Whether you cut against or with the meat’s grain when slicing will determine how tender or chewy your jerky ends up.
What Does Cutting Against the Grain Mean?
When you look at a cut of meat, you will see meat fibers running across in one direction. If you cut in the opposite direction, then you are cutting against the grain. Which cut of meat you end up deciding to use will play a big part in determining whether you cut with or against the grain. This is because some regions of a cow are naturally more lean and tender than others.
Against the Grain
Meat that has been cut against the grain has lost a lot of its stability, which means you can cut, chew, or break it in almost any direction with equal force. These make for smaller, more tender pieces. If you are using a cut like top round, which is lean and tender, you might find that cutting against the grain turns it into crumbly pieces instead of the large jerky slabs you wanted. This is caused by the meat having no strong fibers left to stabilize the integrity.
- You get more tender slices of jerky
- If the meat you are using is already quite tender, then cutting against the grain will make the slices easily fall apart
With the Grain
When a piece of meat is cut with the grain, that means anyone chewing on it will be working against the grain, which makes it tougher. For cuts of meat that are naturally less tender, this way of slicing will end up causing you to have jerky that might be too chewy.
- You get the chewy texture of traditional jerky
- If the meat you are using is tough, then cutting with the grain could make it difficult to chew comfortably
How Thin Should the Slices Be?
Thickness is going to determine how long the meat will need to cook. Most jerky is sliced between ⅛ and ¼ inches (⅓ to ⅔ cm) thick.
The Best Cuts of Meat for Making Jerky
For anyone new to curing meat and making their own jerky, it might be a bit confusing to try and figure out which cut is the ideal one for creating the most mouth-watering snack. Which cut you should use will depend on what kind of jerky taste and texture you want to create. Whichever one you end up choosing, you want to make sure that the meat is ultra-lean because it provides the best texture and taste.
Top Round and Bottom Round
Top round is the number one choice for most people who make jerky. It is lean, tender, and comes from a prime area of the cow. There are much fewer fat deposits, which makes it easier to prepare and improve the overall flavor.
The Bottom round is tougher but still an ideal cut. If you want tender jerky and end up choosing bottom round, then you will want to cut against the grain to make it less chewy.
The flank meat is taken from a cow’s stomach area. You will need to trim the fat before you get started. This cut is usually tougher, which means you will want to cut against the grain to get jerky that is not tough.
The sirloin tip cut of beef comes from the lower back of the cow, and it is one of the most popular cuts overall for a lot of dishes. It does make for some good jerky though it might take a little more prep work than the other two cuts, and it will not be as flavorful.
The Best Equipment for Cutting Jerky Meat
Before you start on your jerky creation journey, it is important to ensure that you have the proper equipment. What you will need is going to depend on how big of an operation you intend to make out of the process. If you are simply making some jerky for yourself or your family as a hobby, then there is no need for expensive equipment (e.g., you can use Ziploc bags for storing instead of vacuum sealing the meat). Below are a few useful examples of tools for anyone looking to make bulk jerky.
You can use a knife like the KastKing Carving Knife, which will provide strength and a razor-sharp edge necessary to cut paper-thin slices of meat. They usually cost between $30 to $70 for a quality knife. A good knife can still lead to imprecise cuts if you are not used to working with it, which means that you may find it easier to use a cutter to ensure that all your meat is sliced into the same thickness so that they all cook at the same speed.
Cutters like the Weston Manual Cuber/Tenderizer & Jerky Slicer come for as little as $110 and can make the process of cutting up bulk slices uniformly much more efficient.
You can get a dehydrator like the Excalibur Electric Food Dehydrator for around $300. Dehydrators tend to create longer-lasting jerky, but they do not hold in the flavor as well as a smoker.
Electric smokers, such as the Masterbuilt Digital Electric Smoker, allow for more controlled smoking of your jerky meat, and they come at an affordable cost of around $200 to $400.
Storage is vital to the life of jerky, and having it stored incorrectly can ruin an otherwise great batch. Vacuum sealers are an excellent way to make sure that your jerky keeps its longevity and taste profiles through the storage process. The Entrige Sealer Machine is one example of an affordable option with a price tag of only $50.
4 Useful Tips for Preparing Meat for Jerky
These four tips can help you in preparing and cooking your jerky.
- There should be a minimum of .5 inches between each slice of meat to ensure adequate air circulation.
- Try to keep each piece uniform in thickness so that they will dry at the same speed.
- You will want to be familiar with the USDA health and safety guidelines for making jerky. You can find them here.
- Partially frozen meat (1 hour in the freezer) will be easier to cut into thinner pieces, and the thinner the slice, the faster it will cook.