Dried meat is the primal staple food. Between meals, jerky staves off hunger and keeps kids from craving junk. When we’re busy it substitutes well for a missed meal because it is so nutritious and filling.
This morning, for example, my house was a bit low on groceries (not terribly out of the ordinary); there were two eggs and one sausage in the fridge, plus a big chunk of dried beef. Kids come first so my daughter got the eggs and sausage and I had the piece of beef. By lunch I still hadn’t made it to the store so I had some pemmican – a Native American blend of jerky and tallow. It wasn’t much food for the day but I never felt hungry and was never low on energy.
Dried Meat Has a Rich History
It may seem a little weird to substitute a bit of dried meat for a meal but it’s actually an age old practice. Nomadic cultures would dry meats before long journeys and eat that, sometimes for days, when fresh food was unavailable. This high fat and protein food kept their internal furnace burning, keeping them warm and providing ample energy for arduous journeys across the Russian Steppe, the Sahara, or the North American Plains.
Health benefits of Dried Meat
Drying meat at a temperature at or below 104º keeps the meat essentially raw (although it doesn’t appear that way to the eye). Its enzymes are left intact and its healthy bacteria population alive. Enzymes break down the food we eat. We do produce enzymes for digestion but raw food also provides many of its own enzymes which takes the burden off the digestive system. We also need bacteria to digest our food. In fact, our digestive system is a thriving ecology which we depend on for good health. Raw food helps supply this good bacteria.
Most people these days are afraid of bacteria and fear that eating meat which is not fully cooked comes with risks. While it is true that we should avoid eating feed-lot-confined, hormone-pumped raw meat, on the contrary, meat from animals grazing on grass, breathing fresh air, and soaking up the sun is far more resistant to the kinds of parasites and bacteria that can hurt us. Avoiding raw foods altogether is dangerous for the digestive and immune systems. It makes them sterile and, hence, weak. The more you confine your diet to sterile foods the more likely you are to get food poisoned or suffer from digestive disorders. Eating fresh, under or un-cooked foods helps strengthen the digestive system so that when tainted foods do come our way we can easily and quickly deal with them. Unfortunately, our culture is led to believe that food needs to be “clean” and free of bacteria in order to be safe. Meats from healthy animals pose very little threat (if any. My family has been eating raw meat for years!)
How to Make Beef Jerky
- Slice the meat into ¼ inch slices or better yet ask your butcher to do it! Using a super lean cut like London Broil will yield a boring jerky but using one that is too fatty will just fall apart. I like to use a shoulder roast from grassfed beef. They are more moist, tender, they’re cheaper and more filling.
- Lay it in a single layer on baking sheets. Lightly salt each side. Sprinkle spices or herbs of your choice. I like to use turmeric and cayenne pepper.
- The oven temperature should be set as low as possible. The ideal temperature of 104º can usually only be achieved with a gas oven, propped slightly open. Conventional ovens usually only go as low 140º but if this is all you’ve got, just prop the door open a little more. Of course, if you live in a sunny place and have a backyard, you can dry your meat outside with a thin mesh over it to keep the bugs off.
- Flip the meat every so often because the bottom will usually stay wet while the top dries out.
- Depending on how thick the cuts are it may take up to six hours. The extent of dryness you desire depends on how fast you plan to eat it and where you will store it. If you dry the heck out of it, your kids might not be able to chew threw it but it will keep longer.
- Store them in a cool dry place.
How to Serve Beef Jerky to Kids
Kids don’t need to eat a whole lot of protein. While adults may need about 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight, children need about half that.
A child that weights 40lbs wouldn’t need any more than 20 grams of protein. That’s not much. So when they are snacking on jerky, let them dip it in tallow, butter, or coconut oil. They can use the fat as energy but too much protein can be toxic for children.