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Best Meat for Beef Jerky

Whether you’re on a road trip, at the park, or out camping, beef jerky is one of the best snacks to have on hand. It can come in all sorts of flavors, but there’s something great about biting into a piece of regular beef jerky and just getting all that …

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By Jeremy Pike

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Best Meat for Beef Jerky
Thinly sliced eye of round ready for jerky marinade.

Whether you’re on a road trip, at the park, or out camping, beef jerky is one of the best snacks to have on hand. It can come in all sorts of flavors, but there’s something great about biting into a piece of regular beef jerky and just getting all that beefy flavor in one bite. However, if we’re being honest, buying jerky from the store gets really expensive really quickly. 

The best news is that you can make your own beef jerky at home with a smoker or dehydrator and a sharp knife. Then the question is what’s the best beef for jerky? There are plenty of cuts in the grocery section, and if you choose the wrong one, you could end up with bad jerky. So what’s the best cut for beef jerky? We prefer the eye of round due to its leanness and beefy flavor.

Don’t worry though. We’re going to get into the characteristics of the best beef for jerky so you can make an informed decision as well as get into some other cuts of beef that’ll make excellent jerky. 

What Do The Best Beef Cuts For Jerky All Have In Common?

Eye of round beef jerky finished.
Mikes beef jerky from eye of round roast.

When it comes to grilling or smoking beef, we all know what some of the best cuts are. If you’re smoking, you want brisket (or if you’re on a budget, you can get a chuck roast.) If you’re grilling steaks, you want a ribeye.

However, what makes those cuts ideal for those types of cooking methods can make them much less ideal for jerky. You don’t want a ton of intramuscular fat nor do you want cuts of meat that cost a ton per pound. You’re going to lose between two-thirds and three-quarters of the weight during the jerky-making process. That’s a lot of money you’ll lose if you’re buying expensive meat. So let’s break down what you’re looking for.

Fat Content

Marbling example
Wagyu Ribeye SteaksNOT ideal for Jerky

While we love a good piece of moist point brisket or a beautifully marbled ribeye or porterhouse, we don’t want much fat at all in our jerky. Why? Well, when you’re smoking  brisket or grilling a ribeye, all that fat renders and keeps the meat moist. When we make jerky, we’re trying to get rid of as much moisture as possible. So keep the prime rib for the holiday roast and not for jerky meat.

Also, and honestly, more importantly, fat that goes through the dehydration process can turn rancid and make jerky go bad much more quickly than normal. While we all love jerky as a snack, it originally started as a method of meat preservation a long time before we had the wonderful invention that is the refrigerator. We no longer have to rely on preserving meat the same way to make food last, we just do it for enjoyment now. However, part of the enjoyment process is having that bag at arm’s length whether we’re on the couch watching sports or out hiking without worrying if it’s gone bad. So make sure you’ve got lean beef or are willing to spend some time trimming fat.

Now not all fat is created the same. There’s the fat that is on the outside of the cut of meat, also known as intermuscular, that you’ll want to trim off because it will go rancid fairly quickly. Intramuscular fat, or marbling as we love to call it, isn’t as bad when it comes to jerky. It can help keep the meat tender and chewy. You want to avoid big chunks of it because it’ll turn rancid just like the intermuscular fat. Some fine marbling is good, though. Just be aware jerky made from well-marbled cuts of beef won’t last as long as jerky made from much leaner cuts of beef.

Taste

Now you can buy beef jerky in all sorts of flavors in the store. You can also make homemade jerky in different flavors. However, the best meat for beef jerky is always flavorful on its own. You can cover up a subtly-flavored beef with extra flavors, but there’s something about just biting into a super beefy-tasting jerky that is so satisfying. So the best cuts of beef for jerky start out flavorful.

Mike’s favorite beef jerky kit comes from Cabela’s. Their cracked pepper and garlic flavor complements beef perfectly and has a little bit of heat from the pepper. There are many flavor kits out there and usually the most popular work with profiles such as black pepper, teriyaki, sweet and spicey, and jalapeno. There is a jerky kit that works for everyone.

Fresh

The original point of jerky was to preserve the meat so it didn’t spoil. When you’re making homemade beef jerky, you don’t want to use meat that’s starting to turn bad. You want to use the best quality and freshest meat possible. Keep an eye out for any signs that the beef is going bad. That can be discolorations, slimy texture, or a bad smell.

Price

As we said earlier, the beef is going to lose a lot of weight during the process of making jerky. We’re drawing moisture out, and we know that there’s a lot of moisture in each of these cuts of meat. You don’t want to be spending any more money than necessary when you’ll be losing somewhere around three-quarters of the money you’ve spent on weight. Don’t forget though, you’ll be condensing all that flavor into each strip of jerky. It’s still money well spent. Just leave the expensive cuts for enjoying in other ways.

Size

Going along with that point about how much weight you’re going to lose when making jerky, you want to start out with plenty of meat. If you’re looking for one pound of beef jerky, you’ll want to start with between three and four pounds of your preferred cut of beef. That means you want either big cuts of beef or smaller cuts that you can buy a few of easily. 

So now that we’re armed with all that knowledge, let’s look at the best cuts of meat for beef jerky. 

1. Eye of Round

Eye of Round Beef
Eye of Round Roast: Weighed in at 4 pounds.

You may not think that a cut of lean beef from a hardworking area of the cow as a prized cut. However, the eye of round is lean and packed full of beef flavor which makes it perfect for beef jerky. It’s also usually fairly inexpensive and you can purchase it in cuts anywhere from one and a half pounds all the way to a whole eye of round roast that can be up to eight pounds. 

