Monday, August 24, 2015

Beef Jerky

I'm going to be talking westerns around here for the next couple weeks. Why? Because release day for "A Home for His Family" is only a week away!

Since I'm knee hip neck deep in Amish history and life as I work furiously to meet my September 1 deadline, I'm glad for a refreshing look at COWBOYS!

And what isn't there to like about cowboys?

Open country, horses, saddle leather, boots, hats...but what makes a real cowboy?

Here's how my heroine, Sarah MacFarland, describes a cowboy she's just met:

"Mr. Cooper’s voice was gentle, his manner courtly. He smiled as he spoke, his eyes sharp and surrounded by fine lines, as if he spent his days gazing across the prairie in the bright sunlight."

There's just something about a real cowboy. Something that makes him look natural wearing a Stetson at Sam's Club. It's the soft wear on his boots. The slim, slightly bowed legs. The lean lines of a body that can only come from hours spent in the saddle.


A sense that he sprang out of the prairie grass fully formed and ready to face a blizzard to save a fall calf.

The epitome of the American West.

But as much as we love cowboy lore and the romance of the western life, what makes it even better is that I know people who are really like that. 

My cowboy characters are based on real people just as much as my Amish ones are. After all, reality is so much more interesting than mythology, isn't it?

But enough waxing eloquently on one of my favorite subjects, let's get to the food!

I thought I'd share a quintessential western food - beef jerky. This has been made as long as people have been eating meat. Before freezers and refrigerators, the only way to preserve meat was to smoke it or dry it. Jerking the meat is a way to dry it with seasoning.

We love this beef jerky so much that we never buy the commercial stuff anymore...

Beef Jerky

There really isn't a recipe for this. You need meat. I use a cut called "London Broil" in some places, but you can use any lean cut of beef or chicken.

I also use this commercial seasoning kit. It comes with both the cure and the spices, so you're all set. Why mess with perfection?

And you need a bowl to mix it in (glass or stainless steel), and a glass casserole dish for the middle step.

One of these is also handy:

If you don't have a dehydrator, your oven will work well. Just set it at the lowest temperature it will go - somewhere around 170°.

First, slice the meat into 1/4" slices.

Don't worry about uneven edges or scraps, Wynter and Thatcher will take care of those for you!

Put the sliced meat in a bowl.

Four pounds of meat is all I have room for in my dehydrator, so I just keep slicing until I think it's about there. In the picture above, I'm about half-way done.

But be sure to weigh the meat after slicing it. You want to use the right amount of cure and seasoning.

I mix the cure and seasoning together in a small bowl, then sprinkle it over the meat about 1/3 at a time.

This is a dry rub process. Some people use a wet cure - basically the spices and cure are mixed with water and the meat is soaked in the marinade for 24 hours.

With the dry rub, just mix until all the slices are coated with the spice/cure mixture, Then place the slices in a glass dish.

This part is important! You want the spice/cure mixture to touch every piece of meat, so lay them out in the dish, one layer at a time, until they're all out flat. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 24 hours.

Be sure to wear your cowboy boots while you're waiting!

The next day, take all those spicy pieces of meat and lay them out on your dehydrator trays or baking sheets, if you're using your oven.

Go ahead and crowd them together, but not overlapping. The meat will shrink some during the drying process.

It takes about six hours in our semi-arid climate to dry the meat. You want it to be slightly pliable and chewy. If you let it dry too long, it turns crispy. Still tasty, but not as satisfying.

Once the jerky is dried and cooled, go ahead and enjoy it! We keep ours in the freezer for two reasons: First, just in case I misjudged something, the freezer keeps the jerky from spoiling. Second (and most important) it keeps the tasty treat out of sight.

It is so easy to take "just one more piece" when you're feeling munchy!

I'll leave you with one last look at cowboy country, this time near the Big Horn Mountains. Ah, that view makes me homesick for Wyoming!

So here's the question for today: What is your favorite part of the Cowboy culture? Don't be shy - tell us what you really think!


  1. Well, I can't say it's the beef industry. LOL Though I totally understand that cowboys aren't dairy farmers! Oy -- such a conundrum for this cowboy loving vegetarian.

    I guess I just think about down home goodness when I think cowboy. Probably grossly stereotyping. But I think neighbourliness, honest, hardworking. And I think there has to be a certain amount of humility that comes from living with the whims of nature. You really have to roll with the punches when Mother Nature is in charge. And the idea of pulling together as a family to make a ranch work really appeals. Kids learning the value of an honest work ethic.

    Oh -- and thanks for the gratuitous puppy pic. I have been wondering how Wynter and Thatcher have been doing. :-)

    1. The thing about stereotypes - at least the good ones - is that they're usually based on some fact. But your list - neighborliness, honest, hardworking, humble, family working together - is generally true of the ranch families I know. (Farm families, too!). Some people don't fit the stereotype, of course, but around here, the families have worked together for generations. Your neighbor might live twenty miles away, but he's still your neighbor and you know you can count on him.

