10 Tips for the Home Jerky Maker – Lawless Jerky
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10 Tips for the Home Jerky Maker

Matt Tolnick Lawless Jerly Head Jerky Chef
Matt Tolnick, Lawless Jerky Founder and Head Jerky Chef, here.
This week on the blog I wanted to pass along some of my learnings from a decade of jerky-making to hobbyists who do, or would like to try making their own.

1. Choice of Meat: One of the great things about home dehydrating is that you can use any meat that you want. So if you're looking to try an exotic meat (e.g. duck, goat, elk, venison, etc.) or just a different cut of a more common protein (e.g. beef brisket, chicken thighs), the world is your oyster!

2. Slicing the Meat: If (like most people) you don't have a meat slicer, you can get a thinner slice on your meat (and thus more surface area to marinade, and a quicker cook) by slicing the meat while it is still partially frozen.

3. Making a Marinade: In my early days, I'd start with a base marinade or sauce and then supplement it with salts, sugars, spices, and other sauces/vinegars. Once you're comfortable with building a nice jerky marinade from a base sauce/marinade, you can move towards building your marinade completely from scratch.

4. Calibrating your Marinade: Make your marinade stronger (more intense) than you would for grilled meats. The marinade's intensity will dissipate some during the drying process.

5. Marination: Marinate the jerky at least overnight, ensuring that the marinade is evenly distributed over each piece. If marinating in plasticware, shake the mixture rigorously during the marination process to simulate the tumblers that we use at our facility.

6. Rotating Trays During the Cook: No matter the style of your home dehydrator, there are probably multiple trays. When full, the top trays (if you're using a Nesco dehydrator for example) or the back of EACH tray (if you're using an Excalibur or Weston) should be rotated during the cook process to ensure an even cook. With a Nesco, swap your bottom two trays with your top two trays halfway into your cook and as needed throughout to control the consistent drying of your jerky. For "heat-element-in-the-back" units, simply rotate each tray in its slot 180 degrees, or two turns.

7. When to Pull the Jerky: Just like other cooked meats, deciding when the jerky is "done" is a matter of taste. To experiment with different levels of doneness, you can either cook meat sliced into different thicknesses for the same amount of time or cook meat of a uniform thickness for different amounts of time. Remember that the jerky will continue to cook and harden once it's pulled from the dehydrator, so account for that extra hardening when deciding when to pull it!

Matt sharing his all natural grass-fed jerky and wisdom with the world

8. Bagging the Jerky: Make sure to let the jerky fully cool before bagging so that evaporated moisture (an enemy of jerky preservation) doesn't accumulate inside of your bag/container.

9. Cleaning Up: Whether dehydrating in a dehydrator or a home oven, if you're using a wet marinade, make sure to line the bottom of your unit with towels/paper towels to catch the drip of the marinade and to make for easy cleaning. Cleaning a Nesco is pretty easy but a stainless steel Weston definitely benefits from a bottom catch layer, or drip tray.

10. Jerky Shelf Life: One of the nice things about home jerky is that you can get a level of freshness that is impossible for commercial jerky to achieve. Like eating fresh cookies out of the oven! Also, as a home jerky maker, you aren't constrained (by law) by the moisture content of the final product, so you can have a moister jerky product than you could ever find in stores.

Good luck to all. Leave a comment below if you have more advice to add to the list.


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  • Matt Tolnick; Lawless Jerky Founder, CEO + Jerky Chef on

    RACHEL: With respect to the duration of “cooking” the jerky, the short answer is: until it’s done. Like cooking a steak, that is really up to your personal preference. Typically, jerky of the thickness you’ve specified should be done within 4-7 hours depending on temperature and how close it is to the heating element. Quite a few variables at play. It took a bit of trial and error before I got it right.

    Even some bought jerky appears different from other store bought jerky. I wouldn’t be concerned that it doesn’t look like what you would buy at a store, if you like what you’re getting from your process.

    Leaving in empty racks during your cook should not be of much consequence, but I would recommend rotating racks during the process for a more even front-to-back cook.

    Hope that helps a little.

  • Rachel on

    My boyfriend and I have a commerical dehydrator (WINSTON) and we’ve been starting with small batches, 4lbs at 1/4 inch thick using a wet marinade. How long do you recommend us cooking it? We read nurmerous articles that said 4 hours but last night it took about 7 hrs but somehow doesnt look like your normal jerky that you would buy in the store. Does home made jerky appear differently than your tradditional jerky you buy in stores? Also, if we don’t fill it up completely should we take racks out that we are not using? Thanks!

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