It’s smoky. Savory. Salty. Sometimes a little sweet. It has been a favorite snack of travelers and nomads for thousands of years. I’m speaking, of course, of jerky.
Today, jerky is a big business. The Washington Post recently reported that it’s a $1.5 billion industry in the United States. Sales are up 46 percent since 2009. This high-protein, low-fat, low-carb, gluten-free snack has never been more popular.
It’s likely that our cave-dwelling ancestors had a “light bulb” moment when smoke from their fires not only repelled insects and scavengers but also gave their hard-won food flavor and portability. This allowed them to cache proteins for future hunting expeditions. Later, in Neolithic times, people discovered that salting meat and fish before drying them extended their shelf lives even more.
Etymologists believe the word “jerky” comes from South America, specifically from ch’arki, the Quechan term for dried meat. Spanish conquistadors reported that dried strips of llama were served to itinerants at way stations along primitive Incan roadways. (Selling jerky in gas stations has a historical precedent!)
But if you love jerky, you don’t have to buy it. You can easily make jerky at home (and you get to control the quality from start to finish). Here’s how.