On a cold autumn day out deer hunting, there’s nothing better to keep your motor running than an occasional bite of high-energy food. And while peanuts, chocolate and other snack foods can do the job, there’s a certain poetic justice to fuelling yourself with jerky made from the previous year’s harvest.
Venison jerky is a lightweight and nourishing pocket snack, but it can be tricky to make. If you get the ingredients wrong, you’ll ruin a nice haunch of meat—and give yourself heartburn. Get it right, though, and it’s downright addictive. A couple of years ago, I was hunting deer with a gal named Leney Richardson, who brought along the best homemade venison jerky I’ve ever tasted. She says she experimented with several methods before finding a recipe that didn’t overwhelm the good, natural flavour of the meat. “Now the biggest challenge is preventing my husband, Jim, and the rest of the guys from gobbling it down as soon as it’s finished,” she says.
Some jerky recipes recommend soaking the meat in brine, but after a few disastrous experiments with that process, Richardson now prefers premixed formulas such as Wild West Seasoning. “They include the curing ingredients, and the results are much more consistent.”
As a happy customer, I can recommend Richardson’s venison jerky as the perfect, delicious, high-energy snack for deer hunting. The only problem is trying to remain still when you’re on your stand—one hand will undoubtedly always be crawling toward your coat pocket for more.
Here’s how to make it.
1/4 cup salt
1/4 cup smoked paprika
2 tbsp sugar
2 tsp black pepper
5 lb venison strips
Thaw a stack of round steaks until they’re just soft enough to cut, then shave off thin strips. “Use a very sharp knife and you’ll find it easier,” advises Richardson. “Some recommend quarter-inch strips, but I think you need to go thinner than that.”
Use about 1½ tbsp of jerky mix per round steak. One at a time, roll the meat strips in the mix and place them on a separate plate. “Use very little coating,” says Richardson. “A little bit goes a long way.” She cautions against taking shortcuts by shaking the meat strips and powdered mix together in a bag; that will make the coating too thick.
Once all the meat strips are coated, lay them flat in a glass dish, cover and let cure in the fridge for 24 hours.
Richardson then places a rack from her smoker on top of a cookie sheet, arranges the meat strips so they’re not touching, and heats them in a 200°F oven for 3½ hours. “That’s all there is to it,” she says. “You can store the jerky in plastic bags in the fridge for quite a while—I don’t know how long they’ll last, though, because they get eaten very quickly. Make lots.”
If you’d rather make your own jerky seasoning than go the store-bought route, here’s a recipe that works well, even with toughter cuts such as shanks and shoulders. —Angelo Paino
Mix together salt, paprika, sugar and pepper; sprinkle some of the mixture all over venison strips. Pound strips flat with a tenderizing mallet; sprinkle with remaining seasoning. Place on a wire rack in a 175°F oven until strips are dry but still pliable (about 8 hours). For a different taste, first marinate the strips overnight in teriyaki sauce (use a glass bowl). Drain and dry strips, then proceed as above.