Genius doesn't always strike before a Yankee-swap holiday party. But when Rachel Graville needed a gift two Christmases ago, she decided to make beef jerky. The sweet-tangy, mildly salty, gently dried beef was so good, a fight broke out over who would take it home.
Graville may be the ultimate artisanal-food DIY-er, but she is an unlikely dried-meat whiz. The 28-year-old is the proprietor and skilled baker behind Iris Cafe in Brooklyn, New York (named for her mother); that's where she sells her Gerald Jerky (named for her father).
Though Graville is a gamine blonde, her jerky tastes like something a cowboy invented 100 years ago. She starts with lean beef, since fat interferes with the drying process; grass-fed and corn-fed beef work equally well. Then she slices it by hand. Though she apprenticed as a meat cutter for New York's esteemed Pat La Frieda Meats, she says good knife skills are unnecessary. "I like those textural inconsistencies that come from not slicing the meat perfectly," she says. Next, she marinates the meat in a rich mix of beer or soda and seasonings, with no added salt or sugar. "I want to be able to taste the beef," she says. Lastly, she dries the jerky. The only possible shortcoming to her homemade approach: The preservative-free jerky won't keep for years on the shelf. It will last for weeks, however, in the refrigerator.
The Basics of Beef Jerky: Slicing
Real beef jerky isn't a smoky stick of preserved mystery meat. Rachel Graville's handmade versions are an exemplar of the artisanal-jerky trend.
Graville slices meat by hand. She likes the imperfections of the artisanal approach.
The Basics of Beef Jerky: Marinating
The beef can get saltier the longer it marinates; soak it for no more than 8 hours.
The Basics of Beef Jerky: Drying
Rachel Graville prefers a home dehydrator like Nesco American Harvest, but a 200° oven works well.
Mexican Lime Beef Jerky
© Tina Rupp
Spiked with jalapeños and fresh lime juice, this zingy jerky was inspired in part by Rachel Graville's stint as sous-chef at a Mexican resort.
Black Pepper Beef Jerky
© Tina Rupp
This classic jerky gets a double dose of peppery flavor from both cracked peppercorns in the marinade and coarsely ground peppercorns on top.
Sweet & Spicy Beef Jerky
© Tina Rupp
Rachel Graville created this licoricey, Asian-inflected jerky after drinking a Manhattan Special soda, a fizzy, coffee-flavored drink created in 1895.