This is How to Make Beef Jerky With a Dehydrator, your complete guide to making beef jerky at home using a food dehydrator. In this article, you’ll learn the exact step by step process for making delicious beef jerky using ground beef.
Making Beef Jerky With a Dehydrator
Easily one of the best choices you could ever make when it comes to making beef jerky yourself is to do it in the dehydrator. Not only is it easier, it’s also faster, more consistent, less dangerous, and tastes better.
When you compare making jerky in a smoker, or in an oven with the door open, the dehydrator is so much more consistent and so much safer. There is no fire, and no open oven in the middle of your house.
A dehydrator can do the job in a few hours too, which is much faster than the other options. Plus, there is no need to wait on a marinade to absorb into the meat, and you can go from idea to completed jerky in a few hours.
On top of that, a dehydrator is an inexpensive kitchen item that you can find in nearly any home store. For about $40 you can have a reliable, accurate, and easy gadget for making perfect jerky.
With all of these positives, there is really no reason not to make your jerky in a dehydrator every single time.
Coming up, I’ll show you the few things you need to have a good experience making jerky, and I’ll give you the complete step by step instructions for making your own jerky recipes in a food dehydrator.
It all starts with your recipe, so that’s where we will begin.
Choosing a Great Recipe
Great ground beef jerky starts with a great recipe. Thankfully, great recipes are easy to come by, and you will be making your own before you know it.
Most recipes are spices, liquids, and meat. This makes the preparation really quick and easy, and then the dehydrator does all of the work.
I recommend that you use this (easy beef jerky recipe) to get you going, and you can follow along with the instructions using the same ingredients. It’s easy, fool proof, and makes a great tasting jerky.
When you are ready for more recipes, take a look at my ground beef jerky recipes section for more great ideas.
Gather Your Equipment and Supplies
The first thing you need to do when you decide to make a batch of jerky is to gather up all of your supplies. Getting everything organized makes the process smooth, and you won’t have to search for anything by surprise.
You will need the following to make your jerky:
- Food Dehydrator
- Jerky Gun
- Large Mixing Bowl
- Measuring Spoons
- Measuring Cup
- Mixing Spoon
- Food Handling Gloves
Your main pieces of equipment are the food dehydrator or jerky dehydrator depending on what you bought (they are the same thing it’s just marketing) and your jerky gun.
These two items let you take the meat and make it into jerky shaped pieces, and then dehydrate them into finished strips.
After that, you’ll need a large mixing bowl to work in, some measuring spoons to measure out your spices and ingredients, and a measuring cup for your liquids. Then, a large spoon to mix it all, and food handling gloves if you want to use your hands to mix the meat and spices.
Just about all of these last few items are in any kitchen, perhaps with the exception of the food handling gloves. However, you can get them in just about any grocery store, sometimes in the baking section.
I do recommend the gloves, because mixing the meat with your hands is much faster and easier than trying to use a spoon. The gloves just make it cleaner.
Wash and Prepare Your Jerky Making Equipment
After you get everything out and ready, you need to wash everything first before you start. This is one of the keys to remaining clean and and keeping the chance of contamination low.
You are working with raw meat, so everything it touches will be absorbed into the mixture. Dirty bowls, dusty spoons, and unclean supplies will introduce contaminants into your jerky. You don’t want that.
Instead, just wash everything really well in hot water and soap, and then rinse everything thoroughly and set it all out to dry. In the time you get all of your other ingredients together they will be dry enough top work with.
Gather Your Ingredients
After your equipment is all gathered and ready, next is your spices and food ingredients. Thankfully, it doesn’t take too many ingredients to make ground beef jerky, and you will only need the following:
- 90/10 Ground Beef or Sirloin
- Jerky Seasoning Mix
- Jerky Cure
- Herbs and Spices
Most jerky recipes are surprisingly simple. This is a welcome relief, and it allows you to focus on the process more than the ingredients.
The beef is the star of the show, and you should look for a 90% lean ground meat that is high quality. Ground sirloin is a step above hamburger meat, and if it’s available the extra dollar or two is well spent.
Next, you need to get your jerky mix and cure, your herbs and spices for the recipe, and your liquids for the recipe. These will all vary depending on what you are making, just have everything you need available.
When you have all of your ingredients gathered, go over your recipe one more time to make sure you didn’t forget anything. It’s easier to get it now than to have to hunt through a cabinet or go to the store mid process.
Step by Step Jerky Making Process
Before we get into the step by step process with pictures and details, this is the short version so you know what to expect as the process unfolds. This way, there will be no surprises, and you’ll be able to follow along better.
Here are the steps:
- Mix all dry ingredients in the large bowl after carefully measuring them.
