If you’ve ever had a beef jerky craving, you’ve probably noticed that it is priced significantly higher than other snack food items.
There are several reasons why jerky and other meat products are so expensive. As is true in any business model, the costs of production greatly affect the price point. This is also true for jerky, as the rising costs of beef have contributed to the high price of jerky.
For starters, most jerky products are made from high-quality beef and also from specific areas of the cattle that are low in fat and high in meat.
The price of keeping the cows that become jerky is also increasing, mainly in terms of the costs of feed. And because oil continues to get more expensive, there has been a drive for more efficient fuel products made from corn.
Thus, the corn-based feed given to cattle has increased in price in recent years, making the final meat a more expensive commodity for farmers and consumers alike.
Another factor impacting the price of jerky is the high water content of beef meat. This means that during the jerky-making process, there is a near 60 percent decrease in the weight of the meat due to evaporation.
When more than half of the meat is lost, you’ll have to pay more for the jerky you crave because more meat is needed to produce it.
7 Reasons Why Beef Jerky Is Expensive
The high price of beef jerky is one of its only drawbacks. In the end, this is a more expensive snack than most. Of course, it also has more nutritional value and energy than most snacks, so your money isn’t squandered.
There are many reasons that beef jerky is expensive, so let’s start by going over a quick list of the 7 main reasons:
- Cows are expensive
- Land is expensive
- Beef jerky requires a long processing time
- Dehydration causes shrinkage and loss of weight
- Government regulations
- Shipping costs
- Jerky is usually made from lean meat, which is more expensive
1. Cows Are Expensive
I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that beef jerky comes from beef or that beef comes from cattle; however, you may not be aware of just how expensive a cow can be. As we can see by looking at these cattle-dealing websites, one cow typically costs between $1000 and $2000. Trying to raise mass quantities for the beef industry requires a serious investment of capital, and those folks need to recoup their money.
When the cows are slaughtered, each one will produce 400-600 pounds of beef. When that beef is turned into jerky, it takes about two pounds of meat to make one pound of jerky. Thus, your 400-600 pounds of raw meat becomes 200-300 pounds of dried jerky. Assuming that we have a 1000-pound cow, this means that the manufacturer is paying about $2 per pound just for the cows themselves, to say nothing of their food, water, and medical care.
2. Land Is Expensive
To raise cows, you need land. It is recommended to have at least one acre per cow, so large herds require very large lands. This land often isn’t cheap. For instance, take a look at the price of farmland in Texas. I chose Texas because they raise more cattle than any other U.S. state. As you will see, the prices are through the roof.
3. Beef Jerky Requires A Long Processing Time
A small batch of jerky in a small dehydrator takes about five hours of drying time before it is ready. Thus, we can assume a large batch in a large commercial dehydrator would probably take about the same time. This time-intensive process increases the number of work hours required to oversee and aid the process. Monitoring is necessary because the jerky will be ruined if it stays in the dehydrator for too long.
4. Dehydration Causes Shrinkage And Loss Of Weight
When you look at that nice big steak in the grocery store, you should understand that about half of what you see is water. Chemical analysis has repeatedly shown that meat contains 45%-60% water by volume. Since meat loses most of its water in dehydration, we can logically assume that beef will lose about half its size and weight when put through a dehydration process.
This forces the manufacturer to charge more for the product because they have to use a lot to get a little. When you’re losing half of your product in processing, you have to make up those extra costs from somewhere. As always, the price reflects the laws of supply and demand.
5. Government Regulations
Since it is made from cows (and thus lumped in with dairy products), beef jerky production is regulated by the USDA. As such, a wide number of regulations must be followed, with regular inspections designed to ensure compliance with those regulations.
This matter equals more than just an occasional inspection. Companies generally have to hire whole teams of specialists to create compliance plans. The implementation of these plans will always result in at least some cost to the company. Once again, this means another cost that has to be factored into the price.
6. Shipping Costs
This is another cost that beef jerky manufacturers have to cover. It takes money to transport raw materials to the factory and to transport the finished goods to their points of sale. If you think you spend a lot on gas, just imagine covering the fuel costs of a refrigerated semi-truck full of raw meat, which might be driving from one end of the country to the other!
7. Jerky Is Usually Made From Lean Meat
When you are making beef jerky, you have to be careful to trim out all the fat. This is because fat does not preserve very well when dried and can cause the entire batch to spoil. To reduce this risk, beef jerky makers normally purchase the leanest meat they can find. This is part of the reason why beef jerky is so healthy. The process of making jerky forces these companies to use good-quality meat that isn’t loaded with fat and chemicals. Such meat would be unsuitable for making good jerky.
Is It Cheaper To Make My Own Beef Jerky?
In the end, it probably isn’t cheaper to make homemade jerky. Unless you’re raising cattle, you’ll need to buy lean beef, and this alone will probably cost you just as much money (if not more) than a bag of beef jerky from that same store.
Once again, this has a whole lot to do with the loss of size and weight that accompanies dehydration. Fresh meat is priced by the pound, and you’re going to lose about half of that weight, which means you wasted about half your money. The good news is that you have only lost water and fat. Most of the nutritional content of fresh beef is preserved in the dehydration process. You will lose a little bit, but it won’t be a significant amount in terms of the total nutritional content.
In a way, the high cost of beef jerky is both a blessing and a curse. While it does put a hurting on your wallet, it also ensures that beef jerky manufacturers maintain higher standards of quality and safety. This is the case because beef jerky makers need to justify the high cost of their product, and they know it.
Poor-quality beef jerky is dry, hard as a rock, and devoid of the rich taste of beef. However, even this poor-quality beef jerky is relatively expensive to make, and it becomes more cost-effective to make high-quality jerky and charge a little more. While I don’t like the high cost of jerky anymore than the next person, I accept it as an understandable fact of life.
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"You might be a redneck if you think that beef jerky and moon pies are two of the major food groups."
-- Jeff Foxworthy