Looking to make some tasty beef jerky to snack on? Making beef jerky is quite easy–as long as you pick the best beef for jerky (for you)!
Here at TheGrillingDad we are here to help.
In this article you will learn all about the best beef for jerky whether you are new to making beef jerky or just wanting a new challenge!
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What is the Best Beef for 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 beef 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 is the best for beef for jerky.
What to Look for When Choosing the Best Cut for Beef Jerky
When you are thinking about making homemade beef jerky, there are a few aspects you need to look for in the meat no matter the cuts of beef you are thinking of purchasing, such as:
- Amount of Fat
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 lean meat.
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 and skirt steak also have some marbling that can make nice tender jerky, but they come at a much higher 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!
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.
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, 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!
Skirt steak is similar to flank steak. It comes from the beef plate and is a long, thin, and flat cut that is rich in flavor with a tender texture. Skirt steak can be more expensive than top round and sirloin tip.
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.
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.
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.
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.
What is Best Cut of Meat for Beef Jerky?
As you can see, you have plenty of options when you are looking for the best beef for jerky. So, in trying to answer what is the best cut of meat for beef jerky, it will come down to personal preferences and your budget.
If price is not an option, I recommend you try lifter meat for beef jerky. However, you can’t go rong with using bottom round for a flavorful, but more economical option.
Should Beef Jerky be Thick or Thin?
If you are cooking a steak on the grill, then you want a thick piece of meat. But when making beef jerky, the meat goes through a dehydration process. Thicker pieces are trickier to dry out. For that reason, I recommend slicing your beef for jerky on the thin side. It will be quicker to process the meat, and it will be better.
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 for Beef 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.
Some people will tell you never make exotic jerky with meats you may find in the freezer section of your grocery store as these will not yield the best results.
However, the National Center for Home Food Preservation at the University of Georgia advises: “If pork or wild game is used to make jerky, the meat should be treated to kill the trichinella parasite before it is sliced and marinated. This parasite causes the disease trichinosis. To treat the meat, freeze a portion that is 6 inches or less thick at 0ºF or below for at least 30 days.” Learn more about making jerky from pork or wild game before you decide to use fresh exotic meat for jerky.
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 for 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 Best Beef for Jerky
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!
If you want to learn more about grilling, check out these other helpful resources!