Hello and welcome to Week 9! For the next couple of weeks, new blog posts will appear on Saturdays, while I write some exams.
I’ve been getting all kinds of hack requests from my co-workers, and I thought I’d publish the list, so that you can see what you may be in for in the coming weeks:
- Change the oil in my car (by myself, not by taking it to a mechanic)
- Build a shampoo that works for someone who has to endure winter on the prairies (If you’ve ever lived through a Canadian prairie winter – and have hair — you know exactly what this is about)
- Jam (both of these came on the heels of the make-your-own-bread post)
- Covering an old tabletop with leather
- Hair hacks for those with difficult-to-manage curls
- Making your own corn tortillas
This week, we’re taking a look at beef jerky, at the request of reader Stackë Peaumonde. Stackë and his wife are avid hikers, who like to take beef jerky on longer day trips as a lightweight snack. He wrote in, looking to see if there was a way to make your own good-tasting beef jerky without the added cost of a dehydrator.
A Precise and Complicated Plan
I’m happy to report that there are plenty of recipes and methods for this particular life hack. I found four helpful books, whittled down to four recipes and then whittled those down to two: one very simple and one a little more complicated. The simple one came from Karen Solomon’s “Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It” and the more complicated one from “Four-Hour Chef” by lifestyle guru Timothy Ferriss. Both of these are fascinating books, but we’ll talk about that a little later.
Karen Solomon’s recipe has soy sauce, garlic and brown sugar, which seems to be the base for all beef jerky recipes, plus optional chili flakes and cracked black pepper (which I added). The Timothy Ferriss recipe included the basics plus onion, teriyaki sauce, molasses, liquid smoke and sesame seeds.
Both recipes called for flank steak, which you freeze slightly and then trim into 1” strips, removing ALL the fat (which can go rancid). I came home from Costco with a couple of pounds of beautiful flank steak but realized I was in trouble when I started to cut it up. Like good Alberta AAA beef, it was marbled with fat throughout. I COULD have removed it all, but it would have taken hours and I’d be left with an enormous pile of skinny little shards of hacked-up beef, rather than nice strips.
I went back to the grocery store and looked for an alternative. There, I discovered rouladen beef, which was perfect! (Rouladen beef is a very thin cut designed to make little rolls. It has almost no fat, so it was a breeze to work with.) I cut up the beef and put it into its respective marinades for the next 24 hours.
Once marinated, the meat then went into a very low oven (170 degrees F), on a convection setting. Convection sped things up enormously, and the jerky was ready after about four hours. (One note: because of the thickness of the teriyaki sauce and molasses, the Timothy Ferriss recipe needed a little longer in the oven to dry.)
Now I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I forgot to weigh the finished jerky when it came out of the oven. (This will cause some issues once we get to the numbers section, but I think I’ve got it covered.) I packaged everything up in ziplock bags and took it to work the next day for what I was laughingly calling “The Big Jerky-Off”.
Allow Me a Moment to Rave
I absolutely loved Karen Solomon’s book, “Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It”! As well as beef jerky, “Jam It” contains easy-to-follow instructions for making your own marshmallows, potato chips, chai, peanut butter cups and a whole pile of other cool things. Even limoncello. Yes! Limoncello! (It takes a full 8 weeks to make, so expect to see the blog post turn up late in the spring.) The book is beautifully designed and illustrated to boot. There’s a follow-up book called “Can It, Bottle It, Smoke It” and Karen Solomon also has a blog where she chronicles a variety of ongoing food adventures.
The Big Jerky-Off
The Timothy Ferriss recipe had a very extensive development and taste-testing phase, which had given it the right to claim to be the best beef jerky in the world. This was going to be interesting.
The jerky disappeared from our staff lunchroom quite rapidly, and the comments were uniformly enthusiastic for both recipes. When I tallied up the actual votes, however, Karen Solomon was the clear winner. If you are feeding beef jerky to western Canadians, it would seem that simple and straightforward is the way to go.
Since I didn’t weigh my finished product, I was eyeballing size when it came to comparing prices. (This is a bit complicated, so feel free to skip down to the last sentence if you want.)
Across several brands, Wal-Mart’s beef jerky averages out to $5.74 per 100 grams, and Safeway averages out to $6.55 per 100 grams. Between them, that’s an average of $6.15 per 100g. I’m estimating that I ended up with 690g of finished product, costing $24.83 (with lots of ingredients left over for a new batch). That makes my homemade beef jerky $3.60 per 100 grams, a savings of $2.55 per 100 grams or 41%. To put it into American terms, store-bought beef jerky is $27.92 a pound and homemade is $16.34. Cha-ching!
We used a lot of books this week! Between amazon.ca and chapters.ca, the average prices are:
Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It
Mary Bell’s Complete Dehydrator Cookbook
The 4-Hour Chef
On a 690-gram batch of beef jerky, I saved $17.61 as compared to store-bought. That makes this week’s life hack worth $103.84, courtesy of my library card.
Back to You, Stackë
So, Stackë — it seems that we have a bona fide life hack for you. You CAN make good beef jerky at home. It’s quick and easy to whip up, way cheaper than the store stuff, a whole lot less chemical-laden and you don’t need a dehydrator. You just need to pop down to the library and check out a copy of “Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It”. Thank you for sending this challenge my way, and I hope that you and Mrs. Stackë are one step closer to a successful summer of hiking and munching!
Here’s the skinny on this week’s books:
The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing
Written by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn
Published by W.W. Norton
Released Nov 22, 2005
Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It
And Other Cooking Projects
Written by Karen Solomon
Published by Ten Speed Press
Released Apr 28, 2009
Mary Bell’s Complete Dehydrator Cookbook
Written by Mary Bell
Published by W. Morrow
Released May 23, 1994
The 4-Hour Chef:
The Simple Path to Cooking Like a Pro, Learning Any Skill & Living the Good Life
Written by Timothy Ferriss
Published by New Harvest
Released Nov 20, 2012
Are You Still Awake?
Yikes! I think I’ve talked long enough this week. Next week, we’re going to tackle a simple and fun topic, requested by one of my colleagues: homemade butter. Until then, Happy Saturday to you and see you soon!
P.S. Update on last week’s sweater: I’ve invested another 5 hours and 14 minutes and I’m a good two-thirds of the way through the front. Stay tuned.