Although making your own homemade jerky has many benefits, there is one drawback. The jerky that comes from your own kitchen does not come with a “Best Use By” date.
When buying store-bought jerky that is kept under proper conditions, you could realistically expect a shelf life between one and two years. That’s a long time to have some jerky on hand!
Homemade jerky has a much shorter lifespan, however.
Some estimates point to three months, while others give you a little longer than a week.
So why the disparity and what can you expect?
As always, the average between these two extremes is closer to the truth. The actual length of time depends on how you store the jerky and other factors related to how the jerky was made in the first place.
The length of time jerky will remain fresh also depends on how long you let the meat dry once your jerky is finished. If you leave the jerky out in the cool air for longer periods of time, the meat will become drier. Drier meat has a longer shelf life.
Storing the jerky in a Ziploc bag, you can expect the meager one week to four months, varied by the recipe and method used. If you want your jerky to stay fresh for longer periods, for example if you made a large quantity at the onset, then you should store the finished product in vacuum sealed bags. Then, the shelf life extends to three to six months without refrigeration.
If you store the jerky in the freezer, you can expect it to stay fresh for several years. You then simply have to defrost the treat before you can eat it.
Still, it is best to check on your jerky so that you know if it is going bad.
So, why does beef jerky last so long anyway?
There are three main reasons why jerky has a longer durability than traditional meat. These harken back to its original purpose of being a long-lasting food for nomads on the constant path who may not always find fresh meat sources.
The first is that the meat used to make jerky is very lean and trimmed of all fat before the process begins. Using meat with a higher fat content will significantly reduce the length of time jerky remains fresh.
The second is that the meat is dried which will remove the liquid within the beef. Bacteria grow in moist places, which means that dry meat will stave off infection.
The third is that the salt used to make the jerky serves as a natural preservative.
Also, if you have hot pepper in your beef jerky recipe, you can expect to jerky to last longer. This is because hot pepper contains capsaicin which kicks most bacteria to the curb.
This extended eatable period of a week to several months is why jerky was invented in the first place and why it has remained so popular from its inception.