Would you just look at that meaty lava flow of love. Now
let's contemplate a target food, shall we? Now, pasta would be very nice, as
would be rice or even some Texas toast. But my favorite: biscuits, fresh-baked then split and toasted or broiled.
Y+um. All you have to do is grab
a ladle and you've got yourself a meal to do a cowboy proud.
Well, I hope that we have given you a new respect for a very old food as
well as the confidence to make it yourself. Not only is beef jerky a satisfying,
nutritious snack, it is a flavor-packed ingredient as well that will bring a
whole new dimension to your cooking. All in all, I'd say it's an ancient food
for a new millennium, not to mention, seriously good eats.