5 Key Ingredients: What Are Jerky Sticks Really Made Of?

Jerky sticks are protein-packed snacks made from lean meats, salted for preservation, sweetened for balance, spiced for flavor, and dried for chewiness.

Dried beef meat in close-up. Thin strips of ready-to-eat jerky. Dehydrated food. Selective focus.

Jerky sticks, a favorite protein-rich, low-carb treat, come from a traditional meat drying technique. They now offer diverse flavors and options like beef and bison, appealing to hikers, athletes, and snack enthusiasts for their deliciousness and easy transport. This text examines these tasty, convenient snacks.

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1. Protein Power: The Meaty Foundation

Venison jerky sliced and spicy dry-cured full piece on wooden table. Dried deer meat snacks for beer. Top view

The primary ingredient in jerky sticks is meat, which provides the substantial protein content that the snack is known for. Meats commonly used include beef, pork, turkey, and chicken, which are chosen for their lean quality and ability to absorb flavors well. The meat is trimmed of fat to prevent rancidity and ensure a long shelf life.

High-quality jerky sticks often boast a high protein content with minimal fat, making them an excellent option for those looking to maintain or build muscle mass. The choice of meat also affects the texture and taste of the final product, with beef being the most traditional and popular base for jerky sticks.

2. Salting Things Up: Preserving the Flavor

Crispy dried chicken meat chips captured from above.

Salt is a critical ingredient in jerky sticks, serving both as a preservative and a flavor enhancer. It helps to inhibit the growth of bacteria, ensuring the meat can be safely stored at room temperature for extended periods. The amount of salt can vary, but it is typically prominent in the flavor profile of the jerky.

In addition to preserving the meat, salt also aids in the drying process by drawing out moisture. This is essential for creating the dry, chewy texture characteristic of jerky. The salt content is something health-conscious consumers may want to keep an eye on, as it can be quite high in some jerky products.

3. Sweet Balance: Sugars in Jerky Sticks

Beef jerky on a wooden board close-up

Sugars are often added to jerky sticks to balance the saltiness and to provide a touch of sweetness that complements the savory flavors. Common sweeteners include brown sugar, honey, or corn syrup, and they play a role in the browning of the jerky during the drying process, giving it an appealing color and glaze.

The addition of sugar also serves to tenderize the meat, making the jerky less tough and more palatable. However, the sugar content can vary widely among different brands and flavors, with some offering low-sugar or sugar-free options for those watching their carbohydrate intake.

4. Spicing It Right: Jerky’s Flavor Profile

The unique flavor profile of jerky sticks is achieved through the use of a variety of spices and seasonings. Common ingredients include black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and smoked paprika, each contributing to the complex taste that jerky enthusiasts love. Some recipes might also incorporate more exotic spices like chipotle or teriyaki to offer a wider range of flavors.

The seasoning blend is critical to the identity of the jerky stick, and producers often guard their recipes closely. The spices not only add depth of flavor but can also provide additional health benefits, such as antioxidants found in certain herbs and spices.

5. The Binding Element: Role of Additives

The hand holds the dried beef meat. Thin strips of ready-to-eat jerky. Adult male. Dehydrated food. Close-up. Selective focus.

In the production of jerky sticks, additives play an important role in ensuring consistency and quality. Binders like soy protein or wheat protein are sometimes used to help the ground meat stick together and maintain its shape during the drying process. These ingredients also contribute to the overall protein content of the snack.

Other additives may include sodium nitrite, which is used to preserve color and prevent the growth of bacteria, and liquid smoke to enhance the smoky flavor. While some consumers prefer jerky sticks with minimal additives, they are often necessary to achieve the desired texture and shelf stability.

Smoke Signals: Achieving the Smoky Taste

One of the signature flavors of jerky sticks is the smoky taste, reminiscent of meat cooked over an open flame. This is often achieved through the use of liquid smoke, a concentrated flavoring made by condensing the smoke from burning wood chips. It’s added to the meat mixture to infuse the jerky with a smoky aroma and flavor without the need for actual smoking.

For a more traditional approach, some jerky is prepared in smokehouses where it is exposed to the smoke from smoldering hardwoods like hickory or mesquite. This method imparts a rich, authentic smoky flavor that is highly prized by jerky aficionados.

As Cowboy Kent Rollins explains in the video –

  1. You can make flavorful jerky at home without a dehydrator – in the oven or on a smoker.
  2. Use cuts of meat with some fat/marbling for more flavor. Trim off excess fat before marinating.
  3. Slice the meat thinly so it dries evenly. Freeze it first if needed to slice thinner.
  4. Make a marinade with soy sauce, Worcestershire, liquid smoke, spices, etc. Marinate 6+ hours or overnight.
  5. Cook jerky at low heat – 180°F in oven, 170-180°F in a smoker. Needs 2-3 hours to fully dry out.
  6. Rotate/flip the meat halfway through drying for even cooking.
  7. Smoke-cooked jerky has more flavor from smoke penetration. Oven-cooked jerky works too.
  8. Let jerky fully dry after cooking before storing or eating.
  9. Store cooled jerky in ziplock bags with paper towels to absorb moisture. Can freeze.
  10. Homemade jerky is cheaper, tastier, and healthier than store-bought. Experiment with flavors in the marinade.
Cowboy Kent Rollins

Moisture Matters: The Drying Process

Preparing of South African dried meat or biltong

The drying process is what transforms seasoned meat into jerky sticks. By removing moisture, the risk of bacterial growth is minimized, allowing the jerky to be stored without refrigeration. The drying can be done using a variety of methods, including air drying, smoking, or dehydrating in a controlled environment.

The goal is to eliminate enough moisture to ensure safety and longevity, while still retaining some moisture to keep the jerky chewy and palatable. The precise drying time and temperature can vary, affecting the texture and taste of the final product.

Shelf Life Secrets: Preservatives Used

Sliced turkey or chicken meat dehydrated and packed into craft brown paper. Homemade natural dry dog treats. Wooden white background, empty place for logo, copy space.

To ensure jerky sticks remain safe and flavorful over time, preservatives are often added. Sodium nitrite is one of the most common preservatives used in jerky production. It helps to prevent the growth of bacteria and maintains the color of the meat, making the product more appealing to consumers.

Some manufacturers opt for natural preservatives like celery powder, which contains naturally occurring nitrates that convert to nitrites during processing. These serve the same purpose as synthetic preservatives but are often preferred by health-conscious consumers looking for cleaner labels.

Healthy or Hearty: Nutritional Breakdown

Jerky sticks can be a healthy snack option when consumed in moderation. They are low in carbohydrates and high in protein, which can help with muscle repair and satiety. However, due to their high sodium and potential additive content, they should be enjoyed as part of a balanced diet.

For individuals with dietary restrictions or preferences, there are now many varieties of jerky sticks available, including gluten-free, all-natural, and even vegan options made from plant-based proteins. Checking the nutritional label can help consumers make informed choices based on their personal health goals and dietary needs.

Jerky sticks are a complex snack with a simple appeal, combining the traditional art of meat preservation with modern flavors and conveniences. Understanding the ingredients and processes behind these snacks can help consumers make better choices and appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into every bite.

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