With the right food dehydrator, beef jerky is surprisingly easy to make. In addition, it has become a popular food trend because jerky fits into so many specialty diets and lifestyles.
Beef jerky you make at home is great for:
- High protein food for camping, hiking and hunting trips that is light and does not require refrigeration.
- Preserving the spoils of hunting season without taking up valuable freezer space.
- Making high protein, low-carb snacks for Paleo, Keto and low-carb diets.
- Prepping for the worst – setting aside stable shelf food for emergency supplies.
- Avoiding the extra sodium and preservatives in commercial jerky products.
- Eating in space. (Astronauts only!)
Not all food dehydrators are good to use with beef jerky, in fact, some can be downright unsafe. If the fan and heater are not powerful enough, you can create conditions that harbor dangerous levels of harmful bacteria in your final product. You will need a model that can get to temperature and circulate the air evenly and quickly to dry dense and moist sliced beef.
Below you will find our review of the best dehydrators for beef jerky in three classes:
- Best Value – Great selection for beginners looking for a low upfront investment.
- Best Family Size – Perfect for those that want to make larger batches more frequently than a few times a year.
- Gadget Geek Gear – Best choice for those looking for top of the line, commercial grade dehydration equipment. For serious preppers, gardeners, and athletes.
Read on after our review for a comprehensive guide on how to make beef jerky, full of helpful tips to make your first jerky experience a success.
If you end up getting into food preservation, you can upgrade to a more professional grade dehydrator later, and reserve this for a second dehydrator to handle fruits and veggies during the busy harvest months of late summer.
This model comes with five plastic trays for drying, two fruit leather trays, and two small gauge mesh plastic screens for small items such as berries. In addition to the free recipe book that comes included with this model, you will receive three packets of jerky spice for your first dehydrating project. This is a great starter kit!
NESCO® is a trusted name in home kitchen appliances, most famously for their line of standalone roasters. Parent company, The Metal Ware Corporation has been in the quality kitchen electronic appliance business since the 1920’s.
This product is made in the USA and comes with a one-year limited warranty so you can buy with confidence.
- 600 Watts
- 5 wide mesh BPA free plastic trays (can expand to as many as 12)
- Temperature: 95°F – 160°
- Dimensions: 10” H x 13” W x 13” D
- 52-page recipe book included
- High quality, trusted manufacturer, NESCO
- Made in the USA
- Top mounted, powerful fan
- Relatively quiet operation
- Center out; horizontal airflow provides even drying
- Small enough to use on the kitchen counter
- No built-in timer or automatic shut off
- You can’t selectively remove trays to make room for taller items for applications like homemade yogurt or fast-rising bread
- If you expand to the full 12 tray capacity, expect to add time to the drying process
- Although the temperature gets to 160°F, you should probably heat your jerky in the oven to 160° before placing in this unit, to be on the safe side.
Best Family Size:
If you have some experience making beef jerky from home, then you already know that it shrinks up considerably when properly dried. Those looking to make larger batches of jerky more efficiently are probably looking to invest in a more spacious model.
The Excalibur is a well-known name in dehydrators among preppers, gardeners, fishermen and hunters and for a good reason: it has a full 15 square feet of space for drying homemade beef jerky!
A powerful fan and horizontal air distribution ensure an even dry. An easy to use thermostat and 26-hour timer let you get your jerky going, then walk away. The stainless-steel mesh trays are professional grade and are dishwasher safe. It also comes with flexible poly screen tray inserts for making fruit leather.
Have a look at this model if you are already sure that serious jerky making is in your future.
- 600 Watts
- 9 steel mesh trays
- Temperature: 105°F – 165°F
- Dimensions: 12-1/2” H x 17” W x 19” D
- Made in the USA
- 26-hour timer, long enough for thicker jerky
- 165°F temperature max ensures safe heating before turning down for the drying stage
- 1-year limited warranty, live technical support number
- Extensive user manual that includes preparation methods and common drying times for a wide variety of foods
- Take out shelves for applications such as proofing yeast, sprouting live food or making yogurt
- You will need some clearance behind and beside this model
- Solid door means you will have to open the machine to check drying progress
Gadget Geek Gear:
We have arrived at the Gadget Geek Gear pick – the cream of the crop, commercial grade equipment for home use. For not much more investment than the Excalibur, you get several extra features that may make this the model you choose for your beef jerky food dehydrator needs.
