The meat sweats are real. I know this after spending my summer on an unplanned quest to eat as much beef jerky as I could get my carnivorous hands on. It started with a hiking trip with my friend Eric, who ordered the protein-packed, lightweight snack in bulk from Amazon before our departure. It continued with a trip to Smorgasburg in Brooklyn, where I acquired some Kings County Jerky. (The best $10.99 I spent all summer!) The quest continued with me eating jerky every chance I got and culminated in an attempt at eating “paleo,” which I thought I’d use as an excuse to eat as much of the snack as I wanted. (Needless to say, even with jerky as an incentive, the paleo phase only lasted a few days. Turns out actual paleo observers can sniff out a fake.)
After a few weeks of spending more money than I care to admit on this snack, I decided to make my own jerky. And what I discovered is that beef jerky, like other dried, salted meat, is deceptively easy. The ingredients are common, the actual work involved is minimal, and the payoff is great—you get more bang for your buck and your friends are impressed! When I asked my roommates to act as unofficial tasters, they couldn’t believe the snack was homemade and not store-bought. With the sweet, meaty flavor and chewy texture at my fingertips whenever I want, it looks like the quest will continue far beyond summer.
Homemade Beef Jerky
Makes about 40 pieces
You can find Sichuan peppercorns at most Whole Foods Markets and Asian grocery stores.
1 pound flank steak
¼ cup soy sauce
½ teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
¼ teaspoon ground Sichuan peppercorns
2 teaspoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons honey
1. Unwrap flank steak, pat dry with paper towels, place on dinner plate and put plate in freezer until firm but not fully frozen, about 45 minutes. Meanwhile, mix remaining ingredients in small bowl.
2. When steak is firm, remove from freezer and slice against the grain into ¼-inch strips. (You may cut the whole piece in half with the grain if it makes it easier to slice in strips, but this will result in shorter strips.) Transfer to large zipper-lock bag. Pour soy sauce and spice mixture into bag. Remove air from bag, close and move around until meat is fully coated. Refrigerate for three to 24 hours.
3. Preheat oven to 225 degrees and place oven racks on upper middle and lower middle positions. Place wire racks on two baking sheets. Spray racks with cooking spray. Remove meat from refrigerator and spread slices on paper towels. Pat dry. Place meat in one layer on wire racks and one tray on each oven rack. Prop oven door open with wooden spoon and cook until dry and starting to shrivel, between 1½ and 2½ hours, depending on the thickness of your slices. Flip over and inspect second side. If not dry, cook for another 45 minutes to 1 hour. Eat immediately or store in cool place in airtight container.