Why Is Beef Jerky So Expensive?

This content contains affiliate links.  If you make a purchase after clicking a link on this page, we might receive a commission at no cost to you.

There’s nothing like getting ready to watch the big game. That moment when everything is prepared and it’s about to begin makes you feel like you, and your favorite team could take on the world and win.

You’ve got your soda, you’ve got your beer, you’ve got your pizza and you’ve got your beef jerky. Except, you wish you had more jerky because nothing lights up your taste buds in quite the same way that the dried, delicately prepared sumptuous beef treat does.

And you would have got more, if you’re anything like us you probably would have filled your shopping cart until it overflowed with jerky, but if you did, you’d have had to take out a second or even third mortgage on your home to be able to afford it.

It’s one of life’s unfortunate tragedies. Elvis was taken before his time, the Athletics haven’t won a World Series for thirty years and beef jerky is one of the tastiest and least affordable treats known to humanity.

But why is jerky so expensive? Why do you have to empty your pocketbook and go searching behind the sofa for change every single time you want to reward yourself with something special?

Well, believe it or not, there are a few very good reasons why beef jerky drains your pocketbook, and if you’ll bear with us for a couple of minutes, we’ll tell you all about them.

Jerky Costs And Beef Is Where You Start Paying

Beef isn’t exactly what you’d call cheap, and to make great jerky, you need good beef. And like all jerky connoisseurs, you’ll always want that packet to read made with one hundred percent American beef, and for that label to appear on the packet it pushes the price of the jerky up.

You’ll need to keep your guard up too, because “Manufactured In The USA” does not mean that the beef that was used to make the jerky was sourced in America.

Sourced and manufactured are two entirely different things that a good marketing department can use to slip cheaper, imported beef under your jerky radar.

And then there’s the fat content. Most of the beef that you’ll buy from the store, and even the expensive steaks that you order when you take your partner out for the evening, they’re high in fat, as it adds to the flavor of the meat and makes it taste sublime.

However, even though it’s mouth-wateringly good and just the thought of it makes you salivate, fat is the nemesis of good jerky. Jerky made with beef that’s rich in fat can go off pretty quickly, and no one wants to open a packet of jerky that’s sailed past its eat by date.

That’s why almost all jerky is made from beef that has a fat content that’s somewhere between three and five percent. Any more fat than that and the jerky won’t be any good.

But the lower the fat content of the beef is, the more expensive it is, so before the latest batch of jerky has even become a thought in the manufacturer’s mind, the beef that’s used to make it has already cost them a pretty penny or two.

The Other Ingredients

Then there are the costs of the other ingredients that are used to make the jerky. The spices, the rubs, the mixed marinades, and the secret recipes that are used to transform ordinary beef into something truly spectacular.

Every stage of the production process costs money, and those costs are always, without fail, passed on to the consumer. That’s just the price of capitalism and the cost of great jerky.

The Human Touch

Despite what you might have assumed, the jerky that reaches you at snack time before the big game isn’t made entirely by machine.

In fact, most jerky producers shun the use of machinery as much as they can and only use an automated meat slicer to cut the beef into strips before each of those strips is lovingly laid out on a steel smoking tray by the delicate hands of dedicated jerky devotees.

Labor is cost-intensive, but there’s no way to avoid the human touch if you want to make great jerky, and there’s no jerky maker that doesn’t want to make their product great. And the costs of that labor? You guessed, it they’re passed directly on you, the consumer.

Cooking Up The Cost

It might sound a little crazy, but jerky is expensive to prepare. Most beef products cook for sixty to ninety minutes, but each batch of jerky takes around six hours to cook. That’s a lot of gas and power, and those costs have to go somewhere – even for the most efficient jerky dehydrators. Then there’s the other unfortunate side effect of jerky taking six hours to cook.

Because each batch takes so long to make, the manufacturer can’t make as much of it as they’d like to, which means that they have to charge more for their product. Which makes jerky an expensive delicacy.

More Beef, Less Jerky

Then there’s the final nail in the cost coffin of jerky, the dehydration process that it undergoes while cooking. Beef is composed of seventy-five percent water, so when all that water is taken out of it, the amount of jerky that you get from the beef that’s been cooked to perfection is surprisingly small.

For every ten pounds of beef that goes into the smokers, two and a half pounds of jerky comes out. And when you consider how much the beef originally cost, that means that the jerky maker isn’t getting a lot of jerky bang for their beef buck.

It is, truth be told, a reassuringly expensive way to create a delicious meat snack, but it’s worth every moment it takes to cook and every cent that you end up paying for it.

The Final Jerky Word

That’s it, that’s why your jerky is eye wateringly expensive and why you nearly faint at the checkout every time the cashier rings it up. But as we’ve yet to find a better way than jerky (apart from really good steak) to enjoy beef, it’s a price that we’re willing to pay.