Best Meat for Beef Jerky | Guide to Choosing a Cut

November 25, 2022

For me, the best cuts of meat for beef jerky making are the top round, bottom round, and eye of round steaks. Jerky is best done with a lean cut of meat with less marbling and absolutely no fat cap. 

That’s exactly what your jerky meat should look like. In recent years, I’ve spent hundreds of hours making jerky in my dehydrator and oven at my home kitchen. I always use some variation each time, depending on the meat used and the type of jerky I want. Today, I’ll show you the overall best beef jerky meat and various cuts of meat that go perfectly for homemade jerky. 

Best meat for beef jerky

What’s the Best Meat for Beef Jerky?

The best cuts of meat for beef jerky are the top round and bottom round roasts. The blade lifter, pectoral meat, and other variety of beef cuts like the flank and skirt steak are also great for jerky. 

When making your own beef jerky, fancy cuts of beef like filet mignon should be reserved for other purposes. The problem is that filet mignon is high in fat, and you need very little of it. 

Basically, what you’re looking for is meat that’s inexpensive, flavorful, and lean with little or no intramuscular fat. Next, I’ll make a brief overview of all the types of meat for making jerky. 

The Different Types of Meat Ideal for Beef Jerky

Although I say “different types of meat,” I mean the different parts of a cow you can use when making beef jerky. So, what cuts of beef should you use?

1. Top Round or Bottom Round Roast

A bottom round cut of meat is actually the outer muscle of the upper hind leg (the top round also comes from this area). However, they are not the most tender parts. A bottom-round oven roast makes a good meat jerky. 

Raw Top Round Beef Meat

2. Eye of Round Steak 

The eye of round steak is found in the round primal area. This cut of meat is an oval muscle located in the trunk. Eye of round is one of the best known and the most typical meat for making jerky. It’s a classic and still the best option!

Eye of Round Steak with spices and rosemary

3. London Broil

London broil is typically a top round or flank steak that has been marinated and broiled. But it’s perhaps not as tender as the eye of round

Sliced Flank Steak

4. Sirloin Tip

The sirloin tip is considered the most tender cut of meat of all those ideal for making jerky. If tender jerky is exactly what you are looking for, this is the best selection for you.

Sirloin Tip Tender Cut Meat

5. Flank Steak

The flank steak is a tough kind of meat, so once you turn it into jerky, it’s a little harder than the rest. If you decide to go for this meat, it will probably be much tougher in your jaw. However, it adds so much more to your cooking experience. You have to use a tenderizer in the marinade or beat it with a mallet

Slices of Flank Steak

6. Ground Meat

Do you have a gum or tooth disease and dread chewing meat? Not even the most tender. You don’t have to restrict yourself to fish diets. 

Ground beef jerky is easier to chew and is the best option for people who can’t chew a lot. But ground beef is a really different experience than eating whole meat. 

However, a jerky gun will be a great investment for minced meat. It turns ground beef into flat strips of delicious snacks. 

Raw Beef Ground Meat

What Exactly Is Beef Jerky?

Beef Jerky is THE protein snack par excellence. Beef refers to the meat from the cow carcass used to create these nutritious snacks. 

Jerky, on the other hand, is the American term for seasoned or cured raw meat. Jerky not only refers to the type of meat (seasoned and raw) but also describes the processing. 

Beef jerky are small, thin, fine strips of beef meat cured and dried in the sun or a machine. However, it only becomes a delicious, tasty protein snack through air drying and dehydration. 

The air drying and dehydration also make the beef snack particularly durable.

The classic beef jerky is therefore marinated, often salted dried beef cut into thin strips or pieces. 

Beef jerky can be eaten straight from the bag as a snack without further preparation. Travelers and hikers, in particular, as well as athletes, use the protein-rich snack as food and provisions for the journey.

If the jerky comes from other regions, such as Africa, it is called biltong and is made from game meat including deer meat. It gives the power snack a different basic taste. 

Concerning the nutritional values, ​​​​the biltong has similar values ​​to the classic jerky made from beef.

The jerky becomes particularly multifaceted when it comes to the marinade. Personal preference decides whether you prefer the natural, unseasoned jerky or the particularly hot chili spice one.

If the dried strips of beef are dried on wood, the wood aroma gives the power snack a special taste. Other drying methods also affect the aroma. With air drying, for example, the aroma is very intense but mild, while cold drying produces ‘harder’ flavors.

