What Is Beef Jerky? All Your Questions Answered
Beef jerky as a commercial product is a well-known snack in the USA, but many of us are still left wondering what this amazing snack is all about. As a protein-packed snack with next to no carbohydrates, beef jerky is ideal for just about every occasion, whether it’s as a post-workout snack, road trip snack, or as something to satiate late-night cravings.
But this doesn't mean that all kinds of beef jerky are the same... First, let’s look at what beef jerky is, and then we’ll dive deep into more details about its history, manufacturing process, nutritional information, and more.
What Is Beef Jerky?
Jerky refers to any type of meat that has been cut into strips, cured and dried—typically using a salt solution. Meat that’s been treated this way has a unique flavor profile and a longer shelf life. Beef jerky in particular refers to dehydrating and curing beef strips so that the moisture content is removed, reducing weight and preventing spoilage.
Is Beef Jerky Raw?
Beef jerky isn’t raw. Although it isn’t cooked in the traditional sense, many properties are the equivalent of cooked meat. The meat is dried and cured in a dehydrator at a low temperature for several hours. The process not only “cooks” the meat, but also kills all the bacteria it might contain, making it absolutely safe for consumption.
This makes the meat ready to eat and shelf-stable. The fact that the moisture content is so low means that most types of beef jerky don’t even need to be refrigerated!
Where Does Beef Jerky Come From?
Very briefly, beef jerky is an all-American snack discovered by the Spanish conquistadors while exploring territory in the 1500s. The manufacturing process that allows to dehydrate and cure the beef strips was first discovered in South America from the Quechua people, but was also widely used in North America at the time of discovery. The true origins of beef jerky aren't clear since there are no written papers documenting its development.
How Is Beef Jerky Made? What's the Process?
How beef jerky is made impacts the nutritional value of the product, so it’s important to understand what processes it goes through.
Manufacturers use any cut of beef to prepare this snack, but rump is usually a favorite. This is then sliced into thin strips and seasoned either before or after marinating with both dry and/or liquid seasonings. Common seasoning flavors include pepper, hickory-smoked, barbeque, and teriyaki. We at Liberty Cattle prefer the standard variety.
Jerky is then smoked for around 5-7 hours, which cures the meat (but isn't enough on its own to fully protect the meat from spoilage). This process removes more than half of the moisture content, reducing a typical 2.5lb rump of beef down to just 1lb.
The smoke from the wood infuses the beef with flavor.
It is then cut to size, weighed, and packaged. After periodic quality checks during the process, it’s then ready to be opened and—finally—eaten! Commercial beef jerky is always processed to the highest standards and the best processing parameters.
Appearance-wise, beef jerky is typically brown in color and rough in texture. Compared to other unprocessed meats, it’s tougher, and it's packed with more flavor.
Is Beef Jerky Healthy?
One of the most important questions. The short answer is yes, but only if you opt for the right kind of beef jerky. It’s impossible to add a blanket label of “healthy” on all types of beef jerky because of the huge variance in the way different companies manufacture them.
Beef jerky comes in all kinds of flavors and variants—some of which are healthier than others. In general terms, beef jerky is healthy because of its manufacturing process and added nutrients such as protein, sodium, good fats and energy.
With lots of protein, fewer fats and next to no carbs, all of these properties add considerably to the health benefits of beef jerky. But when harmful ingredients like MSG, additives, and preservatives are added to the mix, things can get complicated.
Beef Jerky Nutritional Information
Beef jerky is a nutrient-packed food source. This makes it an excellent choice for when you get food cravings at odd hours in the day and night or just want a delicious pick-me-up energy boost. Here’s a rundown of the main nutrients typically found in beef jerky:
As the main component of cells and other bodily structures and functions, proteins are essential for maintaining your health. The average male requires approximately 56 grams of protein daily, while the average woman requires 46 grams.
Protein is good for your bones, gives you a boost of energy, increases metabolism, accelerates the burning of fats, lowers blood pressure, increases muscle mass, reduces hunger and appetite, and helps the body recover and repair after injuries.
Beef jerky is packed with protein. This is because, during the curing process, it’s dehydrated almost completely. This way, the protein in the meat becomes really concentrated, so that you’re left with a power-punch of energy and strength.
Not all types of protein are the same or equally beneficial for the body. Higher quality meat is easily digested and is more beneficial. For this, opt for meat sourced from grass-fed or organically fed animals like the meats we use in our processes.
Our cattle have a unique inherited gene that results in greater muscle fibers and good fats, which means you get lean beef with even more protein and an amazing taste! Learn more about Liberty Cattle's American Belgian Blue cattle.
2. Good Fats
Fats play an important role in our bodily functions, for example for storing energy or cushioning the cell walls to lower the risk of damage. A lot of the fat found in beef is eliminated during the curing process, but good fats are usually added to help give you a boost of energy and help you maintain healthy levels of fats in your diet.
