Dried Meats: Jerky

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

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Microbes need water to survive and grow, so one simple and ancient preservation technique has been to dry meat, originally by exposing it to the wind and sun. Nowadays, meat is dried by briefly salting it to inhibit surface microbes and then heating it in low-temperature convection ovens to remove at least two-thirds of its weight and 75% of its moisture (more than 10% moisture may allow Penicillium and Aspergillus molds to grow). Because its flavor has been concentrated and its texture is interesting, dried meat remains popular. Modern examples include American jerky, Latin American carne seca, Norwegian fenalår and southern African biltong, whose textures can range from chewy to brittle. Two refined versions are Italian bresaola and Swiss Buendnerfleisch, which are beef salted and sometimes flavored with wine and herbs before a slow, cool drying period of up to several months. They’re served in paper-thin slices.