We started our journey towards a more primal lifestyle a little over a year ago. As part of our journey one of the things we learned right off the bat is that Beef Jerky makes for a great high protein, nutrient-dense snack food. After all, it was with our homemade beef jerky that we started our Pocket Paleo line. I do feel it necessary to shed some light on the jerky manufacturing process because I think many consumers, especially Paleo Dieter’s are misinformed.
One of the major pros to homemade jerky is that you typically never “cook” it. You dry it in a dehydrator for several hours at low heat preventing the nutrients from “cooking out” of it. That’s why you’ll read recommendations on many Paleo and Primal blogs to make your own jerky. We too encourage that…but if you’ve ever made your own jerky you know there is a ton of work that’s involved from the slicing of the meat, marinading, loading up a dehydrator, drying out for hours, and unloading the dehydrator to store the dried meat. One batch of jerky can easily be a 24 hour process.
Now, introducing the commercially processed jerky that you find in grocery stores and convenience stores. This jerky is super convenient since you can grab it and go. It’s a high protein, savory snack (sometimes) on the go. The downside is that most of the meat you find in commercial jerky comes from factory farms (from all over the world) where the cattle are fed a corn based diet and live in mounds of dirt and injected with all kinds of hormones and antibiotics. The jerky also usually contains sodium levels that border dangerous for your daily intake (even if you are an athlete that sweats a lot and loses a good deal of salt).
There have been recent efforts on the part of Jerky industry to offer a minimally processed jerky with all natural ingredients and we applaud that effort. What most people don’t know is that ALL commercially produced Jerky is required by the USDA to be Cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees before it can be dried out. Ever cooked a burger to 165 before? That’s considered well done! This is to ensure any ‘potential’ bacteria are killed. So, if it’s cooked to 165 degrees before being dried out, then the idea of Jerky being healthy because all of the nutrients aren’t cooked out of it, is out the door.
This doesn’t mean that it’s still not a great high protein, low or no carb snack food. Also, just because you see Sugar or Soy Sauce as an ingredient in the jerky doesn’t always mean that there anything more than trace amounts found in the final product of the jerky. It’s very different than eating some kind of energy bar that is loaded with sugar and/or soy ingredients. Those are usually key ingredients to those types of products, not minor trace elements of a marinade that ultimately wind up getting cooked out of the final product.
Oftentimes, the beef gets marinated in a mixture of spices and sauces to help with the flavoring of the final product. The ingredients you should run from are things like BHT, Sodium Nitrates, and MSG. Jerky that comes from Grass-fed or free-range cattle is your best bet.
Most jerky, including ours comes from the leanest part of the cow, a muscle (we use the top round only), that by itself is not all that flavorful when cooked. You have to take a look at the whole nutrition label. For example, if you see ‘sugar’ as an ingredient in beef jerky and then the nutritional content reads 0 or 1 gram of sugar, I think you’re going to be okay…it’s a clear indication that sugar was used in the marinade but has almost zero impact on the final product.
As a company we made a decision to offer the lowest sodium jerky in the commercial jerky marketplace (170 mg per ounce) and not use any preservatives (no bht, sodium nitrates or msg). All of the beef comes from humanely raised, Grass-Fed cows who are never given antibiotics or hormones (to us, that’s the most important element). We also don’t use any unnatural products in our current marinade and it’s minimally processed. Our goal was to create a jerky that is moist and flavorful that comes from humanely raised, free range cattle, not one that is tough, over-salted, and from cattle that is on the same farm as the beef that is carried in your local fast food restaurant.
All in all, jerky does indeed make for a great snack food. Take it with you on a road trip, on a trail, camping, or keep it with you at all time to hold you over in between meals. Just make sure you understand the nutritional label and the ingredients that are harmful in jerky and those that are barely traceable in the final product. Stick with grass-fed and you’re usually safe. We hope this helps you understand a food that many of us enjoy and so few of us know much about.