Jerky: What Is It And Where Did It Come From?

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  June 4, 2022

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There’s a good chance you’ve had some sort of jerky in your life. It’s that dried meat people love to snack on. But have you ever wondered where it came from?

Let’s dive into the history of jerky and find out just how it came to be.

What is jerky

What’s the Best Meat Source for Making Jerky?

The Leaner the Better

When it comes to making jerky, lean cuts like beef round roasts and pork loin are the way to go. That’s because fat can get all nasty and gross during storage, and nobody wants that!

Whole Muscles or Ground Meats?

If you’re making jerky at home, whole-muscle cuts are the way to go. They make a safer and more traditional jerky product. But if you’re feeling adventurous, you can try ground meats too. Just make sure to pre-cook the meat to 160°F before drying it.

The Bottom Line

When it comes to making jerky, lean cuts are the way to go. Whole-muscle cuts are the safest and most traditional option for home processing, but if you want to try something different, you can go for ground meats. Just make sure to pre-cook them to 160°F before drying.

A Brief History of the Deliciously Portable Beef Jerky

Ancient Egypt

Way back in the day, Ancient Egyptians were already enjoying the deliciousness of beef jerky! Archeologists found dried foods preserved in tombs, proving that beef jerky was a great way to preserve and enjoy nutrient-dense food.

South America

The word “jerky” comes from the Quechua language native to South America. The Incan empire had been making “Ch’arki” since about 1550. This tasty treat was made from all kinds of pounded, deboned meat, but was probably most common from Alpaca and Llama. When Spanish conquistadors discovered Ch’arki, they were so impressed they brought it back to Western Europe.

North America

Native Americans were also big fans of beef jerky, and they had their own version called “Pemmican”. This jerky-like food was made from whatever meat was available, usually Bison, Deer, Elk or Moose. It was mixed with fats and berries, and was highly sought-after due to its portability and longevity.

Ancient Rome

The Italians had their own version of jerky called “Coppiette”. This dried meat stick was made from Horse or Donkey, and was seasoned with salt, fennel and red pepper flakes. It was usually made in the winter months and was served with crusty bread in local taverns.

What is the Origin of Beef Jerky?

The Ancient History of Jerky

Beef jerky has a long and storied history that dates back to ancient times. It’s a method of preserving meat for long periods of time, and it’s not just beef that can be used – venison, buffalo, fish (especially salmon) and all sorts of other game, including fowl, can be turned into jerky. In fact, today you can even get turkey jerky!

The word “jerky” comes from the Quechua language, which the Incas spoke. The word they used for the process of drying meat was “cchargini”, which the Spanish explorers adopted and turned into the Spanish word “charque”. Eventually, this evolved into the English word “jerky”.

Making Your Own Jerky

Not only the Incas, but many Native Americans used a drying process to preserve meats or fish for the winter or for long trips. The meat or fish was salted and hung in the air to dry until almost all of the moisture was removed. This allowed them to have a convenient source of protein when fresh meat was unavailable. The jerky could also be rehydrated and used in cooking.

If you’re looking to get your hands on some beef jerky, but don’t want to pay the high price for it, why not make your own? All you need is some thin strips of beef, some seasonings, an oven set to around 150 to 175°F, and some time. Any cut of beef round will make good jerky, as well as flank, which is more expensive.

What’s In Jerky?

Nutritional Breakdown

If you’re a fan of jerky, you know it’s a delicious snack that packs a punch of protein. But what else is in there? Let’s take a look at the nutritional breakdown of a typical 30g serving of jerky:

  • 10-15g of protein
  • 1g of fat
  • 0-3g of carbohydrates
  • Potentially over 600mg of sodium

That’s a lot of info, but don’t worry – you don’t need a degree in nutrition to understand what’s going on here. Basically, jerky is a great source of protein and can be a great snack for those looking to get their daily dose of protein. Just be aware that it can also contain a lot of sodium, so if you’re watching your salt intake, you may want to steer clear.

Tastes Great, Less Filling

Jerky is a great snack for those looking to satisfy their cravings without overdoing it on calories. It’s also a great way to get your daily dose of protein without having to chow down on a big steak. Plus, it’s delicious! So if you’re looking for a tasty snack that won’t leave you feeling weighed down, jerky is the way to go.

Food Safety Tips for Making Delicious Jerky

Wash Your Hands

You know the drill: lather up with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before you start cooking and after you do anything that could contaminate your hands, like sneezing or using the bathroom.

Clean Your Equipment

Make sure all your surfaces and equipment are squeaky clean before you get started. Sanitize everything with a solution of 1 tablespoon of chlorine bleach per gallon of water and let it air dry.

Thaw Meat Properly

If you’re using frozen meat, thaw it in the fridge on the lowest shelf to prevent any juices from dripping onto other food. Never thaw it on the kitchen counter!

