By Scott Leysath
Long before refrigeration, there was jerky. For thousands of years, humans have been preserving meat by drying it in the sun or by using other sources of heat. Early American settlers learned that practically any kind of well-trimmed meat could be transformed into jerky. Meat strips were cured with salt and then dried by hanging them over the sides of covered wagons or slowly smoking them over a smoldering campfire. Along the way, the pioneers discovered how to add more flavor to the meat, and I’ll bet they also learned a thing or two about food safety.
I must admit to a number of failed attempts at making jerky. My initial motivation was financial. As a college student who spent almost as much time in the field as in the classroom, I quickly discovered that store-bought jerky was expensive. I reasoned that I could save hundreds of dollars a year by making my own jerky and that all the money I saved could be better spent on something useful—like beer. From these first attempts, I learned that you can’t rush jerky. If you can dry the meat at 160 degrees, the process will not go twice as fast at 320 degrees. Oh sure, you can eat it, but it’s not jerky. A few decades later, I’m still tweaking recipes and methods to produce tasty jerky that will have my friends asking for more in the goose pit.
Making your own jerky from game meat not only saves money but also frees up space in your freezer, since packaged jerky takes up less room than unprocessed game meat. Most jerky recipes can be used for any type of antlered game or waterfowl, but you do need to take extra time to completely trim all silver skin, gristle, and fat from the meat. Silver skin or gristle left on the meat will be tough and chewy, and fat may become rancid.
Any waterfowl can be made into jerky, but the process is an especially good way to handle large, adult geese, which can be tough when roasted or grilled. Once the jerky strips have been processed, I like to put them into vacuum-sealed packages and store them in the freezer until it’s time to pack my blind bag.
Spicy Goose Jerky
Preparation Time: 20 minutes
Curing Time: 12-24 hours
Drying Time: 10 hours
Makes about 1 pound of jerky
4 pounds (about 2 quarts) skinless goose breast fillets, trimmed of all gristle, fat, and
3 tablespoons coarse salt
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup water
3/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons garlic powder
2 tablespoons chili powder
3 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper
2 tablespoons red pepper flakes
1. Cut the meat into 1/4-inch-thick strips. For chewier jerky, cut with the grain of the meat. For tender jerky, slice across the grain. For even more tender jerky, lightly pound the meat with a mallet.
2. Combine the remaining ingredients in a bowl and stir well to blend. Add the meat strips, cover, and refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours. Remove the meat from the marinade and dry on racks (baking racks work well) in the refrigerator for an hour. Place the strips in a 175-degree oven or smoker for an hour or until the internal temperature of the meat reaches 160 degrees. Lower the temperature of the oven or smoker to 140 degrees, and if you are using a standard kitchen oven, crack the door open about an inch to allow moisture to escape. A foil ball works well as an oven door stop. If using a smoker, open all the vents. After five hours, flip the meat strips over and heat or smoke them for another five hours or until they are thoroughly dry.
3. Package the jerky strips in vacuum-sealed zip-lock bags and freeze for up to a year.
Keep it Safe
An important consideration when making jerky is to remove any bacteria and germ-laden moisture from the meat. If you do not eliminate the liquid, it will invite harmful bacteria and germs that will promote spoilage and, worse, an attack on your digestive system. There have been several cases of food-borne illness that can be traced back to poorly prepared jerky. No need to be worried, just careful. Wash your hands thoroughly before and during preparation of the jerky. Use a solution of one gallon of water mixed with one tablespoon of bleach to wipe down food preparation areas, knives, and other utensils. Most importantly, heat the meat to 160 degrees in an oven, grill, or smoker before dehydrating.