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Jerky is one of those snacks that’s pretty darn good in just about any situation.
Whether you’re hiking, camping, or just got through playing sports and need a little boost of energy, beef jerky is one of the tastiest ways to do it.
Of course, you can buy store bought jerky – but it’s pretty expensive and where’s the fun in that?
Making beef jerky at home is a great activity to bring a group of friends or family together. The big question is though – what kind of jerky are you going to make? The right cut of meat could be the difference between something that’s pretty good and legendary jerky.
You can make jerky from a lot of different beef cuts and other meats too! If you aren’t sure which ones to try out first, we’ve created a guide here for all of the best cuts of meat for jerky. We’ll go over lots of types of the best meats for jerky too! Read on if you want to hear about all of the delicious options that are out there.
Meat and Jerky – Overview
There are a lot of different cuts that you could use to make your jerky – but what makes some of them better than others?
At the end of the day, the answer boils down to fat content. You want to work with the cuts of meat that have the least amount of fat content possible.
If you’re grilling or smoking, fat is generally a great thing which adds flavor and moisture to your food. For jerky though, it’s a different story.
When it’s in jerky, fat will make it spoil way quicker compared to a leaner cut. On top of that, fat just doesn’t really fit into the texture that we’re going for when we make jerky.
We’ve listed out a few great leaner cuts of beef that are perfect for making jerky right here. All of these meats are pretty cheap and will make your homemade snack delicious!
Best Cuts of Beef for Jerky
Beef is the most popular type of meat for jerky, by a pretty wide margin. In fact, we’ve done a deeper dive than this into the best cuts of beef for jerky that you should check out next. That resource has even more beef jerky ideas!
The round steak is cut from the rear leg section of a cow, and is one of the most popular and best cuts of beef for jerky. The round is divided into a few different cuts, with the top round being one of them.
Top round is great for jerky because it’s tender while also lean and extremely low in fat content. It’s also packed with flavor, and receptive to seasoning and smoke if you choose to make your jerky on a smoker.
Plus compared to lots of beef cuts, top round is very affordable and one of the best prices on a cost per pound basis.
One of the other cuts that comes from the round section of a steer is the bottom round. It’s cut very close to where the top round comes from so they’re fairly similar – but with a couple of distinct differences.
Namely, bottom round is going to be more tough and less tender than the top round. It’s incredibly lean and has a great beefy flavor. A little bit of interior marbling is possible with a bottom round cut.
Just like the top round, this cut of beef is very affordable and won’t cost you very much per pound.
Sirloin tip is a little less commonly used than the round steak cuts but still makes a great choice and is one of the best cuts of beef for jerky.
It’s a little bit more expensive than top or bottom round, but you’re rewarded with a super tender, perfectly lean cut that makes some tasty jerky. A lot of beefiness comes through in the flavor of your jerky, and it’s receptive to seasonings and many different jerky recipes.
Flank Steak is a personal favorite of mine, and it’s a versatile cut that is delicious even when prepared in extremely different ways. I use it most for fajitas and beef jerky – that should tell you something!
Flank steak is a cut from the lower chest area of a steer, and may come with a little bit of interior marbling. It also might come with a little fat that needs to be trimmed before you start your jerky making process.
There is one very important thing to keep in mind when using flank steak for beef jerky. You have to make sure you cut your slices against the grain. Your snack will just be flat out more enjoyable if you cut against the grain. If you don’t, I can guarantee your results will be extremely tough.
Best Game and Exotics Cuts for Jerky
Wild boar meat jerky is a great choice, albeit a little harder to get ahold of than some of the other cuts on this list.
Boar is known for it’s naturally sweet and nutty flavor, which is a nice change of pace from your more common cuts of beef for jerky.
If you’ve never had buffalo before, jerky is a great way to try it for the first time. Buffalo is actually one of the healthiest cuts of meat for jerky. It’s very high in protein but low in cholesterol and fat.
Buffalo is also super receptive to smokey flavors – and it will interact well with even the strongest woods for smoking like hickory or mesquite.
Elk roast is one of the more common cuts of wild game meat that you’d be able to find at a butcher or supermarket. It makes a great choice for jerky due to its lean and tender properties – you’ll also find very little marbling inside, if any.
The great thing about elk too is that it doesn’t give off a strong gamey flavor. The gamey flavor is so mild, in fact, that a lot of people wouldn’t even know it was elk if you didn’t tell them the difference.
Venison (or deer meat) is by far one of the most popular and best cuts of meat for jerky. It’s because venison is typically that perfect blend of tender and lean with minimal to no interior marbling, which is ideal for making jerky.
It’s also pretty widely available, especially if you’re a hunter! One of the best ways to get the most out of your hunt is to preserve a big portion of your deer’s meat as jerky.
Tibetan Yak is an all time great when it comes to the best cuts of meat for jerky. Even compared to buffalo, it’s one of the healthiest – if not the healthiest cuts you could use. It’s incredibly delicious too.
All of that is thanks to the fact that Yak is lower in calories and higher in protein than cuts from pretty much any other animal – including chicken!
So if you’re looking for a healthy, low-fat, and high-protein exotic jerky – give Yak a try!
Best Cuts of Pork for Jerky
Pork tenderloin is a fattier cut than most, if not all of the cuts of meat for jerky on this list. You can definitely get away with it though, you just might need to trim a little bit before you start.
The great thing about pork tenderloin is that it works extremely well with sweet and/or spicy jerky recipes. So if you’re the adventurous type or know you love your jerky sweet and spicy, give pork tenderloin a try. It’s also one of the most inexpensive cuts on this list!
Ok, so I didn’t even know this was a thing until not that long ago. Bacon is an all time favorite food of mine (and many others), and as it turns out – it’s a pretty good candidate for jerky.
Bacon has a relatively high fat content but it actually makes some incredibly delicious bacon jerky. Similar to tenderloin, there’s an endless world of possibilities when it comes to seasoning and flavoring your bacon jerky.
You can go the sweet and spicy route. The leathery pepper route is spectacular too. Bacon jerky is super easy to make at home too!
How to Make Jerky at Home
To make jerky at home, you’ll need some equipment. Most notably, you’ll need a food dehydrator to make your jerky at home. Food dehydrators are a little bit pricey, but are essential for good homemade jerky. They also have some other practical applications so they’re nice to have around.
If you enjoy smokey flavor, it’s also ideal to have a smoker to cook and flavor your jerky low and slow. A smoker isn’t 100% necessary – it’s just the best way to add smokey flavor to your jerky. Some recipes might also call for you to use your oven.
Last but not least, it’s handy to have a food vacuum sealer machine on hand. This way you can make your jerky in big batches and air seal to preserve it for later.
Of course, you could store your jerky in zip loc bags or other simple food containers. Jerky will typically last for 2-4 weeks like this, depending on which cut of meat you used.
Best Cuts of Meat for Jerky – Final Thoughts
All of this jerky talk has me pretty excited for the next time I get to make some at home. Whether you choose beef, game, or pork, the best cut of meat for jerky is ultimately up to you. Figure out which flavors you like and fine tune your recipe. Choosing the best grilling accessories will also help make it fun to dehydrate.
This list is a great place to start if you’ve never made jerky before! Try out one of our suggestions and find a simple recipe if you’re new to jerky at home.
Which ones did you end up trying? Let us know about it in the comments section below!