Bars, chips, slices and sticks — these are some of the many formats in today’s meat snack options. Dried meat snacks are no longer just comminuted meat products packed with sodium and preservatives and displayed by the register at truck stops. They have evolved into premium, high-protein flavor adventures that appeal to everyone from the convenience-store shopper looking for a quick snack to the triathlete needing an energy boost.
Removing moisture from all types of food, including highly perishable meat and poultry, is one of the oldest forms of preservation. The art of drying meat by hanging a slab out in the sun dates back to nomadic societies who relied on this preservation technique to maintain an ample supply of energy-dense, non-perishable food while they traversed the lands.
Different cultures have varied drying methods and recipes, which can include salting and smoking, with or without the addition of flavors, herbs and spices. The meats are diverse, too, and include the common beef, chicken, pork and turkey, as well as the more exquisite, such as duck, ostrich and venison.
The beauty of the drying process is that it may be very simple and with few, and familiar, ingredients. Delicious plain, dried meat products are also ideal carriers for all types of flavors, from seasonings infused through marinades to textured rubs on the surface.
There are two basic approaches to producing dried flavored meat snacks. The common industrial process involves marinating the meat, either through soaking or injection, followed by a low-heat, long-bake process to dry the meat rather than cook it. A commercial dehydrator is also an option. The second approach is hanging the meat to dry.
Stryve Foods LLC, Plano, Texas, uses the latter approach to produce its slices of beef biltong. The company skips the marinade and instead covers the exterior of the meat with herbs and spices prior to hanging out to dry.
“Our beef biltong starts with choice top-round. We trim off the fat to have the leanest cut,” says Gabe Carimi, co-founder and CEO of Stryve Foods, and a former National Football League player. “The meat is then washed with all-natural vinegar and sliced into steaks. These are naturally air dried for up to 21 days.”
When it’s ready, the gourmet beef biltong is sliced extra thin and then hand-bagged to ensure consistent slices in each package. Stryve Protein Snacks come in 2.25- and 10-oz. bags, with one ounce containing 80 calories, 16 grams of protein, less than a gram of sugar and no fat. The gluten-free product contains no artificial preservatives, monosodium glutamate or nitrites/nitrates and comes in five varieties. They are: original, peri peri, smoked, teriyaki and zesty garlic.
With either an oven/dehydrator or the hanging process, drying meat is more of an art than an exact science. The challenge is to find that special mix of temperature, air velocity, relative humidity and dwell time that maximizes both production and product quality. For mass-scale commercial manufacturing, industrial dehydrators assist with exerting some control over the process to yield more consistent product.
Greenwood, Colorado-based Perky Jerky is rolling out its newest spin on dried meat snacks. New Wagyu Beef Jerky comes in three unique flavors: chimichurri, sea salt and pepper, and truffle and thyme.
The company chose wagyu beef for its tenderness and extensive marbling and is sourcing only humanely raised, vegetarian-fed wagyu beef without antibiotics or hormones. To appeal to consumers following lifestyle diets, such as paleo and keto, Perky Jerky developed a lower-sugar, lower-sodium marinade that does not sacrifice on taste and maintains the brand’s signature tenderness. A 1-oz. serving contains up to 12 grams of protein, 2 grams or less of sugar and 220 milligrams or less of sodium.
“Using a new marinade blend comprised of coconut aminos and coconut sugar, our wagyu line is paleo friendly, which is important to our customers,” says Brian Levin, CEO of Perky Jerky. “All three new flavors are soy free, gluten free and have no artificial preservatives, added nitrites or nitrates.”
Chicago’s Big Fork Brands now offers bacon-inspired Craft Pork Jerky in original, maple and three-pepper spicy varieties. The all-natural meat snack is made with 100 percent Berkshire hogs and was designed with intent to allow consumers to enjoy the flavor of bacon anytime, anywhere, without guilt, according to Lance Avery, owner.
“Big Fork supports small independent farmers in Iowa who raise 100 percent Berkshire hogs outdoors,” he says. “These hogs are not treated with antibiotics, so you know you are getting premium quality, handcrafted, delicious jerky. We use the best tasting pork on the planet.
“We slice the lean pork thin and marinate it overnight,” Avery says. “Then it’s slow smoked and dried in small batches to a perfect tender bite and texture.”
Jack Link’s is bringing jerky lovers a unique eating experience exclusive to the Jack Link’s Innovation Center located in downtown Minneapolis. Made fresh from the kitchen, new Jack’s Signature Batch combines the Link family heritage of smoking meat in small batches with new gourmet flavors. The handcrafted line is debuting in three unique flavors, sold deli-counter style in the Jack Link’s Wild Side retail store located in the Target Center Skyway.
Created by the company’s in-house culinary team, Jack’s Signature Batch will rotate and introduce new flavors every few months. The debut flavors include Umami Boom, which is beef jerky with a slightly smoky and sweet flavor with hints of roasted mushroom and tomato that finishes with a mild black pepper bite. Spiced Mocha uses premium cuts of turkey and has a dark-roasted coffee flavor that complements an upfront sweet caramel note that finishes with roasted chilies.
The third launch flavor is Craft Cola. Inspired by traditional cola, the flavor sensation on beef delivers hints of dark caramel and warm spices that finishes with a balanced smoky note.
“From seasonal inspiration to exotic flavors found around the globe, Jack’s Signature Batch is elevating the jerky game with unique flavor profiles,” says Wes Castelsky, executive research and development chef.
The product launch is part of the broader grand opening of the Jack Link’s Innovation Center, located in the company’s Minneapolis offices in Mayo Clinic Square. The 12,000-sq.-ft. test kitchen and US Dept. of Agriculture-approved production facility allows Jack Link’s research and development and culinary teams to rapidly move from concept to production.
“Jack Link’s has a long legacy of bringing firsts to market,” says Manuel Ortega, vice president of research and development. “By bringing our culinary and R&D teams under one roof with access to a full production facility, we can explore, create and move into formal testing and production faster than ever before.
“There’s a true craft to making our jerky. It’s the legacy of this company,” Ortega says. “The handcrafted process of smoking, seasoning and drying our meat is an art.”