What is Beef Jerky?

Why The World Fell Stomach-First In Love With Cured Beef

If your childhood was anything like mine, then beef jerky always felt like a premium snack. If someone at the lunch table had it, every kid in school seemed to beg for a piece. Why? 

Because beef jerky is freaking delicious. 

Those salty, smoky flavor bombs are just as good now as they were back then, and when you look a bit closer at beef jerky, it’s no surprise why this snack holds up as an adult. 

By the end of this blog, you’ll be a beef jerky pro. You’ll know how it’s made, how to pick the best jerky, how healthy it is, and much more. 

Let’s dig in.

What is Beef Jerky?

Chomps Beef Jerky


Beef jerky is a lean strip of beef salted and dehydrated for hours over low heat until dry.

Like many cuisines and dishes, beef jerky was invented out of practicality. In jerky’s case, it was a method for preserving beef in the times before refrigeration, with evidence of dried meat dating back to the ancient Egyptians[*]. 

Curing meat with salt and/or cooking it over low heat removes moisture (a.k.a. dehydrates) and reduces spoilage by restricting the ability of bacteria to grow. Alongside pemmican, biltong, and other dried meats, beef jerky became a staple of the traveler’s diet. 

As the world became more urban and modern, people began experimenting with various spice blends and ways to make their beef jerky more tasty and tender. That experimentation and the businesses that arose as a result led to beef jerky being the snack staple it is today.

How is Beef Jerky Made?

Making beef jerky isn’t that complicated, but every decision you make within the process has a profound impact on the final product. 

#1 You start by choosing the right cattle and the right beef.

Lean cuts with little fat like round steaks or flank steaks are common choices since leaner cuts respond better to slower and lower heat cooking methods. 

#2 Then, you slice the beef into thin strips. This allows the marinade and subsequent smoking to permeate throughout the cut. 

#3 After you slice the meat, it’s time to marinade. Beef jerky is usually marinated anywhere from a few hours to more than a day, and the splice blends added here are the secret recipes that every beef jerky company holds close to their heart. 

#4 After the marinade is finished, the strips are spread out on racks and smoked at a low temperature (~160 degrees) until dehydrated. This usually takes a few hours. Commercial producers will often cure the meat using sodium nitrite, too, which extends the shelf-life considerably[*].

Straightforward, right? So what makes some beef jerky so much better than others?

What Makes the Best Beef Jerky?

Grass-Fed Beef


The best beef jerky starts with choosing the right beef
, and opting for grass-fed and grass-finished beef (which many major brands don’t), makes all the difference in taste and nutrition.

You are what you eat, eats, and that is all too true for beef. Industrial beef is less nutritious, less tasty, and awful for our environment, and unfortunately, it’s what the majority of mainstream beef jerky brands use. These cows live their entire lives on feedlots, are so hopped up on antibiotics that their droppings are considered toxic waste, and they die stressed and unhealthy, which affects the taste and texture of the meat. And then we eat that beef? No thank you. 

And the additives don’t stop there with major jerky brands. Even after using low-quality beef, these companies will add in preservatives to increase shelf life and add sugars to compensate for low-grade beef. 

We started Chomps because we were tired of not knowing if our beef snacks were healthy. We wanted to work with honest farmers who cared about the environment, used sustainable farming techniques like rotational grazing, and prioritized health over efficiency. That’s ultimately what led us to the incredible beef of Tasmania — a paradise for cattle where they are raised on open pastures packed with the rich nutrients of volcanic ash and spend their entire lives free from antibiotics or hormones. 

That’s how our beef jerky sticks are hormone-free, grass-fed, Whole30-compatible, keto-friendly, gluten-free, and have no added sugar. 

See what beef jerky made from the healthiest and tastiest beef possible tastes like.

Does Beef Jerky Come in Other Flavors?

Since beef jerky is dehydrated strips of beef, there are all sorts of flavors, types, and brands. There are traditional flavors made with mesquite smoke and beef, sweeter flavors with fresh fruit and applewood, beef jerky strips, beef jerky sticks — you name it. 

Apart from traditional smoked beef jerky, there are a variety of popular spice blends and flavors including:

There’s a flavor for just about any type of wood or spice blend you want! And if you go beyond beef, the possibilities open up even more. You can make jerky out of any meat you want. For example, turkey and venison are also extremely popular choices for making jerky due to their flavor and protein content.

Try our lean, high-protein Turkey Jerky Sticks.

How Long Does Beef Jerky Last?

It depends on how the beef jerky is prepared and stored, but remember that beef jerky is designed to make meat last longer, so the process of dehydration slows down bacterial growth and extends the shelf life beyond most meat products.

In general, you’ll want to eat any opened bag of jerky within a week. If it’s still in the bag, then it can be anywhere from a few months up to a year, depending on the curing process and additives involved. 

