In 2011, I took the train across the country five times. It takes three days to go coast-to-coast, and unless you want to eat bland train food for three-thousand miles, you better bring your own nutrition. In addition to becoming somewhat of an expert at train sleeping (tip: bring a sleeping bag, put your chair back and leg rest up, then sleep under your chair), I became proficient in the art of packing all the food I'd need for the trip, which, unless you want to eat instant noodles across the Great Plains, requires some preparation.
I began to make beef jerky to bring with me on the train, though this wasn't without its risks. Consider this: I spend two days marinating meat, and leave the house for several hours while the jerky dries in the oven. When I return my boyfriend is lying on our sheepskin rug with a blissed out look on his face and two cross-country train trips worth of dried meat in his stomach. He makes me a new (and, in fairness, even more delicious) batch using a teriyaki marinade, and I make it from Oakland to New York well nourished, but on my last day in New York I make the mistake of offering jerky to some of the actors in my play. The guys (notice a pattern?) ate my boyfriend's beef jerky by the handful, leaving me jerky-less for my return journey. But who can blame them?
Jerked meat is one of the first human-made products, and is consistently selected by astronauts as food for space missions due to its light weight and high protein content.
One actor, a famous bodybuilder in his native Syria, commented, as he decimated my meat supply, that it was the best jerky he'd ever experienced.
Proceed with caution: It takes 6-10 hours to dry out the jerky, but unless you live alone or with a vegan, stay home while your jerky dries. Defend your meat. Read by the oven.
- Three pounds of very lean meat. Try: beef, venison, buffalo, lamb, pork, or turkey. Ask the guys at the meat counter to slice it into 1/2" or 1/4" slices for you (depending on your preferred jerky thickness) to save you time. Meat shrinks to a third of its original size when dried, so this recipe will yield about one pound of jerky.
- 1 bottle of your favorite low-sodium meat marinade.
- Cracked pepper.
- Cut meat into slices 1/4" to 1/2" thick and at least four inches long and two inches wide. With scissors, cut away any visible fat and discard.
- Place meat in large bowl or ziplock bag and pour marinade onto it. Store in fridge for 12-48 hours, stirring periodically.
- Unless you have a dehydrator, heat oven to 200 degrees F.
- Lay meat on trays, dust with cracked pepper and your favorite spices, then put in oven or dehydrator. If oven, use a wooden spoon to keep the door cracked open three to five inches.
- Dehydrate for 6-10 hours. Turn meat over every few hours, and dust with more pepper and spices before putting back in. The jerky is ready when it snaps back when you bend it. It will become brittle and break if you over dry it - so be vigilant.
- Store in air-tight container. If you have made unsalted or low-sodium jerky, store in fridge. Will keep this way for a few months. To preserve longer, keep in freezer.
FANCY PANTS ADD-INS:
Ingredients you could mix into marinade: 1 cup dried cranberries, crushed red pepper flakes, garlic granules, onion powder, white pepper, chili powder, 1-2 tbsp honey or brown sugar, 1 tsp liquid smoke, 1/4 cup pineapple juice, 1 tsp ground ginger. Ingredients to dust drying jerky with: cumin, coriander, white pepper, cracked pepper, chill flakes.
NUTRITION (per ounce)
Calories: 115 Protein: 9g Carbohydrates: 3g Fat: 7g