The process of preparing meat to make jerky is a long one. And it starts with the right cut of meat.
However, the best cut of meat to make jerky may not be the best cut to throw on the grill and enjoy over a candlelight dinner. This is because the juicy steak that melts in your mouth has different characteristics than what makes the best chewy, dried beef jerky.
For instance, beef jerky is made from quality strips of cow meat. The favorite cuts of meat for beef jerky include:
- Top round
- Bottom round
However, flank and skirt steak are also popular options that result in great-tasting beef jerky. The secret is choosing cuts of meat that are lean and flavorful.
The Criteria to Judge Cuts of Meat for Beef Jerky
It’s safe to say that not all cuts of meat are created equal. It takes one trip to a meat market or steak restaurant to see the vast difference in price from one cut to another.
However, what might surprise amateur jerky makers is that the most expensive beef doesn’t necessarily make the best beef jerky.
A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is the fresher the meat, the better the jerky. It’s in your best interest to carefully inspect any beef you choose before purchasing. And avoid beef that shows:
- Dark spots
If you need help choosing the right beef for your homemade jerky, ask the butcher behind the counter for help. A good relationship with a quality butcher can make your jerky-making days much more enjoyable by saving you time. Plus, they can help you learn the difference between the different cuts.
Once you understand what to look for, you can take advantage of weekly specials at your local butcher or grocery store. Furthermore, keep in mind that beef will lose a good amount of its original weight through the dehydration process. When choosing meat, remember that three pounds of fresh beef will result in one pound of beef jerky.
Jerky makers should pay close attention to the fat content of their cuts of meat.
The fat cannot be fully dehydrated, which is why leaner cuts are more popular for making jerky. Furthermore, high fat content correlates to a shorter shelf life, as the beef jerky will spoil sooner.
[Related: Is Beef Jerky Healthy?]
Intramuscular Versus Intermuscular Fats
The location of the meat typically determines the fat and protein content. Since the best beef jerky with the longest shelf life is lean, lean, lean — understanding the different areas of fat in or around the muscle is important.
The marbling that runs between muscle fibers is known as the intramuscular fat. Using cuts with this type of fat provides for an easier jerky-making process. Plus, you can look forward to juicy, tender jerky full of flavor.
On the other hand, intermuscular fat is located around the protein.
When choosing meat, look for cuts with the least intermuscular fat possible. This type of fat needs to be removed before you start making jerky.
So, needless to say, the less of it you have on your hands, the easier it will be to make your very own homemade jerky.
If making the best jerky in town has you searching for the most expensive cuts of meat, you’re obviously new to the jerky game.
It’s much more important to choose fresh quality beef over fancy cuts. Save the best stuff for your grill and choose less expensive meats for your jerky.
[Related: Why Is Beef Jerky So Expensive?]
What Is the Best Cut of Meat for Beef Jerky?
Now that you have a better understanding of what to avoid, let’s look at the different cuts of meat.
While you learn more about the process, it’s not a bad idea to experiment with different cuts of beef to see for yourself how tender, juicy, and flavorful each batch of jerky turns out. Before long, you’ll be leading the neighborhood at make-your-own jerky night!
By far the most popular cut of meat used by major jerky manufacturers, the top round is both lean and affordable. However, it does not provide the tastiest or most flavorful jerky.
Also called: inside round steak or London broil.
Similar to the top round, but even less tender, is the bottom round cut. This cut is from the same area as the top round.
Also called: button round over roast or round roast.
Even less tender, but by far more flavorful, is the sirloin tip and its middle-of-the-line cost. This cut of meat is not as popular as top or bottom round but still makes for some great beef jerky.
Also called: knuckle or round tip.
This cut of meat comes from the outside of the ribs and comes at a higher price than other options. You can expect lifter meat to have medium marbling due to the fat content. However, this leads to more tender jerky with a better flavor.
Also called: blade meat or cap and wedge meat.
Eye of Round
Another cut coming from the round primal area is the eye of round.
Cut from the elongated muscles in the center of the cow, this meat is more tender and slightly more flavorful than the other round primal meats. However, the eye of round is also more expensive.
With this slightly fatty meat, you can expect to see a good amount of marbling. This is a great option for first-time jerky DIYers as it is a less expensive option. Furthermore, the cut is very tender but won’t be as flavorful as the other more expensive cuts of meat.
Also called: special trim.
Cut from the flank primal, flank steak is lean with long grains. The low fat content results in less marbling and less tenderness. However, this cut packs much more flavor and is on the higher end price-wise.
Also called: beef flank or plank steak.
[Related: How Long Does Beef Jerky Last?]
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