We’ve all had beef Jerky as a snack. But what about a snack on the trail? Now, you may be imagining that bag of processed-looking jerky you can find at the gas station. That kind of jerky probably wouldn’t do too much for you on the trail.
But don’t lose hope! There are several beef jerky brands that aim to produce cleaner, healthier jerky to preserve all the great nutrients and protein you should be getting.
That’s right, those are “super food” words I just used. So, if you are getting tired of your usual trail-mix and want to spice it up a bit (literally), beef jerky is just what your hiking trail future needs.
So, is beef jerky good for hiking? Yes, Beef jerky is perfect for hiking. It’s lightweight and packed with protein. The heavy sodium typically found in beef jerky is also actually good for hiking because it helps regulate your body’s hydration. This snack is packed with protein as well. The amount of protein you get from even a small strip is hard to find in any other snack option. Protein is great for your body and gives you an energy boost, while quickly satisfying hunger.
How Long Does Beef Jerky Last?
If you are going with store-bought jerky, the expiration date will be on the bag. While consuming foods past their expiration date should never be recommended, if you wanted to, you can continue eating jerky a couple days past the expiration date. You can easily taste when jerky has gone bad as it will taste obviously rancid.
If you have made your own beef jerky, its rate of preservation can vary. If you dried it out really well and there wasn’t a lot of fat in the meat to begin with, your jerky can be kept at room-temperature/on the trail for up to two weeks.
If there was some fat in the beef, or you decided to leave the jerky a little tender, you can store it in the refrigerator for up to two weeks, or at room-temperature/on the trail for a few days.
Is Beef Jerky a Healthy Snack?
The process beef goes through to become jerky actually increases its benefits. Drying meat requires you to get rid of excess fat, and the water lost in the drying process concentrates the protein to double the amount of protein originally found in the meat.
- What’s in Jerky? Jerky can be made with as little ingredients as just salt and vinegar. But most companies spice it up a little bit to make their jerky tastier than the other guy’s.
Jerky is known for being high in sodium. High sodium in your diet is an issue if you are consuming a lot of foods that are high in sodium. But in moderation, sodium can actually be good for your body.
Sodium is great during and after exercise even! Ever wonder what’s in Gatorade? A surprising amount of sodium.
This is because sodium helps replace electrolytes that are lost by sweating. It also suppresses how much your kidneys try to excrete fluid, slowing the rate of dehydration.
Other spices are often added to beef jerky such as cayenne pepper, soy sauce, other pepper spices, sugar, garlic, onion powder, etc. that would also add naturally occurring sodium and glutamate (I’ll talk more about glutamate and MSG below).
- Added Preservatives – This question can really only be answered on a brand-by-brand basis, though. The more mass-produced beef jerky brands tend to be very high in sodium and include ingredients such as “hydrolyzed corn protein,” (MSG), nitrates, or “yeast extract.”
If you know where to look, you can find jerky that will provide excellent nutrients, protein, and energy while on the trail. Jerky is a great snack to satisfy hunger after or during exercise.
In reality: jerky can be cured with just salt and vinegar. The use of nitrates and other additives that seem unusual is to help preserve the look of the beef for consumers. Many brands get away with saying they are “all natural” while still adding nitrates, by adding something like celery powder that contains nitrates.
- MSG – As far as MSG (monosodium glutamate) goes, glutamate is naturally occurring in many foods… cured meats included. Glutamate is what typically causes the “umami” or savory taste in protein-rich foods. Glutamate in your food will release serotonin, the “happy hormone,” causing your brain to create and establish a desire to eat more of whatever this food is.
Added MSG to processed foods have a bad reputation because food scientists have been adding it to things like Doritos to trick your brain into thinking it’s eating something rich in protein.
There are ingredients that contain glutamate that food processors can use to get around labels like “No MSG Added.” Hydrolyzed vegetable protein, autolyzed yeast, and soy sauce all contain glutamate and are commonly used to add glutamate to products. Further reading: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
All of that being said, glutamate is great when utilized properly… not for something like Doritos. You should not be too worried about naturally occurring glutamate in beef jerky or spices used, since beef jerky actually is a rich source of protein that your brain can learn to enjoy.
