Salt Cured Venison Jerky

Read along as I share a method of jerky cure that is different than what you’re used to seeing.  Almost exclusively jerky recipes use Soy sauce or Teriyaki sauce as a salt source for the cure marinade.  Occasionally they ask for more salt. The advanced ones call for curing salt, which is usually sodium nitrite.  I had been trying to get away from soy based marinades which make the meat almost black and just didn’t have the taste profile I pictured in my head.  So, I went searching to educate myself on meat curing.

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While processing my hog this fall I wanted to cure hams and bacon.  There is a wonderful group on Facebook; The Salt Cured Pig that focuses on this topic specifically.  There is also an accompanying blog; The Salt Cured Pig. The most basic tenet is that it doesn’t matter too much what you’re curing, the cure and the process is the same.  So, I decided to try venison jerky this way and see how it turned out.

 

I had a hind quarter that had been shot up (we use buckshot) and the dogs then caught and chewed on before the dog drivers caught them.  A side effect of deer dog hunting. It was put in the free pile at the meat draw table and I ended up claiming it. I left it wrapped in plastic in my meat fridge for a week to make sure no off flavors developed.

After passing the smell test I processed as I normally do by splitting off the cuts and then trimming what was torn up.  I like the top and bottom round for jerky. These are the largest whole muscles in the hind quarter. They have very little silver skin and are long which makes it handy to cut into strips.  I also sliced up the top sirloin too. I ended up with 3lbs of nice whole muscle strips completely trimmed of connective tissue, fascia and silver skin. Be sure to cut across the grain. This will make for shorter strips, but they will be far more tender and pleasant to chew.

If there is any call for it, I will make a post detailing the processing of a venison ham.  It is really not that hard, but will be hard to describe in pictures. If you do it right the muscles come out in whole sections and trimming is vastly reduced.  They also will be in recognizable cuts that you will see in the grocery store. I digress.

There are some really good commercial jerky cures out there.  I have a friend that gets his from Walmart and I forget the name.  It is some of the best I have had. And he does not smoke, only oven dries.

This method doesn’t use a marinade.  It could be called a dry cure. I like this because when I’m ready to dry it, there is no liquid.  Thus substantially less dry time. Also much cleaner. All the liquid doesn’t drip all over your smoker, dehydrator or oven.  

 

We can call this an EQ cure. Short for equilibrium cure.  We use precisely the amount of salt we want in the final product.  Our batch of jerky gets vac sealed and then into the fridge to cure.  Assuming ¼” per day of cure penetration, in 24 hours our jerky is cured.  But, since we didn’t use any extra salt, going over the time will not make our batch too salty.  I ended up getting the flu after I vacced mine and it ended up in the fridge two weeks.

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Just like the salt, we also use a specific amount of cure and other spices.  Curing salt or sodium nitrite has a handful of different names. Cure #1, Prague Powder, and pink salt are all used synonymously.  I ordered mine from Amazon. Make damn sure that this pink salt cannot be accessed by children, the unaware, or pets. I put mine in a screw top jar on the top shelf, in the back and labeled it XXX.  I told my wife what it was and that it was toxic. Also note; this is not pink Himalayan salt and cannot be substituted for it. Himalayan salt is simply a high mineral salt and has no curing power.

Technically you can cure meat without the curing salt.  But it will not retain its red color. Nor will it have that hammy-jerky flavor.  If using curing salt, the cured jerky will not mold even on the counter. Even though I still keep mine in the fridge and recommend you do too.  At these levels of nitrite it is totally safe. We want .25% (a quarter of 1%) by weight in grams. See my math below.

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This recipe will work with any meat.  Any venison here, elk, mule deer, whitetail are all okay.  Also try duck or goose breasts. Even diver ducks would be a good fit here.  You will be surprised. It could also even work with turkey breast. Any meat big enough to slice without any connective tissue will work.

This is a very simple method, but you will need a scale that can read grams.  Tenths of a gram would be better. A digital reloading scale could even work. I got mine on Amazon for $12-15.

Once we have our total meat weight in grams our basic cure is 2.5% salt, 2.5% sugar, .25% cure #1.  Be sure to note that is a quarter of one percent of cure #1. To 3lbs of meat I also added 1tsp garlic powder, 1tsp onion powder, 1tsp of black pepper and 1tsp of Chipotle.  

The spices are loosely based on Hank Shaw’s recipe here.  I would consider this the mild version. Next batch will have at least 1 more tsp of Chipotle flakes and probably 1 more tsp of black pepper.  If I was making a 5lb batch I’d double my spices and triple my peppers. No matter the weight always use 2.5% salt and .25% curing salt.

I used Turbinado sugar which is organic cane sugar.  I had it on hand and it was not getting used. You could use cane sugar.  The sugar can be more or less depending on your taste. It isn’t as critical as the salt or cure which should not be deviated from.  I use dry measurements for the seasonings since they aren’t critical either. But I consider for 3lbs, 1tsp of each an absolute minimum.  

Your math should look like this for 1000gm of meat.  You will probably have to convert your meat in pounds to grams.  Most small 1/10 gram scales will max out on 5lbs of meat.  Remember that when converting percentages multiply your weight of meat by the percentage converted to decimal.  2.5% is .025. .25% is .0025 in decimal.

Meat 1000gm

Salt 25gm

Cure #1 2.5gm

Sugar 25gm

Please comment if this is confusing.  These concepts and methods might be lost in the writing.  I have don’t my best to make them relatable as text.

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Mix it all well with the meat in a bowl.  Put in your vac bag and then pull a slight vacuum and then seal.  I like a little air in the bag so I have room to shake the meat up a little.  When it’s cured and I’m ready to dry, I use wooden skewers and smoke for 1 ½-2 hours.  I have a wood fired smoker and use mixed hardwood. Oak, Pecan, Hickory, and Cherry. 1 hour is not enough and much more than 2 hours the smoke starts to become bitter.  Be sure to keep temps low. Under 150 if you can. Cold smoke at 100 will even work.

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Then I transfer to my oven set at it’s lowest temp 170.  I hang it on the racks and let it dry for 2 hours. I then let it sit overnight.  If it still seems rubbery let it dry 1 more hour at 170. It will continue to dry even after.  So, you don’t want to get it totally dry in the oven or it will be very hard after a couple days.  Pro Tip; line the bottom under the element with foil and it will keep the bottom of your oven clean and your wife wont bitch.  This has made my life much easier.

This is the best batch of jerky I have made so far.  I’ll be sticking to this method from now on. I’ll be playing around with heat with the Chipotle flake.  Might tinker with a little more sugar. And might add some lime juice at the time of smoking. I have found citrus seems to make venison tough when used as a marinade.  Not sure if anyone else has experienced this or not. Enjoy.

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