      And you're welcome! I realized I hadn't included the dogs for quite a while - but they're still around. And this time of year, it's usually the fluffs of fur that announce their presence!

      Wynter is beginning to show her age, though. She's eleven - almost twelve - and we can tell. Just a bit less flesh on her bones, and her feet are beginning to get that old dog spread. So long treks aren't really her style anymore. We still do our mile every day, but she's ready to be home at the end.

      But she's still an excited pup when we get the leashes out!

    2. When the time comes you can get Wynter one of those doggie strollers that are all the rage now. Met a big bruiser of a guy who was getting razzed about pushing his pooch in one. So funny. Shaved head, tattoos galore. A marshmallow when it comes to his dog though. He lives in an apartment and Harley is getting on in years and was done in by the time they made it to the park so his papa got him a stroller so he can ride in style while saving his paws for the cushy grass in the park. LOL

    3. LOL! I can just see the look Wynter would give me if I tried that!

  2. When I think of cowboys I think of wide open spaces. The West. I love anything to do with outdoors. But the real life of a cowboy isn't that romantic really. Its a lot of hard work. Go cowboys.

    And yes, that jerky looks absolutely yummy. Sorry Kav, but jerky is one of my favorite snacks.

    1. Agree on the hard work, Sandra. :) It's sun up to sun down... and lots in between.

  3. Replies
    1. You're right about a cowboy's life being full of hard work, and in all kinds of weather. A breezy, sunny summer morning is one thing, but calving season or an unexpected storm can be brutal.

      PS - I love my boots, too. :)

  4. Jan, I love making beef jerky and I love, love, love cowboy boots. I don't have a dehydrator, though, so we have to make our jerky in the oven. Either way, I love it.

    You know, it always cracks me up how popular cowboys are in romance novels. Because in reality, most women might think twice before snuggling up to one. They're sweaty, smelly and covered in who-knows-what. However, they're also some of the hardest working, loyal and courageous men you'll ever meet, and I think that's what endears them to us. They can be tough enough to stare down a bull, yet tender enough to rescue an abandoned calf and nurse it back to health. Of course, the boots, hats and Wranglers don't hurt either. ;)

    1. BTW, congrats on the new release. Love the cover.

    2. You've got that cowboy hero down to a T! It sounds like you're speaking from personal experience. :)

      And isn't homemade jerky the best?

  5. How fun! I've never tried making it but this makes it look do-able!

    I think my favorite thing about cowboys I've read about is their toughness.

    1. They are tough, aren't they? But you should see one of my favorite cowboys when he sings "Amazing Grace." That tough guy just melts. Makes me get all teary-eyed just thinking about it.

      And this is definitely do-able. More people need to know this secret.

      Besides, homemade beef jerky is a low carb, high protein snack. What can be better?

  6. The boots! Definitely the boots. I love boots.

    I had no idea how jerky was made, Jan. This was very cool to read.

    1. Thanks, Cate! I didn't go into how jerky was made back in the old days. We won't go there. We'll just suffice to say it involved sun and air. And everything else.

      I love modern methods most of the time!

  7. I have to try this. I don't have a dehydrator, but Dave would love making his own jerky and being That Guy.... Or being married to That Girl!!!!

    Cowboy stuff, oh gosh, since I'm writing cowboy westerns, I have to say it's cowboy culture and etiquette with women and elders... and the hats... and Chaps.... and boots.... and nice jeans... Did I mention Chaps????

    1. You can do it in the oven, easy-peasy! Dave will love it. :)

      Isn't it fun to write about cowboys? I wrote "A Home for His Family" just because I wanted to research and write about Black Hills history, but now I'm hooked. I'm not sure when another one will come, since I'm not a speed demon writer like you, but it's simmering on the back of the stove!


  8. Happy new release!!! Love that cover!!!!

    LOL. Cowboys. I live in cowboy country. Every man I know wears a cowboy hat. Except my husband. Maybe that's why I love him?
    I think of spitting chew, dirty boots, riding their horses through the coffee drive through, bull castration, cows on the loose, the smell of manure, chucking hay bales (glad I'm too old to help out with that now), breaking the ice off the cow's muzzle in the winter ...

    KIDDING. Okay, thinking... this is like asking me what springs to mind when I hear "children". I just think of my own. And so, trying not to think of all my cowboy friends and relatives.

    Trying to get a generalized impression... and PEOPLE keep popping into my head. lol. It's hard to generalize something that is just a reality.

    Now, beef jerky I can generalize!! Chewy, salty, spicy, snack, traveling.

    My neighbor gives us deer jerky every year and it's DELICIOUS.
    Now I have my own recipe! Thanks, Jan and can't wait to read your new release!!!