During the curing and drying process, a generous amount of salt is often used. This means that beef jerky usually has lots of sodium in it. Look out for the type of salt used in curing beef jerky to make sure that you’re maximizing the benefits and minimizing the potential side effects. Don't overdo it with the salt!
4. Few Carbs
A meal with a large number of carbohydrates can lead to a spike in your insulin levels. This can increase your blood sugar levels and leave you feeling tired. A diet comprising of fewer carbs can help you maintain higher energy levels. And since beef jerky has very low carb content, it's a great weight-loss promoting snack.
5. Other Nutrients
Beef jerky also contains a healthy concentration of iron and zinc, which are responsible for the production of blood cells and supporting your immune system.
What Is the Shelf Life of Beef Jerky?
Most types of beef jerky come with a shelf life of approximately 12-14 months from the date of production. Depending upon the moisture content of the particular kind of beef jerky you have (homemade or commercial), it may or may not expire faster after opening the package.
Can Beef Jerky Help You Lose Weight?
The number one rule when it comes to losing weight or increasing muscle mass is to amp up your protein intake. This is why protein shakes and protein bars are all the rage in the fitness world. And since beef jerky is packed with protein, it’s definitely a good option to snack on if you’re looking to shed a few pounds, as well as gain some extra muscle.
On top of this, beef jerky has a high iron content, which helps to maintain energy levels high. This helps you exercise better and ultimately lose weight. And finally, because beef jerky is easy to carry around and eat “on the go,” it makes it easier than ever for you to keep your hunger in check without making poor food choices.
Since beef jerky has next to no carbohydrates and only has a limited concentration of saturated fats, it’s a great choice for you to snack on even when following a strict diet.
Fats get a bad reputation and are usually the first thing people cut out of their diet when they’re looking to lose weight. But when taken in moderation, good fats aren’t necessarily a bad thing. They are actually an important component of a balanced diet. As long as you can limit your intake of saturated fats, you should be fine.
Of all the macronutrients, carbohydrates are the only ones that are not essential to body function. This is good news because—unlike fats—cutting carbs from your diet can considerably assist you in your weight loss and healthy eating efforts, and all that without compromising on any important nutrient for your body.
What To Look For in a Good Jerky
It is no surprise that preservatives can be quite harmful to you regardless of what food products they’re in. So, it is always a good idea to steer away from any of these, and beef jerky in particular if it contains an overbearing amount of preservatives. But what if there are no preservatives, won’t the piece of beef go bad after a while?
Not really. When it comes to beef jerky, the manufacturing process is what matters most. And since the pieces of meat go through so many stages, layers of preservation are added each time. Look at the nutritional content table at the back of the packet. You should aim to maximize the protein and minimize the carbs, with maybe a little bit of fat added in.
Proteins are good for you because they give you energy, they keep your body functioning properly, and they help you build muscle mass. Average beef jerky can pack approximately 10 grams of protein. Of course, this number can vary from brand to brand.
Many foods—especially snacks—are also laden with monosodium glutamate (MSG). This is because MSG targets the part of our brain that releases the feel-good hormones.
So, when these hormones are released in response to what you’re eating, you will naturally want more of it. MSG, per se, isn’t a deal-breaker, but the real problem occurs when the MSG is coupled with other additives such as nitrates and nitrites.
The quality of the beef used to prepare beef jerky is—of course—a very big factor to be taken into consideration. To avoid additives or any unhealthy components, it is better to look for organic or grass-fed beef which is exactly the way we grow our cattle.
Too Much of a Good Thing?
Despite the fact that beef jerky is packed with healthy nutrients, it doesn’t mean that you can survive on this alone. Eating excessive amounts of even the healthiest beef jerky is not a great idea. Instead of bingeing on the protein, supplement your diet with vegetables, fruits, and other food sources to ensure that you are maintaining it well-balanced.
Eating too much beef jerky can adversely affect your health in several ways. For example, the fat content in commercial beef jerky can not only lead to weight gain but also to high cholesterol levels in the body which can, in turn, increase the risk of heart diseases.
Additionally, high levels of salt and sodium in beef jerky can lead to high blood pressure. And finally, since beef jerky is high in protein and proteins help curb your hunger and appetite, eating too much beef jerky can affect your intake of other nutrients. This can lead to various deficiencies in the body. So, beef jerky is amazing, but don't eat too much of it...
... and if you do, make sure it's from Liberty Cattle! We treat and process our beef jerky with extreme care, starting from the way we raise our cattle and up to important details such as the smoking process. Check out our flavorful, full-muscle jerky; available at any time time of the year from your friends over at Liberty Cattle.