- Add the liquid ingredients and mix again.
- Add the meat and mix for several minutes until fully blended.
- Use the jerky gun to dispense jerky strips onto the dehydrator trays.
- Run the dehydrator 3 to 6 hours until the meat is done.
- Remove the jerky, blot, bag, and refrigerate.
Ground beef jerky is made by combining dry spices and seasoning mix with liquid and hamburger meat to create a seasoned mixture. This mixture is then loaded into the jerky gun, and dispensed on the dehydrator trays.
From there, the dehydrator does all of the work, and in about 3 to 6 hours you have finished jerky that tastes awesome. Blot it to remove excess moisture and fat, bag it, and stick it in the fridge. Finally, eat and enjoy.
Preparing the Spice Mixture and Meat
The first key to making jerky is to prepare the spice mixture. This functions in the same way that a marinade works for whole muscle jerky. However, since everything is mixed, there is no waiting time.
Spices and herbs in powdered form need to be mixed well in order to season well, and that takes a little patience. When you combine your dry ingredients, spend about a minute really mixing them together well.
Your dry ingredients are the seasoning mix, the cure, and any other herbs and spices you add to the recipe. These can be Garlic Powder, Chili Flakes, Oregano, etc.
The big reason for the mixing well is to even out the flavor profile, and to break up any little spice clumps. The back of the spoon is great for this, and keep going until all of the little balls of spice are broken, and the mix is an even coloring.
After the dry seasonings are mixed well, the next step is to add the liquid to the bowl and mix again. Do the same thing as when you worked with the dry herbs and spices, and mix really well.
The better you mix all of the flavor ingredients, the better and more even the flavoring will be in the final jerky when it’s prepared. These extra few minutes of work will all pay off in the end when you taste your homemade jerky.
After the liquid and dry have been blended, it’s time to add the meat.
For this part of the process, use a pair of food handling gloves to protect your hands and jerky from each other.
The meat does better without you touching it, and your hands can sometimes react poorly to spices, especially if you accidentally touch your face or eyes later on.
Using the gloves, the easiest way to mix the meat is to squeeze it with your hands, letting it press out through the gaps in your fingers.
As you do this, turn the meat over once in a while, and continue with the same motion.
After a couple minutes, you will notice that the meat has an even coloring, and that you no longer see pink sections.
This is a good indication that the seasoning has permeated the entire batch.
Once you see no more pink, and the meat is evenly seasoned, you are done with the prep work for your beef jerky.
Next comes the dehydrating.
Using the Jerky Gun and Dehydrator
At this point you have a wad of seasoned meat in the bowl. It’s time to get that meat into jerky shaped pieces, and into the dehydrator. This is where the jerky gun really shines and saves you time.
Load the barrel of your jerky gun with meat, and assemble the handle. Squeeze the trigger to press out strips onto your dehydrator trays, keeping them about an eighth of an inch apart.
The trick to using the jerky gun is to squeeze the handle with some force to press out the jerky, and move the tip backwards to lay down the strip. Don’t weakly pull the trigger, press it with some assertiveness.
When you go weak, the strips come out poorly and they can separate. If you provide more force, you can get them to come out without breaking, and you only have to move a little faster to make it happen.
As you fill up trays, rotate them so that each layer is perpendicular to the tray below it for best air flow. For example, if the strips are running up and down on the first tray, the second tray should run left and right.
Keep doing this crossing pattern until you fill up all of your trays. The pattern will help you with air flow around your dehydrator, and that will help to cook the jerky strips more evenly.
Dehydrating Times for Perfect Jerky
The amount of time that you need to dehydrate your jerky for it to be perfect is really up to you. However, there are some good guidelines to get you started in the right direction.
Most jerky will need three to six hours to fully dehydrate and be ready to eat, and three hours is a good starting point.
After three hours, taste your jerky and see if you like the dryness. If the meat is still too moist, then go another house and taste again. Repeat this until the six hour mark, when nearly any recipe should be dry enough to stop.
It’s very rare that you would need to go over 6 hours, and in reality your meat will be super dry past that point. There needs to be some moisture in the meat, otherwise it will be like eating a thin piece of wood.
Check your batch after 3 hours. Pull out one small piece, and bend it. If the piece bends really easily, it likely needs more time. Taste it as well, and if you like the consistency and the taste, you can always stop the process.
Jerky is subjective. Some people like juicy jerky, some like dry. If you are like the majority of people, you like it right down the middle, which will happen at around the 3 to 4 hour mark in most dehydrators at 165 degrees.
The cure that’s in the jerky works in the first hour or so anyway, so there is little risk in tasting a piece after three hours.
