Jerky is meat that has been seasoned and dried to a chewy consistency, and venison is deer. Venison jerky, then, is dried deer meat. It is available in commercially packaged portions or can be made at home in an oven or food dehydrator.
Jerky has long been a food staple for native peoples who inhabit land where wild game is plentiful. The drying process can be achieved without use of electricity, and the resulting product is protein and nutrient rich. Dried meat is lightweight, making it easily portable, and it lasts for a long time without refrigeration, making it valuable during winter months when hunting is difficult or impossible.
Native peoples in different parts of the world used whatever animals were available to make jerky. In North America, the ample deer population made venison jerky a critical foodstuff, along with dried buffalo meat, sometimes called pemmican. The meat would be seasoned in crocks and then dried in the sun or over a fire.
The portable and nutritious nature of venison jerky makes it a popular snack for hunters and hikers. It is also an easy way for deer hunters to use small cuts of meat that might otherwise go to waste. Those who object to hunting wild game might prefer chicken or beef jerky, but venison proponents point out that wild game may be healthier to consume because it has not been raised on treated feed and has not been injected with growth hormones. Deer meat is also lower in fat than beef.
To make venison jerky, any visible fat is removed and the meat is cut into thin slices, about 0.25 inches thick (0.6 cm). For best results, meat should be cut along the grain when possible. Any cut of meat can be used as long as it has not been ground. Organ meats, however, should not be used for jerky.
The sliced meat should be marinated in spices and liquids of the cook's choice for no less than two hours and no more than 24 hours, making sure the meat is completely covered. The longer the meat marinates, the stronger the flavoring will be. Numerous recipes are available online and in cookbooks. Popular marinade ingredients include garlic cloves, salt, onions, soy sauce, and Worcestershire sauce. Meat also should remain refrigerated while marinating.
At the end of the specified time, the cook can remove the meat and place it in a single layer on lightly sprayed cookie sheets. The meat is then baked in a low-temperature oven for several hours until it reaches the proper consistency. A cook may also opt to use a food dehydrator instead. Regardless of the baking method, the result will be homemade venison jerky that can last for up to two months when stored in an airtight container.