Different Kinds Of Jerky Steak

One kind of jerky just isn’t enough in a world where everyone is constantly craving something different or new.

If you want to produce delicious beef jerky at home, perhaps you should broaden your perspective and consider the various options you have outside the normal type.

1. Traditional Jerky Steak

You can’t dismiss this one! Just look for a lean cut of meat, such as a round roast. You don’t need a lot of spices but salt. 

It’s still a hot kind of jerky by the way. You should go for this if it’s your first time jerking meat.

Beef Jerky On Wooden Board

2. Peppered Beef Jerky

Pepper is a classic preservative if you’ve been watching your grandmother. So it’s a mainstay on jerky like the Texas pepper beef jerky

The traditional peppery flavor of beef jerky, along with the delicious salinity of conventional beef jerky, is one of my favorites. Her spicy ecstasy!

Dried Peppered Beef Jerky

3. Teriyaki Jerky Steak

The teriyaki jerky steak gives you the rich flavor of Japan at the tip of your tongue. This is not the same kind of taste you’ve always known.

This can be for hot food lovers who adore a fiery puffy sensation in their throat and tongue.

Spicy Beef Jerky

4. Jerky BBQ Steak

In my opinion, the taste of barbecue is among the best in the meat world. And yes, you can make BBQ-style beef jerky on your gas grill. 

I know we like to taste meat with its juicy tenderness, but smoked beef jerky is just as delicious. However, it’s not succulent but moist. 

Pile of BBQ Beef Jerky

5. Honey-Glazed Beef Jerky

You can also taste the sweetness of honey infused in unsalted beef jerky. This way, you’ll enjoy the feeling of the juices flooding your mouth. Absolutely exquisite!

Delicious Honey-Glazed Beef Jerky

6. Hawaiian Beef Jerky

Unlike the pineapples in your own pizza, Hawaiian beef jerky (pipikuala) won’t let you down with its delicious Hawaiian taste. 

Hawaiian Beef Jerky

7. Lemon-Peppered Jerky Beef

You can barely taste the sourness of lemon juice. Rather, the familiar flavor of lemons is mixed with all the pepper, blending the two flavors.

Pepper Base Beef Jerky

Making Homemade Beef Jerky

Only fresh, raw beef is used to produce the delicious power snack. The pieces of meat must be freed from tendons and fat. Then cut the beef into wafer-thin pieces or strips. 

Marinating in salt follows. Different marinades are now used for this purpose. These are either strong spice sauces or just salt and a selection of different spices, such as coriander or chili. 

There is no uniform mixture of spices and marinades. The classics on the market are called ‘jerk spice,’ ‘jerk seasoning,’ or ‘jerking spice.’

You can make a quick marinade by combining brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, smoked paprika, black pepper, onion powder, tenderizer, red pepper flakes, and garlic powder. Simply whisk them and let the sugar dissolve. Meanwhile, some only like to use Worcestershire and soy sauce with paprika. The choice is yours!

Prepared and marinated in this way, it is now time to roast the wafer-thin strips and pieces of meat. To do this, they are laid out on a grate and gently baked at 120 degrees Fahrenheit for up to five hours.

What to Watch Out For When Making Jerky?

Beef jerky is not just beef jerky… and it’s not just about the potentially different marinade. It should taste good. 

What distinguishes a great beef jerky protein snack from the one you should rather stay away from? 

I have compiled some things to consider when out at the local grocery store or local butcher for jerky beef, when making jerky at home, and enjoying the protein snack.

The Nutritional Values ​​and the Protein Content

Good beef jerky can be recognized by its nutritional value ​​and protein content. If the snack is good quality, the protein content must be over 50 percent. 

Incidentally, the high protein content is due to the drying of the beef cut. The water contained in the meat is removed during dehydration so that only protein remains. 

The more carbohydrates the jerky has, the more sure you can be that sugar and flavor enhancers were used during production. These bind the carbohydrates contained in the meat, and the snack becomes less healthy.

Finally, you should pay attention to potential flavor enhancers and preservatives. These are unnecessary, especially on dried beef. It shouldn’t contain sugar, either. 

Only the classic protein, carbohydrates, and little fat have a place in the beef snack regarding nutritional value.

