How To Make Survival Jerky in the Wild

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.

cut piece of jerky

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.

Making Your Own Survival Jerky, Step by Step

It’s easy to make your own survival jerky with the right recipe. I’ll tell you everything you need below.

  • Prep Time: 1 hour
  • Cook Time: 8 to 48 hours – slow smoking jerky in the wild can take a long time!


You need only the most basic kitchen supplies to make jerky properly and safely in the bush. The only thing required that you might not have is a baking rack.

Knife: any good, sharp knife suitable for taking care of splitting and stripping branches and processing larger cuts of meat is just fine for making jerky. What’s important is that you can easily handle it for cutting slices into a consistent and uniform thickness.

Cutting Board: any cutting board works fine here. Plastic, wood, it doesn’t matter. Use a straight, flat plank split from a log if you don’t have one.

Mixing Bowl (optional): a large mixing bowl is handy for tossing your beef in the seasonings. If you don’t have this you can sprinkle on your spices or roll the strips in them while on the cutting board.

Branches: You’ll need a variety of branches to complete this project. Some larger ones, about the diameter of a nickel or quarter, for making the tripod. You’ll need smaller ones that are about the size of a dime (when stripped) to make the rack you’ll hang the beef on.

Firewood: Enough firewood to keep a smoldering, smoky fire burning for at least 2 days, though hopefully it will not take that long. Choose a “fruit” wood to impart a little more flavor to your jerky- apple, cherry and mesquite all work great.

Cordage: Some heat-proof natural or man-made twine to hold your smoker and rack together. Consider soaking in water ahead of time to help keep it from igniting- that could be disastrous!


Beef: you’ll need beef, of course. Good options include flank steak but it tends to be a little bit spendy. You can still get excellent jerky and save some money by using rump roast or top roast. Ideally, get the leanest cut that you can find and this is a situation where you want minimal marbling for safety and effective drying.

Remember that the drying process will break down much of the fat and sinew found in cheap cuts of meat, so there’s 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. Get at least three pounds for a decent batch of jerky.

Onion Powder: plain beef jerky is very bland. Some seasonings will make all the difference. Start with 1/2 teaspoon to 1 whole teaspoon of onion powder depending on your preference.

Garlic Powder: garlic is another mainstay jerky flavor, and you should include anywhere from ½ teaspoon to 1 level teaspoon in your spice blend.

Salt: salt will help dry out your jerky and add some much-needed flavor. Use about 1 tablespoon of fine salt, or a bit more if it is coarse.

Pepper: you can’t have jerky without pepper. I like to use freshly ground black and white pepper, but you can use any sort of pepper you want to change the flavor and the heat profile. Add anywhere from 1 to 2 teaspoons.

Other Herbs and Spices (optional): jerky is a great place to experiment with different herbs, spices and other seasonings. For this recipe, you can try whatever you want that goes good with beef at your discretion, but generally you should add no more than a tablespoon of all herbs and spices combined aside from the ones listed above.

Building the Smoker

If you want to prepare beef jerky properly in the wild, you’ll need a smoker to do that. And don’t worry, we’re not getting into some intricate wood shop design either.

A bushcraft smoker basically consists of a tripod made from three sturdy branches and a grill rack that you’ll make from small saplings or smaller, stripped branches that are lashed together and then attached to the main tripod at the appropriate height. Then the whole thing is covered with green pine boughs, thatching, to help trap the smoke.

DIY meat smoker
a functioning meat smoker made from basic materials in the wild

The most important thing with constructing your smoker is that the beef jerky needs to be high enough above the fire that it isn’t properly cooking, but that the smoke isn’t cooling down too much, meaning it will not dry out the beef as effectively. It is sort of a balance between positioning the beef and tending to the fire.

It sounds like a lot going on, but it’s really not: If you know how to pitch an improvised tent or set up a tripod to hold a pan, pot, or kettle over a campfire you are most of the way there already.

But, a step-by-step guide on how to assemble that smoker would make this article very long indeed. Nonetheless, I’ve got you covered as we’ve written about it before. Go here, get familiar with building the smoker, and then come right back for the procedures.


Step 1: Build the smoker. Assemble the smoker and the drying rack according to what you learned in the article linked above.

Step 2: Get the fire going. Get your firewood burning now so it will burn down and be at a suitably low temperature when you finish prepping the beef.

Step 3: slice beef. 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 and is essential for good, safe results when making jerky in the wild. If you can, Pop the beef into the freezer for 30 minutes to an hour depending on the thicknesschill the beef-. Tthis will make it much easier to slice into uniform pieces..

Make sure your knife is sharp enough for the job after building your smoker.

Step 4: Season. Once it is all cut thin, mix your seasonings in the mixing bowl and place the beef strips in also, tossing to coat. Let the beef rest for at least 30 minutes while the fire dies down a bit.

Step 3: Check temperature of fire. 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. I do suggest you dry the beef it a bit on the longer side to make sure it lasts in the wild.

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.

Step 5: Load meat on racks. Lay all the meat out on the racks, drooping down between them in an upside-down U-shape. With the meat cut thin it will take up a great deal of surface area, so expect to make your jerky in batches or use multiple smokers at once.

Step 6: Close up smoker. Place and adjust your pine boughs to trap smoke around the beef strips. To trap even more smoke near your meat you can wrap a blanket, tarp, or emergency blanket around the boughs.

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.

Step 7: Wait. Allow the jerky to sit in the smoker for at least 8 hours before checking the meat. There is no set time as to how long this process will take. Because of the fluctuation of the temperature from the fire and overall lack of consistency, making jerky in the wild will take longer as a rule.

Also, wild-sourced meat is more likely to have diseases and parasites so it is very important that the process is done correctly. Typically the process will take somewhere between 24 and 48 hours, so be prepared for a long process.

Step 8: Manage fire. The entire time, you must take pains to keep the fire consistent while avoiding hot spots and flare-ups that can cook the jerky.

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’s 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.

Step 9: Test jerky for doneness. 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 snap like a twig or come completely apart.

Step 10: Jerky is done! Your jerky is finished when it passes the test above. 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 and less glossy verses being nice flat sheets.

Step 11: Cool and store. Let your jerky cool for several hours. Once it is completely cool, store it in an airtight container such as a zipper bag or an airtight plastic container. Your finished product should last a couple of months if protected from moisture.

If you have more beef to process, keep the fire going and keep on smoking. It is easy to keep jerky smoking once you know what to expect from your fire and how long it takes to finish. You can work on other chores and tasks between periods of tending to your firewood.

4 thoughts on “How To Make Survival Jerky in the Wild”

  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.

  2. Florence Nygaard

    This is extremely valuable information. I made jerky with both beef and skinless boneless chicken thighs, using an inexpensive dehydrator I bought at Walmart.. Both are delicious and were easy to do. The most important thing is a sharp fileting knife to make the thin slices. I plan to do more and the article is correct, it is hard not to eat it all right away like potato chips!

  3. Great information. I’ve been making my own jerky for many years. I cut the thin strips of meat and then marinade it in a mixture of tariaki or soy sauce and some garlic that has been through a garlic press. I dry it with a food dehydrator for 24 hours or more.

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