Make your own jerky

No, that's not code for something obscene or rude. If you're lifting right and eating right, one of your go-to snacks is probably going to be dried spiced meat- also known as "jerky". I've loved beef jerky since I was a Cub Scout; it's a fast, tasty, convenient source of lean protein and energy, perfect for long hikes and snacking before a workout.

There's just one problem: commercially available beef jerky is often stuffed full of artificial crap, like soy, to give it better texture and flavour and to reduce the cost of the product. After all, beef is a very energy-intensive product. And if you know anything about soy, you know that processed soy is generally something you want to stay way the hell away from.

You might be pleased to know, then, that you can prepare your own beef jerky in a few hours using nothing but a few simple ingredients. And you don't need to buy anything fancy. If you have a refrigerator and an oven, this is all you need to do. The process will take roughly 4 hours once you start cooking:
  1. Get yourself a properly lean cut of meat, and lots of it. I used about 1.5lbs of flank steak, which has very little fat to it. You want a cut with little fat because fat will decompose quickly, and the point of drying out meat is to stop it from spoiling by getting rid of fat and water.
  2. Slice the meat very very thinly into strips. Dunk the sliced meat into a marinade of some kind. A soy-based marinade is fine here, simply because you're not using it to add volume to the meat, you're just using it to flavour the meat. Alternative marinades include rich German stout or dark ale, liquid smoke and honey, and a few other permutations and combinations of various ingredients. Use your imagination, the point here is to impart a nice smoky flavour to the meat.
  3. Leave the meat to marinade for 5-7 hours, or overnight.
  4. Take out the meat, dry off any excess marinade, and add spices. A combination of garlic powder, cumin, chilli powder, and crushed black pepper is a pretty good start. A dash of cinnamon on top of it adds a really mellow aroma.
  5. If you don't have a dehydrator (I don't), use an oven instead. Set it to 70 C (180 F).
  6. Put the meat onto wire racks with something underneath the racks to catch any dripping. I had to improvise here by stretching some foil over a couple of baking pans.
  7. Stick the meat in the oven for at least 3 hours; be prepared to cook for 5 or 6 if necessary. Turn over every hour or so to get a nice even dryness. The point here is to dry out the meat slowly using gentle heat, not to burn it to ashes.
You'll have quite a substantial quantity of delicious, homemade protein that you can now take with you to work in zip-locked baggies. This stuff will smell fantastic, and if you've cooked it right, it won't be tough or overly chewy. Instead, it will be tasty, nutritious, and easy to chow down on every time you need a flavour boost or an energy shot.

Net cost: maybe $20 the first time you do it, for a process that yields you more product than any three bags of beef jerky at the supermarket and which tastes better to boot.

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