The Dehydration 

The drying process is one of the main quality criteria of the power snack. I know that commercially produced jerky is usually dried on a grill. 

But there are other drying methods than those commonly used by commercial jerky makers, including sun/air drying. 

However, patience is needed here. After all, good things take time… and with natural air drying, the meat can dry at its own pace. 

Air-drying also ensures a longer shelf life and better preservation of the natural proteins, making jerky healthier.

Origin and Quality of the Meat

This is where the wheat separates from the chaff. The origin and the quality of the beef are largely responsible for how good the beef jerky tastes and how healthy it is. First, you only need fresh meat for beef jerky. 

Incidentally, the proteins also reflect the quality of the meat. The beef jerky should not only contain plenty of them but also be high quality.

Fresh Boneless Meat

Sugar? Not in Good Beef Jerky

A lot of sugar is used in the industrial production of beef jerky. It serves to preserve and extend shelf life. But it should be as low as possible or not used at all because the sugar in the snack is really not necessary. 

Choose a Tender Jerky Meat

You chew a good beef jerky longer, but you still shouldn’t get sore muscles in the mouth and palate. 

Making jerky that’s easy to chew is a new challenge with each piece. So you may get a particularly hard or tough piece between your teeth. It all starts with cutting the beef jerky across the grain during preparation or during dishing. 

Maybe you can also try using the traditional mechanical method of tenderizing meat. Some like to tenderize the meat before marinating it. You can achieve this by beating the meat with a mallet

A common method for beating out the meat is to use a zip-top bag. Slice down both sides of the bag with a sharp knife. That way, you can fold it back to have more space. 

Sprinkle some water on the bag. That water will help keep the meat from sticking to the bag, which would cause its tear and allow it to slip around during the pounding process.

Drop your piece of meat in and wrap the other extending part of the bag over the meat. 

Take out your tenderizing mallet and give the meat a couple of glancing blows until you achieve your desired thinness and tenderness. For the sake of efficiency, you don’t have to do just one piece. You can lay in three pieces and beat with the mallet.

It’s the Taste That Counts

The taste also determines whether beef jerky is good or not. You always want to taste the beef aroma through the marinade. 

The seasoning must not be too intense and dominate the whole chewing and enjoyable experience. 

Balance is the keyword here. In terms of taste, there are numerous variants: from tangy and salty to hot and spicy to exotic variants with pineapple, curry, and papaya. Personal preference is key here.

In addition to the marinade and the origin of the beef, the drying method affects the taste. Commercially made beef jerky is usually dried at 100 to 150 degrees Fahrenheit

Alternatives are air, cold, or wood drying. You’ll need a drying oven for homemade jerkies. If you’re up for this, maybe you should check out my guide on dehydrating beef jerky in the oven

Marinated Beef Meat

Tips For Making Beef Jerky

  • Always choose the meat with the least fat. Make sure you are buying meat that’s fresh. The beef should be reddish in color and look healthy with the myoglobin still present.
  • Consider the amount you want. How much beef do you intend to prepare? You should know that two to three pounds of meat will give you around 1 pound of jerky due to dehydration.
  • You don’t need to sun-dry the beef every day. You only need a simple dehydrator or your home oven set on the lowest possible heat (around 100 to 200 degrees Fahrenheit). An oven is a good option, but using a dehydrator is best for getting that beefy flavor.  
  • Before slicing, put the meat in the freezer for about 30 minutes to firm it up. This will make it easier to slice thinly so the jerky cooks evenly. 
  • You don’t need a lot of time making beef jerky. Like I always say, you can easily dehydrate your meat and get a tasty jerky within 4 to 5 hours in your food dehydrator. If you have an oven, it takes less (3 to 4 hours). It gets even faster with an air fryer at around 2 hours. 

Conclusion 

You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to beef cuts for making jerky. As I mentioned, top-round or bottom-round steaks have the perfect qualities for what you want. 

Basically, any lean beef meat devoid of fat is perfect. So select the region of the cow with the least amount of fat. I know fat is a tenderizer, but you can use a tenderizing ingredient in the marinade or mallet before marinating.

This is, in brief, the jerky-making process. Now you can see that making jerky from beef isn’t as difficult as it sounds. When choosing from the options I listed earlier, be sure to choose meat that will suit your tastes.

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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