It comes with 10 Stainless Steel Trays with ½” mesh, 10 BPA free plastic fine mesh racks for smaller items such as blueberries, and five solid trays for fruit leather. A digital display makes it easy to set to the exact specifications of your recipe. A 24-hour timer and automatic shut off make this as convenient as it gets.
The main bonus? 1000 Watts of power for exceptionally fast and even drying. In fact, experienced jerky makers will want to check in with the progress of drying at one half or even one-third of their usual drying time to make sure they don’t over dry with this powerful model! Don’t worry – the clear front door makes checking easy and efficient.
Plan on doing several batches of jerky this year? This may be the model for you.
- 1000 Watts
- 10 stainless steel ½” mesh trays
- Temperature: 95°F – 167°F
- 24-hour timer
- Digital controls for pinpoint
- Easy to clean drip pan
- Automatic turn off for safety
- Machine washable trays
- 1 Year Limited Warranty
- Clear front door so you can check your food without opening
- Made in China
- Needs lots of clearance on back and sides for proper ventilation
- Large footprint will make it too large for most kitchen spaces
- Pricey investment, but worth it for those looking for the best
How to make beef jerky:
It is critical to follow safe practices for preparing any food for long-term storage. Here are some tips that will help you make a safe, tasty and consistent jerky, every time.
Select the right meat for jerky
- Extremely fresh – This is not a good project for “Manager’s Special” meats.
- Lean – Fat is the enemy of dry meat storage.
- Cuts – Examples include flank steak, round steak, rump roast, brisket, London broil, tenderloin.
- Shrinkage – Expect about 1 pound of jerky for every 3-5 pounds of fresh meat.
Slicing for jerky
- Partial freeze – Wrap your cuts in saran and freeze for a ½ – 1 hour until just starting to get solid for easiest slicing.
- Trim – Take off any excess fat.
- Sharpen – The sharpest knife you can get will take most of the work and frustration out of prep.
- Grain – Cutting against the grain yields a more tender jerky, with the grain will give you more bite.
- Thickness – Around ¼” thick is the standard, although a bit thinner for crisper jerky, or thicker for chewier jerky is a matter of taste.
- Recipe – Follow a trusted recipe since the ratios of sugar, salt, pink salt (sodium nitrate), liquids and spices matter to keep bacteria at bay.
- Cold Marinating – Marinate in the fridge, not at room temperature, to reduce bacteria population.
- Minimum Temperature – To kill bacteria that can spoil your jerky or cause foodborne illness, it is critical that your jerky reaches 160°F (165°F for poultry) while it is still fresh. Steam or roast to that internal temp before placing in your dehydrator.
- Texture – Although you can dry more, the minimum dryness of jerky will crack, not break, when you try to bend it.
- Preheat – Get your dehydrator up to the desired drying temperature before putting your jerky in.
- Wipe – Any excess fat or moisture should be removed before storage.
- Cool – Completely cool before storing or moisture will build up in the container and spoil your efforts.
- Airtight – Mason jars, airtight freezer bags, vacuum sealed bags are all good options.
- Silica packets – Extend the shelf life of your pantry jerky with these dehydration packets.
- Pantry storage – Store in a cool, dark, dry place for 1-2 months, in some cases longer.
- Refrigerate – Buys you up to 6 months of storage.
- Freeze – Gets you a year or more of storage.
- Test – Before eating jerky you have stored, make sure color, texture, smell and taste are all exactly as you would expect since eating spoiled meat can be deadly.
We hope that you have found this review of the best food dehydrators for beef jerky helpful. Feel free to share your favorite beef jerky recipes with our readership in the comment section below.