The Best Meats for Beef Jerky (From Beginner to Expert)

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Looking to make some tasty beef jerky to snack on? Making beef jerky is quite easy–as long as you pick the right meats!

Here at TheGrillingDad we are here to help.

In this article you will learn all about the best meats for making beef jerky whether you are new to making beef jerky or just wanting a new challenge!

best meats for beef jerky

What Are the Best Meats for Beef Jerky?

When making jerky, you will want to buy top round, bottom round, lifter, or pectoral cuts. These aren’t the only cuts of meat you can use, however, as any cut that is lean and full of flavor has the potential to make delicious jerky.

Over the years we’ve made beef jerky from every cut of meat you can imagine, so keep reading to learn all about what we’ve discovered and find out which meat is the best for making beef jerky. 

Table of Contents

What to Look for When Choosing Beef Jerky Meat

When you are thinking about making homemade beef jerky, there are a few aspects you need to look for in the meat no matter what type of cut you are thinking of purchasing, such as:

  • Amount of Fat
  • Marbling
  • Cost

Read below to find out more about each of these aspects when it comes to choosing a cut of meat to make jerky.

The Amount of Fat in the Meat

Although fatty meat might be preferential for a big grilling steak, you actually need the opposite when making beef jerky. The fat in meat never fully dehydrates, so fatty meat that is dehydrated can spoil quite quickly, which defeats one of the reasons many people make beef jerky in the first place.

As you shop for meat to make beef jerky, you will want to look for the leaner cuts, like flank steak or lifter cuts when you want to make beef jerky that will last a long time. If you are the type of person who eats all their jerky in a day or two, then you probably don’t have to worry too much about selecting the leaner cuts. 

Marbling (Intramuscular Fat)

You don’t want too much fat in a cut of meat used for beef jerky, but you do want some, specifically the fat in the muscles, commonly referred to as marbling or intramuscular fat. This intramuscular fat ensures you will have tender and flavorful jerky. 

Lifter and pectoral cuts have a decent amount of marbling to result in a tender batch of beef jerky. Flank steak also has some marbling that can make nice tender jerky, but it comes at a much higher cost. 

Cost

Speaking of higher costs, making beef jerky can get expensive and fast. Therefore many seasoned jerky makers must balance the amount of fat they want in the meat with the price they will pay per pound. 

Making beef jerky for a special occasion may call for a more expensive cut, but when you are first starting out, it is better to pick a cheaper variety like a pectoral cut. That way, if you mess up your first or second try, you aren’t out an expensive cut of meat!

beef jerky meat fact

The Best Cuts of Meat for Tender Jerky

Now that you know how to shop for beef jerky meat, let’s take a look at some of the best cuts to look for when you want tender beef jerky. 

Lifter Meat

The lifter cut is the meat from the outside of the cow’s ribs. Lifter meat has a medium amount of marbling which will result in beef jerky that is both tender and flavorful. The only downside? Lifter meat can get a little pricey. 

Flank Steak

Flank steak, as the name implies, comes from the cow’s flank. This cut is lean with a light amount of marbling but the flavor is unparalleled. Just watch out for the high price tag!

Pectoral Meat

The pectoral cut comes from the chuck primal and has a light amount of marbling, similar to flank steak. While pectoral meat will make a tender jerky at a low price, be aware you will sacrifice a bit of flavor, so season this cut well. 

The Best Cuts of Meat for Flavorful Jerky

The most important part of beef jerky is the flavor. Below are the cuts you should use for the most flavorful beef jerky possible. 

Sirloin Tip

The sirloin tip may also be called the round tip and is a great mid-range beef for jerky making. While it isn’t exceptionally tender, this cut will give you great-tasting jerky for the price. 

Top Round

Chances are, you’ve had top round before, as this is the cut of meat used in the commercial jerky making. It comes from the round region of the cow and is the most inexpensive option on the list. It is the leanest, however, so don’t expect it to be as tender as other recommended cuts.

Bottom Round

The bottom round is also from the round region of the cow, and while it is a bit more expensive than the aforementioned top round, you will get a jerky that is slightly more tender and flavorful for the slight upcharge. 

