Modernist Cooking Made Easy is now Amazing Food Made Easy. It's the same great recipes, reviews, and articles just with a new name!

History of Beef Jerky

Beef jerky is marinated dried meat sourced from beef. It is cured in salt to prevent spoilage from bacteria, stripped of fat, trimmed into strips, and seasoned with different spices. Beef jerky is recognized to be high in protein and low in fat, making it a nutritiously popular snack.

Historically, the jerky isn't just all about beef. Thousands of years ago, the South American tribe of Quechua in Peru introduced the boning, curing, smoking, and preserving of meat. Buffalo was the main source of meat in those days and buffalo jerky was the first type of jerky. They call this recipe Ch'arki which translates "to burn meat".

How Beef Jerky Came To Be

When the Spanish conquistadores arrived on South American shores, they discovered that the natives were skilled in preserving dried meat products that can be easily taken during travels. Experimentation with different types of meat also expanded to include venison, deer, elk, and other wild game animals.

The fact that the natives could hunt for meat anywhere and easily gorge on their food makes Ch'arki a valuable cooking method. The Spaniards embraced this method and spread this type of preserving and cooking meat across North and South America, coining it as Charqui. Natives, hunters, traders, foreign settlers and explorers alike adopted the term. The term has evolved and this is how jerky came to be.

How Beef Jerky Was Originally Made

Originally, the buffalo meat was hunted, prepared, hand-sliced into long strips, and massaged with salt. Then, the meat was furled inside the animal's hide, dried under the sun, treated it with slow smoke, or dehydrated outside over rocks, leather sheets and trays for at least two to three days.

Smoking the meat actually finishes the cooking and drying procedure in about half a day. It became the preferred choice for travelers and nomads since the process of sun heating and air drying the meat requires a longer stop in their journeys.

Ultimately, the original preservation process laid the groundwork in which many jerky buffs enjoy the tasty, lightweight recipe that is known today as beef jerky. Beef is often the modern meat of choice and has been made more appetizing based on the Ch'arki or Charqui process so loved long ago.