Some experts on preserving foods stress safety and recommend that all dried meats such as beef jerky be precooked to a safe internal temperature before drying. This safety step results in a product with a different color and texture than traditionally dried meat, and is unacceptable to some people.
Precooking meats to a minimum temperature of 160°F before drying ensures that you kill any harmful bacteria that may be present in the meat. The good news is, precooking shortens the drying time and tenderizes the meat.
How can you decide if you should heed or ignore the recommendation?
When to use a precooking step when making beef jerky or other dried meats
The following considerations can help you decide whether to use a precooking step when making jerky and other dried meats or fish.
- High-risk individuals susceptible to food poisoning are strongly advised to consume only dried meat that has been prepared using a precooking step. People at risk for food poisoning include persons with weakened immune systems, persons with certain diseases such as cancer and diabetes, pregnant women and their unborn children, and older adults.
- Aged meats are preferred by connoisseurs for cooking and eating. However, aged meats naturally contain higher levels of bacteria.
- Ground meat jerkies inherently contain higher bacterial counts than whole cuts, and therefore justify a precooking step.
- Wild game meat that is not sound is not a good choice for making jerky. An animal that has a wounded intestinal tract, is not well-chilled immediately after slaughter, or receives careless field dressing should be preserved by some other method such as freezing, and used for dishes that are thoroughly cooked, such as stews or soups.
- Game meats that contain certain parasites. Meats such as bear, boar, cougar, fox, dog, wolf, horse, seal, and walrus may contain different species of Trichinella and tapeworm that are not killed by freezing. These meats are also best suited for thoroughly cooked dishes, such as stews or soups.
- Drying temperatures below 160°F, especially if the dried meat is being prepared as a snack food that will be consumed without another safety step, such as the use of high salt, nitrites, or pasteurization.
If you decide to precook meat before drying, use the following steps as a guide.
Steps to precook meat before making jerky
When precooking meat, it’s best to use a moist heat method to prevent case-hardening. Meat becomes case-hardened when the surface dries prematurely and traps moisture inside, making it difficult to dry the interior meat thoroughly.
- Prepare a cooking liquid, which can be plain water or a marinade. If using a marinade, complete the marinating step before precooking.
- In a saucepan, bring the meat strips and cooking liquid to a boil, and boil 5 minutes.
- Heat meat strips to an internal temperature of 160°F. Check the temperature of several pieces by wrapping a strip around a thermometer.
- Remove strips from the cooking liquid and drain. Immediately dry precooked meat using your preferred method (such as an oven, dehydrator, or smoker).
For more information about making fish or meat jerky and other food preservation methods and recipes, get the book The Home Preserving Bible by Carole Cancler, available from booksellers everywhere.