Slate has an entertaining little piece about the great American snack meat and it’s uniquely rugged connotations. Seems it is the snack for rugged outdoorsy types, hunters and Marlboro men in the great American West. And I must admit, I’ve always wondered what pemmican, a quintessential trapper and native American food, tastes like.
In its purest form, jerky is produced more or less like other dried-meat products around the world: Tibetan dried mutton, South African biltong, Spanish mojama, even Italian prosciutto and bresaola. Meat—often salted, sometimes marinated—is left to cure in the open air. Contemporary jerky-makers might use a very slow oven or a dehydrator to hurry things up; they might also smoke the meat to add flavor. Although it can take a serious head-jerk to bite off a hunk of particularly tough jerky, the word is actually derived from charqui, the Spanish adaptation of the Quechuan word ch’arki, which referred to dried meat during the Incan empire. By cutting meat into thin strips and allowing it to air-dry, Native Americans in the Northern and Southern hemispheres could quickly turn lean meat into a stable, light source of protein—an early power bar.
I never quite understood the fascination that Japanese tourists seem to have with large bags of jerky. Seriously they must buy immense quantities of the stuff because all the shops stock large bags of the stuff here. I have this mental image of all these people sitting around Tokyo masticating away on duty free beef jerky.
Since I started hiking regularly, my beef jerky consumption has increased markedly. I rarely ate the chewy bits of protein before, even after months on the Atkin’s diet. Frankly it just wore out my jaw chewing those strips of salted leather. But jerky is pretty darn convenient as trail food. A couple pieces of jerky and a handful of almonds and I got a quick (and light) trail lunch. I’ve found my particular favorite brands are Jack Links and Tillamook Country Smokers. Both companies make a more palatable type jerky that is a little moister and more chewy. Not bad at all. Certainly better than those nauseous Slim Jims that hang out at the gas station counters. Those things are simply vile. The Slate article mentions some gourmet jerky purveyors like American Grass Fed Beef and Gary West. Maybe I should try the jerky of the month club?