If you’re making beef jerky at home, then doing an official cure instead of just dehydrating the meat will make it last longer, but you also need to think about how you will store it. The best home solution is to use a vacuum sealer, ensuring that the minimum amount of oxygen is present when you close the seal. Oxygen is what allows bacteria to grow, which is why commercial brands put those little bags inside the beef jerky (they consume the package’s oxygen). 

With our beef jerky sticks, we stick to a natural curing process using salt and celery juice and never use nitrates, nitrites, fillers, additives, unnatural preservatives, or other chemicals. Our sticks last up to a year once you buy them, and we recommend storing them in a cool, dark place to get the most freshness for the longest period of time. And once you open them, we recommend eating them within a day or two — ideally as soon as possible! 

Beef Jerky Nutrition Facts


According to the USDA, 1oz of beef jerky has the following:

  • 116 calories
  • 7.26g fat (3 saturated fat)
  • 3.12g carbs
  • 9.41g protein
  • 0.5g fiber
  • 2.5g sugar
  • 506mg sodium
  • 2.30mg zinc
  • 1.54mg iron

Let’s talk through this. 

Beef jerky is packed with protein. 

Since jerky is a type of concentrated meat, protein is no stranger. Chomps Original Beef Jerky Sticks have a whopping 9-10g of protein per serving! And besides being a macronutrient, protein is known to reduce hunger and appetite, build and maintain muscle, lower your blood pressure, and more! 

Beef jerky is high in healthy fats. 

Fats got falsely slandered over the past few decades, but they are a necessary macronutrient and are healthy as long as you limit your intake of saturated fats and eat them in the context of a balanced diet. 

Beef jerky is higher in sodium

Because making beef jerky involves salt and dehydration, the sodium content in beef jerky is high. That’s fine if you eat beef jerky in moderation and stick to lower sodium beef jerky brands, which tend to be ones that don’t fill their jerky with preservatives. However, if you have kidney issues or have been advised to lower your sodium intake, then beef jerky may not be the best choice.

Beef jerky is high in iron and zinc.

Beef jerky has high concentrations of iron, which is necessary for the production of blood cells and zinc, which supports your immune system.

Beef jerky is a great low-carb snack

Beef jerky provides healthy fuel for a workout without being heavy on the carbs. Most beef jerky has 0g of carbs and a lot of protein to keep you going. This makes it an ideal choice for keto dieters! 

Read more: Is Beef Jerky Healthy?

Is Beef Jerky Good for Keto?

Yes! Beef jerky made without added sugar is about as good as it gets on keto! Keto is all about watching your carb intake and getting your body into ketosis, and with beef jerky sticks like Chomps having 0g of carbs, you can eat all the Chomps you like without worrying about breaking ketosis! 

Read more: No-carb Snacks: 10 Satisfying Carb-Free Snacks

How Many Carbs are in Beef Jerky?

Beef jerky, without any additives or natural sugars, is a 0g carb snack. That goes beyond jerky as well. Any meat in its natural state is zero carb, and we get carbohydrates exclusively from plants and other non-meat sources. 

Read more: 10+ Keto Snacks to Buy At The Grocery Store

Is Beef Jerky Gluten-Free?

Yes! Assuming it wasn’t made with soy additives or gluten-free binders, then your beef jerky should be gluten-free. Just make sure it is labeled as such on the packaging and ideally has the third-party gluten-free certification. 

We don’t process any of the top 9 allergens at our manufacturing plant and exclusively Chomps are certified gluten-free by the Gluten Free Certification Group. 

Read more: Is Meat Gluten Free? Here’s What You Need to Know

The Bottom Line on Beef Jerky

Beef jerky is a snack with a rich and delicious history. Cultures all around the world have been drying and preserving thin strips of meat for hundreds of years, and for obvious reasons: its high-shelf life, great flavor, diet-friendly nutritional profile, and portability make it a great choice for just about anyone.

The problem, however, is that not all beef jerky is healthy. Many companies use additives, extra sugar, and chemicals to alter the flavor and longevity of their jerky. They also use low-quality beef that is fed a constant stream of antibiotics and unhealthy feed. The result is worse taste and a less healthy product for your body. So when buying jerky, you should choose companies that prioritize health over profits and work exclusively with farmers who care about their product and the environment. 

Ready to try the healthiest and tastiest beef jerky stick out there? 

You won’t regret it. 

TRY CHOMPS NOW

 

 

About the author
Nathan Phelps
Nathan Phelps is a foodie, writer, marketer, and musician living in the great city of Nashville, TN. He loves the intersection of healthy eating & science, and his daily activities include co-opting coffee shops as offices, morning optimism, afternoon doubt, and a nice swig of evening regret before bed.

Join our Newsletter

Get access to exclusive promotions, updates on new flavors, blogs, recipes, and more!