It’s super easy to make your own beef jerky. But before I get into how, let me explain why. Beef jerky (or any kind of jerky, for that matter) is not something I normally eat or even think about. But in 2015, while planning for the annual Burning Man festival in the Black Rock Desert, I wanted to find a good source of protein that would hold up in the weather without refrigeration or plastic packaging. And knowing that I would be camping with Zero Waste guru Bea Johnson (a very exciting story for another day), I wanted to do more than simply stock up on trail mix and dry soups from the bulk bins, which is what I’ve lived on in previous years.
In Chapter 9 of her book The Zero Waste Home, Bea writes:
Backpacking meals can be purchased in the bulk aisle, too. Snacks such as trail mix, nuts, and beef jerky (sold loose in liquor stores) can be stored in cloth bags….
Of course! I thought, beef jerky would be great in the desert! But I’d never seen it sold loose, as Bea mentions in her book, and I really didn’t want to eat liquor store meat: where did it come from and how was it raised?
Even the “natural” stuff comes packaged in plastic.
So I decided to find out how hard it would be to make my own.
How to Make Plastic-Free Beef Jerky
Googling around, I decided on T Bird’s Beef Jerky from the Allrecipes website.
- I bought about 3 pounds of local, pastured London Broil from Whole Foods in my own reusable airtight container from Life Without Plastic. (They weigh the container before adding the meat and then subtract the container weight from the total price.)
- Cut the meat across the grain into very thin strips, about 1/4 inch thick.
- Marinate the beef overnight in the refrigerator in the same container using ingredients that were all purchased either from bulk bins or in glass jars:
- 4 tablespoons onion powder
- 1 1/3 teaspoons black pepper
- 1 1/3 teaspoons garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning (the recipe calls for dry Italian salad dressing mix, but that comes in a disposable packet, and I already had dry Italian herb mix from a bulk bin.)
- 1 cup Worcestershire sauce
- 1 cup soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
- I also added honey, as I found the original recipe to be a bit too salty and needed some sweetness.
- Preheat oven to the lowest temperature it will go. The recipe says 150°F / 50°C. My oven only goes down to 200°F, so that’s the temperature I used.
- Insert a toothpick into the end of each strip of meat and hang from the highest oven rack. Lay baking sheets on the lowest oven rack to catch the drips. (The recipe says aluminum foil, but why waste foil if you have something reusable?)
- Bake the meat until it’s as dry as desired. The recipe says 4 hours. I’m pretty sure mine took a lot less time in my hotter oven.
- Store in a reusable container with a lid and share with your friends and campmates.
When I told Bea about the recipe, she suggested that instead of disposable toothpicks, you could use reusable stainless steel turkey lacers. However, they do seem to come in plastic blister packs, and you’d need a whole lot of them. Bea likes to entertain and uses those turkey lacers for finger food at parties instead of toothpicks. I’m a hermit and already had a huge container of toothpicks, so I used those and I tossed them in the compost afterwards.