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How to Make Jerky for Your Stockpile

When you decide what types of food to keep stocked for bug-in or bug-out situations, there are dozens of good choices. Canned goods are great for bug-in situations, but nobody wants to carry all that weight in their pack if they are on the move. Another option would be MREs (meals ready to eat). These are nice to have because they give you some variety in your diet, but they can take up a lot of space in a pack and add a good amount of weight. The cost can add up quickly as well.

Meal replacement tablets do a fine job of providing all the nutrients you need to survive, but they do not taste all that great and can be expensive as well. Dried staples such as rice and beans are an excellent food source. Rice provides lots of carbohydrates for energy and beans give you some carbs but also a good amount of natural protein. However, both have to be cooked and it is often best if you soak them overnight.

I have found that the best type of food to take with you in your pack or to keep on hand in your home is jerky. This food weighs almost nothing and takes up very little space. It provides a huge amount of protein, gives you some of the oils and fats you need for energy, and tastes great as well. It does not need to be cooked once it has been prepared, so you have a handy snack on the go. It also will last a very long time as the meat has been preserved through the drying process.

When in the wild for a bug-out situation, you should have no problem finding carbohydrates and vitamins. If you have done your training and know your wild edibles then you will find a wide variety of edible plants, nuts, and berries to provide the nutrients. However, the one piece of your diet that is the most difficult to fulfill is animal protein. This provides you with the energy you need to keep moving and allows you to maintain muscle mass over a long period of time.

Sure you can hunt, but that can be very time consuming and burns lots of calories. There is also no guarantee that you will come out of your hunt with meat. You would either have to carry a heavy weapon with you or take the time and energy to build one in the wild. You can set a series of snares or deadfall traps, but most of these need bait to catch an animal. This is generally food that you could keep for yourself. It is also hard to set a trap line when you are on the move as it can sometimes take several days to have any success.

Fishing is an option to get some animal protein, but again there are drawbacks to this strategy. If you carry a rod and reel with you it will be awkward and make it difficult to traverse thick brush. There are mini and folding versions of fishing rods, but they take up a good amount of space in your pack. You could build a fish trap, set a trot line, or set up a gill net but these are again hard to execute when you are on the move. It can take quite a while before you actually catch anything.

All of these are potential sources of animal protein. However, none of them are guaranteed. The only way to be sure you will have the nutrients you need is to bring them along with you. Jerky is a great solution. You can also bring a variety of types so you do not get sick of the same flavor. You can make jerky out of beef, pork, venison, fish, and even fruit. Almost any game animal that you find in the wild can be made into jerky. Whether you are bringing it in your pack or making jerky to preserve a recent kill in the wild, this food is your solution for many problems.

The only issue is that jerky is very expensive. Just a small package can easily cost you almost $10. In addition, store bought jerky is often laced with all kinds of artificial preservatives. I personally try to avoid these chemicals if at all possible. Plus wouldn’t you rather just make it yourself? This drying process is time consuming, but with the right technique you can save a great deal of money. You can also finish the process with a product that is far better than what you buy in the store.

Here’s How to Do It…

I want to start by walking you through how to make simple beef jerky in your home. First, buy the cheapest cuts of unground beef you can find. Remember that the drying process will break down much of the fat and sinew found in cheap cuts of meat, so there is nothing wrong with saving some money. Let the meat sit out for about an hour to get it to room temperature before working with it.

Next you want to cut all the meat super thin. I suggest getting it as thin as you possibly can, but definitely less than ¼ inch thick. This will help it to dry out faster. Make sure you have a sharp knife that is large enough for the job. Once it is all cut thin, preheat your oven to 175 degrees F. Then salt and spice your meat however you like. Both salt and spices help draw moisture out of the meat and also add flavor. Remember that make jerky is a drying process, not a cooking process. Do not let your oven get above 175 degrees even if you are in a hurry to finish.

Understand that this is a preservation technique. Bacteria requires moisture to form in meat. By drying it out you prevent that bacteria from growing and avoid getting sick from the meat. If you cook the meat and then try to dry it you give the bacteria time to form. In addition, drying the meat prevents insects from laying eggs just below the surface. Without the drying process your meat would be riddled with maggots after only an hour or two of exposure in the wild.

