Of all the aspects of jerky-making — choosing high-quality meat, perfecting the seasoning, nailing the drying time — one facet tends to go underappreciated. The way you slice your meat for beef jerky makes a huge difference in the final product.
It may seem like a no-brainer step, but trust us: honing your slicing techniques will elevate your beef jerky from great to mind-blowing.
Not sure how to improve your slicing game? Don’t worry — we’ve got five easy tips to help you slice that beef like a pro!
Five Tips for Slicing Meat for Beef Jerky
1. Keep Your Knives Sharp
As any chef will tell you, a sharp knife is the key to beautiful, delectable food — and to kitchen safety. And that bit of wisdom holds true for jerky making, too.
You won’t have much luck getting those nice, thin jerky slices if your knife is dull. You’ll wind up with thicker cuts that don’t marinate thoroughly or dry evenly.
And you’re much more likely to experience a knife accident due to blade slippage. Your nice slab of beef could end up ruined on the floor… and you could end up in the emergency room.
So before you start making jerky, get out your sharpening stone or take your knives to a professional sharpener. It’ll make your job so much easier and safer.
2. Always Trim the Fat from Your Beef
Fat is the mortal enemy of good beef jerky. That’s why seasoned jerky makers will always emphasize the importance of removing all fat from your beef.
Properly-dried jerky can keep for months, but its shelf life shortens considerably if there’s any fat left on it. Fat doesn’t dry and spoils much faster than muscle meat, so fatty jerky may last for just a week or two before going bad.
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But here’s the main reason we’re bringing up fat trimming now: without extra fat deposits, your beef will be much easier to slice.
Rather than trying to get thin slices by navigating your knife around and through unnecessary fat, just do away with the fat beforehand! Take that sharp knife and cut as much of the fat as you can off your beef.
You may not be able to get every last bit of fat trimmed away, but the more thorough you are, the better your jerky will be. And you’ll be making future you’s slicing experience so much more enjoyable!
3. Chill Your Beef Before Slicing It
Here’s a little secret for all you jerky makers out there: cold beef is the easiest to slice.
When your beef is free of extra fat, stick it in the freezer for an hour or two. You don’t want to leave it in there so long that it truly freezes — just long enough that it becomes more solid and has less give under pressure.
The perfect chilling time will vary depending on your freezer temperature and the thickness of your beef.
But you can get it just right by watching the outside of the beef for ice crystals. When you notice them just beginning to form, it’s time to take the beef out.
Your now-chilled beef won’t squish around as much under your knife blade, so you can get thinner, cleaner slices.
4. Slice Your Beef Against the Grain
Like hair, wood and fabric, beef has a grain. In the meat world, “grain” refers to the direction that the muscle fibers run in, and paying attention to it can make or break your batch of jerky.
Take a look at your beef and look for the lines of pale fibers running along it. They’ll be mostly straight and running in the same direction.
These are the muscle fibers, and the direction they run in is the grain.
You have two choices when slicing your beef: you can slice it with the grain or against the grain.
When you slice with the grain, you’re cutting in the same direction as the muscle fibers — your cuts run alongside or parallel to them. But when you cut against the grain, you cut across or perpendicular to the fibers, as if you’re severing their lengths.
If you cut with the grain, your jerky will be tougher and chewier. Your teeth will have to chomp through all those tough muscle fibers, so you may have trouble biting into the jerky.
But if you slice against the grain, your knife will do the hard work of breaking the muscle fibers. Your jerky will be softer and easier to chew.
Feel free to experiment with different grains — after all, it’s your jerky! But most jerky lovers prefer more tender jerky, so we recommend slicing against the grain.
Alternatively, if you’d prefer jerky that’s in between the two extremes, you can slice your beef with the grain, then tenderize it with a meat mallet. Use the pointed side of the mallet to break up the muscle fibers and make the jerky a little easier to chew.
5. Consider Using a Jerky Slicer
If you make a lot of jerky, or if you’d like thinner slices than you’re capable of cutting by hand, a jerky slicer may be a worthwhile investment for you.
Jerky slicers create thin, uniform slices of meat that dry evenly and absorb marinade consistently. Just feed slabs of meat into the machine and they’ll come out the other end in perfect slices.
Using a jerky slicer can save you lots of time and energy. So if you want to optimize your jerky-making process, consider adding one to your kitchen gadget arsenal.
- QUICKLY SLICES MEAT INTO CONSISTENT STRIPS FOR JERKY: This Weston jerky slicer has 32 stainless steel blades that quickly cut meat in consistent .25 strips for jerky. It can cut up to 15 quarter-inch strips at once
- FITS LARGE PIECES OF MEAT: The large chute on this jerky slicer machine fits big pieces of meat up to 5" wide and 1.25" thick. It's perfect for making delicious, protein-rich homemade jerky from large cuts of game meat, beef, turkey and duck breast
- MOUNTS EASILY WITH BUILT-IN C-CLAMP: The jerky slicer easily mounts onto tables and other flat surfaces up to 2" thick using the built-in C-clamp
- STAINLESS STEEL COMBS HELP TO PREVENT JAMMING: The two included stainless steel combs are great for feeding meat through the chute to prevent jamming
- INCLUDES STAINLESS STEEL TONGS: The jerky slicer comes with stainless steel tongs for safe meat handling while making jerky. Great for feeding meat into the jerky slicer without getting your hands messy
"You might be a redneck if you think that beef jerky and moon pies are two of the major food groups."
-- Jeff Foxworthy