By Kat Mattoon and Andy Lightbody
Grand Junction, Co. --(Ammoland.com)- It seems that every year, big game hunters to the high-mountains of Colorado head home with ice chests loaded with elk and deer quarters or boned-out meats.
That’s a good thing, for nothing provides better tablefare than wild game if properly prepared.
Unfortunately, outside of the prime cuts—steaks, roasts and chops, the majority of sportsmen will simply have the meat processor take the “leftover chucks and trimmings,” and turn it into pounds and pounds of ground meat/hamburger.
While we all love a juicy elk burger off the BBQ, staring into your freezer and seeing 40-60 packages of burger grind staring back at you can be a little overwheliming.
Afterall, how many BBQ burgers, spaghetti sauces, meat loafs and Hamburger Helper variants can a person endure?
Instead, why not prepare some of those trimmings and tougher cuts into a simple taste treat, even while in hunting camp?
The answer is simple… jerky!
If you think the high altitude and skinny air of the Rocky Mountains will have you gasping for air, stop off at the market or local gas/convenience store and check out what the real price of “run-of-the-mill” commercial beef jerky really costs you. Packaged in over-sized plastic bags, with bright “yummy” labels and offered in a host of flavors, the often dry and rather bland meat offerings that are loaded up with preservatives will cost you anywhere from $4 to $10 for a 2.5-3.5 ounce bag.
Laid flat on the table this easy to pack to the woods snack looks pretty appetizing to the unititiated. Most now even feature a re-sealable zip-top, althugh we’ve never met a hungry hunter who didn’t devour the tiny offerings in a single sitting! Hence, we’re not sure if the resealable package even works!
What we can tell you is at $2 to $5 an ounce for a convenient high-protein wilderness snack, it pretty easy to do the math and see just how expensive these dried/smoked “trimmings and tough cuts” of meat are actually costing you! At $35 to over $60 a pound, you could have had an ice chest full of live Maine lobsters flown here in and delivered to your hotel before you headed out for hunting camp. As we often do from our friends at A&A Lobster (www.aalobster.com). And yes they do Fed-X lobsters to anywhere in the nation, headed to camp!
The beauty of do-it-yourself jerky is that it can be prepared before you head to the woods, or even fixed right in camp. Its easy, simple, inexpensive and best of all is likely to be a lot more flavorful than a preserved dry meat offering that has been sitting on shelves for months.
Taking just about any cut of elk or deer that anyone in camp has harvested, begin by taking a 3-5 pound “slab” and while cutting with the grain of the meat, slice into strips about ¼ inch thick. Trim out any large sinew/tendons, but even here you don’t have to go overboard. The marinade will go a long way in tenderizing the tough stuff, and once dried or smoked will be pretty easy to chew and enjoy.
While we could get real exotic with a host of homemade blends of seasonings and spices, over the years of outdoor game cooking, writing and TV show productions, we’ve learned that some of the best are the Jerky cure mixes from Hi-Mountain Seasonings (www.himtnjerky.com) with over a dozen different flavor offerings. They likely will have flavor types that you never even thought of! One package mix of seasoning and cure is enough to marinate up to 15 pounds of game meat.
Once you have all your slices of meat, follow the directions with the Jerky Cure package in mixing up the two packets that are enclosed—1 spice and 1 cure. Mix the dry marinade with your slices of meat, put everything in large zip-lock plastic bags and put them in your chilled ice chest/cooler overnight. The cure mix and spices are not going to heavily cover/coat the meat. Trust us… a little goes a long way in the flavor department, so make sure you follow the instructions.
Allowed to marinate from 14-48 hours (yes it is okay to marinate for up to 2-days), remove the meat strips and place on a wire rack with about ½ inch space between strips for air circulation. If you are in camp, you can use your charcoal or propane BBQ or oven. The secret is keeping the meat high and away from the heat, and the heating/drying temperature low, around 200 degrees for about 90 minutes, or until the jerky strips are a nice chocolate brown color. If you like the jerky moist, cook it a little less. If you like it to snap like a twig, add a little more drying time. Remember, you are not cooking meat in the traditional sense, but instead are removing moisture and drying.
When you take your big game animals home, simple prepare the strips and Jerky cure mix the same way you did in the field. Now you can dry the meat in your kitchen oven, the backyard BBQ or add an additional layer of flavor by drying the meats in your smoker. One of the best we have ever tried and continue to use, is the Camp Chef Smoke Vault. Two models are available and both are moderately priced– 18-inch square or the larger 24-inch version (www.campchef.com).
In the field, or prepared at home, why spend $35 to $60 a pound for a sportsman’s treat that you can make at home for pennies on the dollar? And the bottom line, it tastes great and you have all the bragging rights to these great eats.
HUNTING CAMP– CRACKED-PEPPER JERKY
3-pound slab of elk or deer. Tougher leg cuts are fine to use.
Charcoal or propane BBQ/cooker/oven with covering lid.
1 package/box Hi-Mountain Seasonings Cracked Pepper Jerky Cure.
1 tablespoon and 1 ½ teaspoons Seasoning for 3 pds meat
2 tablespoons of Curing salt.
1 oven/jerky rack to use on the charcoal or propane BBQ/cooker/oven.
Oven thermometer; mixing bowl, cutting board, sharp knife.
Large zip-lock plastic bag
Cut meat slices with the grain of the meat, ¼-inch thickness. Use the combined Seasoning and Curing salt with the meat in a mixing bowl. Place marinated meat strips in plastic zip lock bag and then into an iced cooler for 14-48 hours.
Heat BBQ or cooker to 200 degrees. Place the meat strips on the jerky rack with 1/2-inch spacing between strips. Allow to dry for 90 minutes or until meat is tender/crisp to taste with a dark chocolate coloring.
Kat Mattoon and Andy Lightbody run Rocky Mountain Television/Productions and co-host the TV show—COOKIN’ ON THE WILD SIDE. Their latest cookbook— ALL THINGS JERKY—is scheduled for publication/release in the spring of 2014.
Andy Lightbody is a TV/Video producer and host, as well as an outdoor writer/photographer. Lightbody is the former Managing Editor for Western Outdoors Magazine; Senior Editor at Petersen’s Hunting Magazine and Editor of the Guns & Ammo Book Division.
He remains an avid shooter, hunter and angler, as well as a regular contributor to the Sportsman’s Warehouse publication-Sportsman’s News Magazine. Visit Rocky Mountain Television/Productions : www.rmtv.net