Hundreds of years ago, the Quechua peoples of the Andes devised one of history’s most brilliant inventions: jerky.
They figured out that by pounding their meat into strips, salting it and drying it in the sun, they could preserve it for many months to come. There was no need for special storage — people could keep this so-called “ch’arki” in their homes or in communal food caches without fear of it spoiling.
That’s something we still value about jerky today: it can be safely stored just about anywhere.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you should.
The way you store your jerky still affects its shelf life. What’s more, it also impacts its flavor, texture and nutritional value.
So what’s the best way to store your jerky? Read on for our top recommendations.
4 Jerky Storage Container Options — and When to Use Them
The best jerky storage methods minimize the jerky’s exposure to heat, light, moisture and oxygen. Let’s see how all your options fare at this critical task.
1. Paper Bag
If you plan to eat all your jerky within a week or so, a simple paper bag is a perfectly viable storage method. Just toss your jerky in, roll the bag up and stick it in your pantry or cupboard, away from light and moisture.
Paper bags have the added benefit of being absorbent. If your jerky comes out a little too moist, a couple of days in a paper bag will finish drying it to perfection — a useful trick even if you ultimately use another storage method.
But because paper bags don’t fully seal, they still allow air — and microscopic pathogens — to flow through them. This puts your jerky at risk of spoiling, so only use this method for short-term storage of a week or less.
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2. Plastic Zip-Lock Bag
This is quite possibly the easiest, most convenient jerky storage method. It couldn’t be simpler: fill the bag, squeeze the air out and zip it shut, then unzip it whenever your next jerky craving strikes.
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And unlike paper bags, plastic zip-lock bags can be (at least somewhat) sealed, offering your jerky more protection from the elements and extending its shelf life accordingly.
With that said, this method still has some drawbacks.
The transparent bags allow light to pass through, potentially altering your jerky’s flavor and causing it to become overdry.
And though the zipper provides a decent seal, it’s not airtight, so moisture and oxygen can still reach your jerky. Over time, this leads to bacterial and fungal growth that render your jerky unsafe for consumption.
You can mitigate these dangers by adding a moisture-reducing desiccant packet to your jerky bag. Alternatively, if you’re storing your jerky in a very dry environment, an oxygen absorber packet may prove more useful.
Even so, plastic bags aren’t ideal if you need to store your jerky for longer than 2-3 weeks.
3. Jar or Airtight Food Storage Container
Airtight containers are great for medium-term jerky storage of 2 months or less.
The classic mason jar is a popular choice, and dry-canning your jerky in one is a pretty simple process. Heat your oven to 350° F, remove the lids from your jars, then put the lidless jars on a baking sheet and stick them in the oven for 10 minutes.
When the time’s up, pull the jars out, carefully fill them with jerky, then immediately screw the lids back on. As the jars cool, the lids will seal shut.
Alternatively, you can use a plastic or glass food storage container with an airtight locking lid. However, the seal may not be as strong as that of a properly-prepared mason jar.
4. Vacuum Sealed Bags
The ultimate jerky storage option, vacuum sealed bags provide the best protection from moisture, air and microbes. They’re by far the best option for long-term jerky storage.
Vacuum sealing removes every last bit of air from your jerky bag. Without air, harmful bacteria can’t colonize your jerky — and that perfect seal prevents them from even getting close to it.
The sealing process doesn’t just keep your jerky safe, either. It also helps it maintain its fresh taste and texture, preventing it from drying out and losing flavor over time.
You’ll need a vacuum sealer and compatible bags to use this method, but the benefits are well worth the investment. At room temperature, vacuum-sealed jerky can last up to 3 months — and if you freeze it, it could last for over 2 years!
Where to Store Your Jerky
The way you package your jerky isn’t the only factor to consider. You also need to select a suitable place to store that package of jerky — and the right fit will depend on how long you need to store it.
Short-Term Storage: Pantry, Cupboard or Countertop
If you plan to eat your jerky within a couple of weeks, we’ve got good news for you. You don’t need to take up valuable fridge or freezer space with your jerky — it can keep just fine at room temperature, provided that certain requirements are met.
Jerky needs to be stored away from sunlight, heat and moisture. Keep it away from sunny countertops, sinks, stoves, coffee makers and other sources of these elements.
This will likely mean keeping your jerky in a pantry or cupboard, where it’s dark and relatively cool and dry.
At room temperature, jerky in a paper or plastic bag will keep for up to 2 weeks. If you vacuum seal your jerky or put it in an airtight container, it’ll last for up to 2 months at room temperature as long as the seal remains unbroken.
Long-Term Storage: Fridge or Freezer
If you need to store your jerky for longer periods of time, your best bet is vacuum-sealing it, then storing it in the fridge or freezer.
While other types of storage vessels can technically be refrigerated or frozen, we don’t recommend it.
Paper or plastic bags will let too much cold air in, overdrying your jerky and imbuing it with a “fridge” flavor. In the freezer, these unsealed containers can also lead to freezer burn, giving your jerky an unpleasant texture and stale taste.
Mason jars and airtight containers are bulky, so they may occupy too much room in your fridge or freezer. And while mason jars are freezer-safe, some other food containers aren’t.
Vacuum sealing combines an airtight seal with a compact form factor, making it the ideal way to package jerky before refrigerating or freezing it.
Properly vacuum-sealed jerky will last for up to 4 months in the fridge, or a whopping 2 years in the freezer.
It may be less convenient, but freezing vacuum-sealed jerky is by far the best long-term storage option — and when you’re still snacking on it a year from now, you’ll no doubt agree!
"You might be a redneck if you think that beef jerky and moon pies are two of the major food groups."
-- Jeff Foxworthy