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What is Jerky?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Jerky is meat which has been preserved through curing and then drying to remove any moisture which could facilitate rotting. Many cultures all over the world have developed some method of preserving heat through drying, since drying meat is easy, and it requires no heat or fancy equipment. The name “jerky” is taken from the Quechua Indian language of Latin America, as is the basic preparation technique, but similar dried meats can be found throughout the world.

Any sort of meat can be turned into jerky, although many people associate it particularly with beef. Many hunters make venison or rabbit jerky, and fisherman may make jerky with their catch as well. To make jerky, the meat is cut into long strips and rubbed with salt and spices or cured in a brine solution. After the meat has been cured, it is hung in a windy, dry area with reasonably high ambient temperatures so that the meat slowly dries out. Although jerky is not cooked, it is safe to eat because harmful organisms are removed from the jerky during the curing and drying process.

The process of making jerky is sometimes called jerking. Meat which has been prepared in this way is said to have been “jerked.” Jerked meat was popular with many European explorers, especially sailors, since it is extremely flavorful and it is not subject to rot. When well prepared, jerky could endure long trips, unlike the poorly cured meats which were previously used. These meats could turn rotten and moldy by the end of the trip, which would have been unappealing, to say the least.

The dehydration process causes jerky to shrink radically as it dries. In the end, jerky is about five time smaller than the fresh meat used to make it. The dehydrated meat is also extremely flavorful, since the flavors are concentrated in the small amount of meat which remains. Numerous mixtures can be used to flavor jerky during the curing process, making the meat sweet, spicy, and everything in between. Amateur cooks should be careful when they jerk meat, since temperature and air flow do need to be controlled while the meat dries.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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