Rotating Your Trays
If you have a basic machine, like most hobby jerky makers, it’s a good practice to rotate your trays once an hour. This is to help the cooking process, and prevent uneven dehydration.
On most machines, the trays that are the closest to the heating element are going to be hotter than the ones farther away. This is just the way it works, and over several hours it can lead to uneven cooking.
What happens is the trays closest to the heating element get finished faster than the others, and depending on what strips you end up tasting, you could over cook the bottom waiting for the top to finish.
Also, you could end up thinking the batch is done when the top half is not cooked all the way. This leads to problems down the road, because under dried jerky may not store or travel as well as a finished batch.
Instead of this, simply re-stack your trays so that the top goes to the bottom and the bottom goes to the top once an hour. In doing so, you will ensure that all of the trays get the same amount of heat for the entire duration.
Blotting Bagging and Storing Your Jerky
When your jerky is done, and you are happy with the texture, it’s time to get it out of the dehydrator and on to the next step. This is blotting off the excess oils, bagging the meat, and refrigerating.
When you look at your jerky, you’ll notice that there are some little wet spots on the surface. These are some of the oils and fat that have moved to the surface but have not fallen from the meat inside the dehydrator.
While it’s fine to leave this in place, you can reduce the oil and fat content by blotting the jerky with paper towels before you bag it.
The easiest way to do this is to lay out a couple layers of paper towel on a clean part of the counter. Then, lay out your jerky strips on the towel next to each other but not overlapping.
Then, lay a couple layers of paper towel on top of the jerky pieces, and press them down with the palms of your hands. This will compress the jerky between the paper towels, and the oils will be absorbed from both sides.
Repeat this process using the same paper towels for the entire batch, which in most cases will be fine even if you don’t change paper towels. 90% lean meat doesn’t make much oil anyway, so you should be fine.
Cooling Your Jerky
As you finish blotting, lay the pieces of jerky on a dish to cool to room temperature, which only takes a few minutes. If you use a couple big plates, and lay the strips out over the entire thing, they will cool quickly.
The reason for the cooling is to prevent moisture building up inside the plastic bag, which will fall back on the meat and get it wetter than you want. This small amount of time is well worth the wait.
After a couple minutes when the jerky is room temperature, use a gallon zipper bag and put all of the pieces of jerky inside. Then, zipper the top and squeeze out any excess air before tossing it in the fridge.
Once inside, it will rapidly cool the rest of the way. You can eat it right out of the dehydrator if you want, or you can wait until it cools down. Either way, the first time you have homemade jerky you will be blown away.
This is nothing like store bought beef jerky, and the process is far easier than you likely imagined. With it being so easy and fun, you may never buy jerky from a grocery store ever again.
Tips and Tricks for Best Results
Jerky recipes with ground beef are all pretty straight forward, but you can always use a few tips to help you avoid mistakes. Hopefully these help you avoid any accidents when you make your own jerky.
- Mix everything really well. When you make ground meat jerky, the setup is so fast anyway since you don’t have to wait for a marinade to work. Take the couple extra minutes and make sure that the meat and seasonings are mixed together really well. It makes a difference.
- Clean your equipment really well. Clean jerky making equipment reduces your chances of getting something you don’t want in your jerky.
- Measure your spices and liquids well. Don’t just guess, and don’t get too creative in the beginning until you taste a few recipes.
- You can practice with the jerky gun. Just lay out strips and keep putting the bad ones back in the bowl. The meat can be sent through the gun several times without an issue.
- The liquid in the recipe is typically water, and it’s used to help make the blending f the spices and meat go easier. Use the liquid, because it’s much harder to mix dry.
- Resist the urge to eat your jerky right away. Let it dehydrate for at least three hours before you start eating. Don’t risk eating raw meat just to save an hour.
- Read through the directions a few times to make sure you have it. Again, it’s better to be prepared and make your jerky the right way than make a mistake and possibly ruin the batch.
- Most recipes are pretty simple, so don’t be afraid to try new recipes as you make more and more jerky yourself.
- Set a timer for the jerky. It’s hard to remember how long it has been cooking, especially if you don’t cook a lot. It’s worth the time.
- Be sure to rotate those trays. It’s important, and it only takes a few seconds to ensure that all the jerky is cooking evenly.
Even More Jerky Recipes
You can visit my Jerky Recipes section for even more great tasting beef jerky recipes using ground beef. There are plenty, and you can try them out yourself using basically the same preparation process.
There are recipes for every taste, and I add to them often.
You can also try out my jerky making books if you want more instruction, fun extra ways to take it to the next level, and lots more recipes.