Keep Raw Meat Separate

Keep raw meat away from other foods to avoid any cross-contamination. Marinate it in the fridge and steam or roast it to 160F (for meat) or 165F (for poultry) before dehydrating.

Use a Food Dehydrator

Use a food dehydrator with an adjustable temperature dial to make sure the temperature stays at least 130-140F throughout the drying process. Measure the temperature with a calibrated thermometer and place the metal stem between trays or create an opening for it by drilling a hole in the side of the tray.

Enjoy Your Jerky

Once you’ve made your delicious jerky, make sure to enjoy it within two months!

What’s in Jerky?

The Basics

Jerky is one of those snacks that’s been around forever, but do you really know what’s in it? Sure, it’s made from dried meat, but there’s a lot more to it than that! Here’s the lowdown on the ingredients that make jerky so delicious:

  • Salt is the most common addition to jerky, and it’s used to improve flavor, extend shelf life, and remove moisture.
  • Curing salts, such as Tender Quick, Speed Cure, Instacure, and Prague Powder, are sometimes added to the raw meat. These contain nitrite, which helps to fix the color and act as a preservative.
  • Spices like black pepper and garlic are also commonly added to give jerky its signature flavor.
  • Soy sauce, sugar, teriyaki, and barbecue spice can also be added to change up the flavor.

The Fun Stuff

Making jerky is like a science experiment! You can add all sorts of fun ingredients to create a unique flavor. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • For a sweet and spicy kick, try adding some honey and chili powder.
  • If you’re feeling adventurous, try adding some Worcestershire sauce and smoked paprika.
  • For a more traditional flavor, try adding some brown sugar and cumin.
  • For a tropical twist, try adding some pineapple juice and curry powder.

The possibilities are endless! So get creative and make your own unique jerky recipe.

Food Safety Tips for Making Homemade Jerky

The Dangers of Improperly Processed Jerky

Making jerky at home can be a fun and tasty way to enjoy your favorite meats and poultry, but it’s important to be aware of the dangers of improperly processed jerky. In the past, foodborne illnesses have been linked to the consumption of jerky, so it’s important to take the necessary precautions when making jerky at home.

The USDA’s Recommendations for Making Jerky

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that meat be heated to 160°F and poultry to 165°F before the dehydrating process to destroy pathogenic microorganisms. Adding cure (sodium nitrite) to the formulation can also increase the destruction of bacteria, compared with jerky without added cure.

Special Precautions for Making Jerky from Venison or Other Wild Game

When making jerky from venison or other wild game, it’s important to take special precautions. Game, including venison and wild game birds, can become heavily contaminated with fecal bacteria, depending on the skill of the hunter in dressing the animal and location of the wound. So, it’s important to precook the meat strips in a hot marinade prior to drying to destroy any bacteria on the meat.

Tips for Making Delicious and Safe Jerky at Home

Making delicious and safe jerky at home doesn’t have to be complicated. Here are a few tips to help you get started:

  • Heat the meat to 160°F and poultry to 165°F before dehydrating.
  • Add cure (sodium nitrite) to the formulation to increase the destruction of bacteria.
  • Precook the meat strips in a hot marinade prior to drying.
  • Make sure to dress the animal properly and check the location of the wound when making jerky from wild game.


Jerky Vs Biltong

Jerky and biltong are two delicious meat snacks that are packed with protein and perfect for on-the-go snacking. But there are some key differences between the two. Jerky is cut thin, marinated with spices and flavorings, then cooked at a low temperature to slowly dehydrate and cook the meat. Biltong, on the other hand, is cured in vinegar and air dried whole, then sliced. This makes biltong softer, saltier, and thinner than jerky, which tends to be drier, smokier, and chewier. Plus, biltong is made without any added sugar, so it’s a healthier option. So if you’re looking for a new and innovative snack, give biltong a try!

Jerky Vs Dried Meat

Beef jerky and dried beef are two totally different snacks. Jerky is usually marinated in spices and flavorings, then cooked with heat to give it a smoky, chewy texture. On the other hand, biltong is cured in vinegar and air-dried whole, then sliced. This makes it softer, saltier, and thinner than jerky. Plus, biltong is made without any added sugar, so it’s a healthier option.

If you’re looking for a new and interesting snack, biltong is definitely worth a try. It’s got a savory, vinegary taste and a softer texture than jerky. Plus, it’s packed with protein and low in calories, so it’s a great snack for those looking to stay healthy. So, if you’re a beef jerky fan, give biltong a shot – you won’t regret it!


In conclusion, jerky has been around for centuries and has been enjoyed by many cultures around the world. From Ancient Egypt to South America, North America, and Ancient Rome, jerky has been a staple for many populations. Whether you’re trying it for the first time or you’re an old pro, jerky is a great snack for any occasion. So, don’t be afraid to give it a try! Just remember, when eating jerky, “A little goes a LONG way!”

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Lakeside Smokers is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with BBQ Smoking (& Japanese food!) at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.