Can You Make It Yourself?
Yes! And there are a few different ways to make your own jerky.
Making your own beef jerky is the simplest solution to get the best jerky for you. You will know exactly what is in it, can flavor it to your liking, and it will probably be cheaper in the long run.
While you can make jerky with a food dehydrator or smoker, you can also just use your oven! No fancy equipment needed for this easy snack.
In this article, I will just talk about making beef jerky in the oven, for more ideas check out jerkyholic.com.
The first thing you will have to do no matter how you choose to make your beef jerky is choose your meat.
You want to get the leanest meat you can. Fat cannot stay preserved unless refrigerated (not possible while hiking). While normally, you may look at a piece of steak with marbled fat through it and know that will taste the best – jerky is the opposite. Jerky with fat in it will turn rancid pretty quickly, so instead of saving money by making your own jerky, you will be wasting money.
The best cut choices for beef jerky are top roast, London broil, or rump roast. Flank steak is also a great option, but it is pricey. Since you are dehydrating the beef, it’s just not worth it. A thinly sliced top roast will produce the same amazing flavors!
How To Get Super Thin Slices for Beef Jerky
Another secret to skipping out on expensive equipment! No slicer needed here.
Simple put the beef you will be using in the freezer for 30-45 minutes to flash-freeze it. This is just enough time to make it firm enough to get those perfectly thin slices you want.
Cutting against the grain will create the perfect jerky texture you’re looking for. Cutting 1/8-inch slices will be best. While you don’t need to take a ruler to the beef, you do want them all to be around the same thickness. If they vary widely, they will all take a different amount of time to cook evenly and it will be difficult to keep track of.
Choosing your Marinade
This is entirely up to you. Whatever you like on your beef jerky, pull out all those spices. Soy sauce, vinegar, and Worcestershire sauce are typically used for a base. There are some recipes out there that use things like pineapple juice.
The options are endless, so have fun experimenting!
DIY Oven Jerky
You will need a few things to make beef jerky in the oven: cookie sheet, aluminum foil, and a wire rack you can place on the cookie sheet.
Foil is not necessary, but it will make your life easier when you clean up. The wire rack creates more airflow around the jerky to dry it evenly and lets the juices drip onto the cookie sheet.
Low and slow is the secret to good food, and the same goes for jerky. Turn the oven to 175-degree Fahrenheit and bake them for 3-4 hours. If you have more than one pan of jerky in the oven, the time needed will increase.
It is easy to check the meat while it is cooking, too. When they’ve been in the oven for a while, simply pull one out, let it cool for a second, then try it! If it has a jerky texture, perfect! If it is still quite tender, let it cook for a bit longer.
The drier the jerky becomes, the longer it will stay preserved.
The Best Store-Bought Jerky
Eat This, Not That has sifted through several beef jerky brands and ingredient lists to find the best and worst beef jerkies out there.
They have ranked Brooklyn Biltong’s jerky as the best beef jerky on the market. Biltong’s drying process is just as natural as their ingredient list, and the taste it amazing.
Because Biltong air-dries their jerky for 3-6 days, the meat becomes preserved, but stays very tender compared to jerky that is heated to dry. It has a small and simple ingredient list, which adds to its nutritional value and quality.
Other brands that make clean and healthy beef jerky are Think Jerky, The New Primal, Field Trip, and Nick’s Jerky.
These brands unfortunately can’t be found as easily as Matador, Krave, or Jack Link’s, but they are worth going to that high-end grocery store to find.
While Matador, Krave, and Jack Link’s are not the worst options for beef jerky, they do all have some sort of MSG, nitrates, other preservatives, and a lot of sugar. But if you happen to have forgotten about the jerky for your upcoming backpacking trip, grabbing one of these bags will be great in a pinch.
Up Next In Hiking Food:
Daniell is a certified outdoor climbing guide with professional experience climbing throughout Colorado’s Western Slope region. She is based out of Fort Collins, CO and enjoys trail running, desert climbing and overnight canoe trips.