While the eye of round has minimal marbling, you may or may not find it with some intermuscular fat still on the surface of the meat that you’ll need to trim away. 

eye of  round cuts smoking into jerky

Overall, the eye of round scores well on all the necessary criteria for being the best cut for beef jerky which is why it’s our top pick.

2. Top Round

Whether you’ve seen it packaged as top round or London Broil, this is another lean cut of beef that comes from a hardworking area of the cow. It comes from the inside area of the cow’s leg and is less tender than the eye of round. Despite not being as tender, it’s still easy to find in the store and requires minimal trimming due to its leanness and lack of intermuscular fat on the surface. It scores well in all the necessary areas as you can find it in the stores regularly and is inexpensive. You can find cuts of London Broil or top round around two or three pounds, so you may need to purchase two smaller ones if you’re looking to finish with a pound of beef jerky.

3. Bottom Round

Another cut from the round primal which makes sense. The entire area is full of lean muscle which is what we want when it comes to jerky. The bottom round is still again slightly tougher than the top round, but it still will work well for our needs. It has a bit of marbling to provide some tenderness to the final product. You do need to watch for that intermuscular fat on the surface as well as look for any larger intramuscular fat that could potentially cause you spoiling problems. You can find bottom round roasts that weigh around three pounds.

4. Flank Steak

Smoking a flank steak

The top of this list is full of lean cuts of beef that don’t require a ton of trimming prior to being sliced for beef jerky and are relatively inexpensive. Flank steak is a bit of an outlier on this list. It’s more expensive and can require some exterior trimming to prepare it. So why is it on this list? With patience and a willingness to spend the money, flank steak can make excellent jerky. It might be a bit tough at the end, especially if you don’t slice against the grain when preparing it, but it’s got plenty of beef flavor to make tasty jerky.  

5. Sirloin Tip

We’ll round out our top five list with a cut that might be a bit harder to find in your normal, everyday grocery store. The sirloin tip is actually from the round primal, not the loin primal where you would find the top and bottom sirloin. It’s lean and only requires some surface-level trimming to remove intermuscular fat and membranes. It doesn’t have as much beef flavor as some other cuts on this list, but it’s a good option for jerky that won’t break the bank. 

Some Other Options

While we have given you five options for the best cut for beef jerky, there are some other options that can work as well. They all fall further outside the parameters laid out above, but they can work with some know-how and willingness. 

Lifter Meat

If you haven’t heard the term “lifter meat” before, that’s okay. It’s also know as blade meat or cap and wedge meat. It’s a thin muscle taken from the outside of the cow’s ribcage. It needs some trimming to remove intermuscular fat and has some marbling. It’s not expensive but definitely not the cheapest option for jerky, and you’re not likely to find it randomly at your local grocery store. However, if you can find it, it’s tender and has plenty of beef flavor to make some good jerky.

Tri-Tip

Tri Tip on Traeger Smoker Pellet Grill

Usually when you see barbecue and grilling sites talking about Tri-tip, you’ll see people reverse searing it (or even occasionally smoking it brisket-style.) However, you can make jerky from it as well. It has plenty of marbling to make some excellent tender jerky, just be aware it won’t keep as long. It’s also not the most common cut of meat, so you’ll need to do some sourcing or keep an eagle eye for specials. You also have to remember that slicing it requires some awareness of the three different grains. 

Brisket

Say what? Brisket is for smoking (and making corned beef if you’re into that.) However, you can take the flat of brisket and turn it into jerky as well. If you purchase a whole brisket, you’ll need to separate the point and the flat and trim the intermuscular fat off the flat. While we love ourselves some Texas-style brisket, if you’re feeling adventurous and want to try something different with the lean part of the brisket, you can always try jerky.

Brisket Flat and Point


Wrapping It Up

When it comes to making beef jerky at home, you want to make sure you’re making it as easy on yourself as possible. That means choosing meat that’s lean, has good beef flavor, is relatively inexpensive, and you can get enough meat to offset the loss of two-thirds to three-quarters of its starting weight due to the cooking process. 

For our money, the eye of round is the best cut for beef jerky. It’s lean, doesn’t require a ton of trimming, has plenty of beef flavor, and it comes in big roasts from around four pounds all the way up to eight pounds. You should be able to make one to two pounds of jerky off a single cut of meat. 

Making jerky at home is a great way to enjoy an iconic snack for cheaper while also knowing what exactly you’re putting in to your food. Plus, when using the best beef for jerky, you’ll have a snack that will keep for a while without taking up room in your refrigerator. It’s a great way to prepare for an opcoming road trip or even football season.

What’s your vote for the best cut for beef jerky? Let us know in the comments!

FAQs:

Question: How Long Does Beef Jerky Last?

Answer: If you’re purchasing storebought beef jerky, you should eat it within a year of its production as long as it’s been unopened. Once opened, you can keep it in the fridge for up to three weeks. However, how many of us don’t finish a bag of jerky in a day or two if we’re being completely honest?

Question: How Long Is Homemade Beef Jerky Good For?

Answer: As long as it’s stored in an airtight container, you should be able to keep your homemade beef jerky for up to two months. If you’ve used a cut of beef that has more intramuscular fat, it won’t last as long though. 

Question: Can You Make Beef Jerky Out Of Ground Beef?

Answer: Yes, it just takes more work or more tools. You can purchase a jerky gun that will extrude the ground beef mixture in strips. Otherwise, you need to fashion the ground beef into strips by hand and ensure it doesn’t fall apart. You’ll also need to make sure you’re using a leaner mixture of ground beef. It’s a lot of work and you’re probably better off using one of the best cuts for beef jerky we listed above, but you certainly can make beef jerky from ground beef.

Ground Beef Jerky on Yoder Smoker
Mike smoking ground beef jerky on his Yoder YS640S.

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