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Truck stops on Route 66. mom-and-pop markets in rural towns. Food marts at gas stations. Some 30 years ago, that’s where you’d be most likely to stumble across packages of beef jerky. These tough, bland, salty strips of mystery meat were more or less your only option.
Boy, how times have changed. There has been a veritable explosion of jerky in the marketplace, partly thanks to the popularity of Paleo, keto, and similar diets. Protein is the belle of the ball these days, even in snack and energy foods. And jerky has become a highly praised alternative to other less-healthy snacks. We’re not talking just beef and pork; today’s jerky alternatives range from chicken to turkey to familiar game meats including bison, venison, and elk. And for the more adventurous, wild boar, kangaroo, and alligator jerkies are also available. Even fish protein is now included, with salmon, ahi tuna, and trout getting the jerky treatment.
Did you know?
Jerky is made by trimming the fat off meat, cutting it into strips, and using salt to dry it out.
What to Look for in Jerky
When looking for the best jerky, you’ll want to check out a few key details—the origins of the protein source, other ingredients in the product, and the company’s philosophy. For example, Country Archer uses only 100% grass-fed beef with no added preservatives, no nitrates, no MSG, and no antibiotics or hormones. Epic uses only pasture-raised animals, and supports organizations devoted to improving animal welfare standards such as The Certified Humane Project.
What about taste? If you haven’t had jerky since the ’70s, you’re probably like I was—not all that fond of shoe leather in a plastic package. You’re in for a pleasant surprise! Here’s the list of products that turned me into a jerky fanatic.
Country Archer offers responsibly sourced, small-batch crafted jerky and bars of beef, pork, and turkey in multiple flavors. My favorite is the Mango Habanero Beef (great texture, perfect blend of fruit sweetness with a nice kick), with the Herb Citrus Turkey (moist, flavorful, peppery) variety topping my list of Country Archer bars.
Epic Provisions is committed to fostering biodynamic ranching practices and humane animal husbandry, and their gourmet bars are smashingly tasty. The Bison Uncured Bacon + Cranberry Bar knocks my socks off, and their snack strips include Venison Steak Sea Salt + Pepper Strip and Salmon Fillet Smoked Maple Strip.
Perky Jerky presents a straightforward array of meats and flavors, and the company donates a percentage of its profits to Duchenne muscular dystrophy and Down syndrome research. For something subtle, try the Turkey Pale Ale, or for something assertive, try the Turkey Hot & Bothered; both are tender and flavorful.
Others worth trying: Chef’s Cut (Honey Barbecue Chicken), Lawless (BBQ Spare Rib), Krave (Chili Lime), and Three Jerks (Hamburger Jerky).