Eye of Round

The eye of round cut comes from the center of the round region on the cow and is the most expensive of the round cuts. This cut will be more tender and flavorful than both the top and bottom round if you have the extra money to spend. 

How Much Meat Do I Need to Make Beef Jerky?

You’ve got your cut picked out, but just how much of it should you buy to make beef jerky anyway? The answer may surprise you. 

As you dehydrate your beef to make the jerky, you will lose a significant amount of weight. Most jerky markers buy three times the jerky they want to make in raw meat.

If you want to make one pound of jerky, this means you will want to purchase three pounds of raw meat to do so–which is why the cost plays a large part in picking meat for jerky making. 

If you are new to jerky making you may want to grab a little extra as well, as cutting meat to make jerky can be the hardest part of the entire process and you are liable to make a mistake or two. Even if it all turns out great, no one will complain about a little extra beef jerky.

Can You Use Other Types of Meat to Make Jerky?

Beef isn’t your only option when it comes to jerky making and there are many other types of meat you can use. Some of the most popular are deer, elk, and pork. 

Elk and pork jerky are especially tender, due to the higher fat content, but all three will make a flavorful batch of jerky. Just know that they may have a slightly gamier taste than what you are used to with making beef jerky, especially if you choose to make deer meat jerky.

When using exotic meats to make jerky, you will likely want to head to a butcher and find out when they will have these types of meats available. You may also want to connect with a friend who is a hunter to find out when they will have an animal they are planning to process.

It is never advised to make exotic jerky with meats you may find in the freezer section of your grocery store as these will not yield the best results.

You can even use fish, like salmon, to make jerky, but it will result in a product that is much different than traditional jerky and it isn’t for everyone. It can be tasty though, namely when used in soups, but it can also be eaten as a snack just like beef jerky. 

Additional Tips on Buying Meat to make Beef Jerky

Head to a Butcher

Having fresh meat for jerky making is essential. Check any meat you intend to buy thoroughly, looking for any dark spots or ligaments, as these will damage the quality of your jerky. 

Fresh meat is best acquired at a butcher and they can help you in other ways as well–such as recommending cuts of meat to go with spice combinations and even slicing the jerky for you!

Watch for Sales

Making beef jerky is addicting, and you won’t want to stop after just one batch. Watch for sales on a weekly basis so you can acquire your favorite cuts at a lower price. Knowing your butcher may be helpful for this as well as they can warn you of coming sales in advance. 

Using Beef Cuts that Aren’t on this List

The good news is that you can use almost any cut of beef to make beef jerky, even filet mignon, and ground beef. The bad news is, that it may not turn out like the beef jerky you are envisioning in your head, so it’s best to stick to the cuts on this list for your jerky-making endeavors. 

Final Thoughts on Beef Jerky Meats

Overall, making your own beef jerky isn’t too difficult, as long as you start with the right cuts of meat. Whether you are looking for something tender, or maybe something with a bit more flavor, pectoral, lifter, top round, and bottom round cuts generally work best for jerky making. 

Ensure you purchase the freshest meat possible, buy enough to keep everyone satisfied, and make friends with your butcher and you are on your way to jerky-making success. 

Curious about how long jerky lasts after you have made it? Check out our article How Long Does Jerky Last for more information on how long you can keep your homemade jerky!

Hope Davis

Hope Davis

Born in Denver, Colorado as the oldest of 5 children, I learned at a young age that the grill was one of the best ways to prepare food for a crowd. And during the winter storm months, when the snow was likely to knock out the power to our house, the propane grill was a lifesaver! You wouldn’t believe the number of things you can cook on a grill when necessary. With parents who couldn’t tell salt from pepper unless you told them, I spent my late teen years making my own seasoning mixes and marinades to dress the meat before barbecues. It wasn’t long before I developed a secret marinade that people still beg me to make for them today! When I was 21 years old I bought my first smoker. Picked up some cedar chips for making a cedar plank salmon...and well, the rest they say is history! I’ve been grilling and smoking all kinds of creations ever since and I’m always excited to share my passion with others through my favorite medium--writing!

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