Lay all the meat out on sheet trays, preferably up off the metal. If you have a grate or rack that you can use to elevate the meat, then that is your best bet. Elevating the meat allows air and heat to flow all around it which causes a more even drying. I suggest raising the racks of your oven up as high as they will go to keep the meat away from the hot coil. With the meat cut thin it will take up a great deal of surface area, so you may have to make your jerky in batches.

Allow the jerky to sit in the oven for at least six hours before opening it to check the meat. There is no set time as to how long this process will take. Typically it is somewhere between 8 and 12 hours. To see if the jerky is done, first squeeze a piece between your thumb and finger. If it squishes like the interior is still a bit soft, then it is not done. Also if any juices run out when you squeeze it, then the jerky needs more time. If you are still unsure, bend a piece in half. If the jerky is done it will start to crack at the bend, but it will not come completely apart.

Be aware that homemade jerky looks nothing like what you buy in the store. It will probably be a darker color, and it will probably be more shriveled up verses being nice flat sheets. Let your jerky cool at room temperature for several hours. Once it is completely cool, store your jerky in an airtight container such as a zipper bag or a Tupperware container. Your finished product should last months if not longer, but it tastes good enough that it will take some restraint not to eat it all right away.

Here is a video on how it is done.  You can do a marinade if you like, and this recipe shows you how.  I do suggest you dry it a bit longer to make sure it lasts in the wild.

Making jerky in the wild is a bit more difficult. Your biggest challenge is controlling the temperature at the cooking height. As long as you keep the temperature between 100 degrees and 175 degrees you should be fine. To test the temperature place your hand over the fire at cooking height with the palm side down. Count off the seconds you can hold it there. If you have to move your hand before getting to about seven then your fire is too hot. You can remove a log or raise up your cooking height.

As you add wood to your fire, be aware of what that does to the temperature. Normally you will get a spike in temperature as you add wood. What I like to do when I add a log is wait until it is lit and then move it off to the side so it is not touching the other logs. Then when it has burned down some I can move it back with the others. Do your hand temperature check frequently to make sure it does not get too hot.

Either before or after starting your fire, you need to build a tripod over the top. It will likely need to be at least five feet tall, but the more meat you need to dry the taller the tripod needs to be. Use green poles so they will not catch fire at the base. Prepare your meat just like the above example. Once you have determined your cooking height you can either build a rack inside the tripod or you can string up the meat. To string it up you would need to run a thin piece of cordage through the middle of the pieces of meat. Then tie it to the tripod at both ends of the string so the strand is parallel to the ground.

If you are going to have multiple racks or strands at different elevations, then your dry time will likely vary. The ones on the bottom will be done the soonest and the ones at the top will take the longest. As a batch is finished, move the next one down to its level to finish the drying faster. In the wild the smoke from your fire will also help preserve the meat. To trap the smoke near your meat you can wrap a blanket, tarp, or emergency blanket around the tripod. This will also trap more heat, so make sure you do your hand check again. Be careful not to let the corners of your blanket or tarp get too close to the fire.

Because of the fluctuation of the temperature from the fire, making jerky in the wild will take longer. Also, animals in the wild are more likely to have diseases and parasites so it is very important that the process is done correctly. You can use exactly the same process in your home or in the wild to make jerky out of fish or fruit. The drying time will vary based on the product you are drying, so give yourself plenty of time. Now that you have the perfect survival food prepared, you are ready to bug-out or bug-in with a full belly.

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About Ryan Dotson

Ryan Dotson

My name is Ryan Dotson and I am a survivalist, prepper, writer, and photographer. I grew up in the Ozark Mountains and in the foothills of the Pocono Mountains. My interest in survival started when I was in Boy Scouts and continued as my father, uncle, and grandfather taught me to hunt and fish. In the last few years I have started taking on survival challenges and have started writing about my experiences. I currently live in Mid-Missouri with my wife Lauren and three year old son Andrew.

One comment

  1. Ryan,
    Good article. An alternative method of preparing jerky is the use of a barbeque grill, of course. I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on the use of various marinades. I know they add great flavor and make the jerky easier to chew, but I don’t know how they affect the long term storage life.

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