Venison jerky is one of those pantry staples that we have on hand year around. It makes for an easy grab and go snack for camping, hiking, boating, hunting, or just cruising the backroads. Jerky packs a protein punch and helps fight off those hypoglycemia attacks (low blood sugar) my son and I seem to fight.
Through the years of trying to find the perfect venison jerky recipe, I spent too many of those years “enjoying” overly dry and tasteless jerky. I used a cheap $5 garage sale dehydrator that left me with overly dry jerky, and followed recipes that left me seriously questioning people’s taste buds.
After a successful mushroom foraging season, we had pounds of mushrooms to dehydrate, but my garage sale dehydrator just couldn’t keep up and ended up melting. I started researching dehydrators and decided I needed one with multiple metal racks so that I didn’t have to worry about them melting. I also decided I needed one with a timer and temperature controls. I left small hints around the house as to what the perfect Christmas gift would be, and low and behold, the hubby got me a new dehydrator!
This new dehydrator meant I had to step up my dehydration game and I started making venison jerky a few times a month and experimenting with dehydrated meals for camp. Being the researcher (read geek) I am, I studied jerky recipes and would have 3-4 recipes going at a time to narrow down the recipe to the one that had the best flavor. Thankfully, we’re a family of hunters so I had a freezer full of meat to experiment with.
One day, I found it – the secret ingredient that really stepped up that jerky flavor. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s fish sauce.
Fish Sauce for Venison Jerky 🐟👌
Stick with me for a minute. If you’ve never tasted fish sauce in a recipe, odds are you have already turned your nose up on using this secret ingredient on your venison jerky and you’re silently judging me. Odds are also true that you’ve had fish sauce before and didn’t even know it. I hear ya, but let me tell you how amazing this secret ingredient is.
See, fish sauce is used to add umami flavor, not necessarily fishy flavor. Umami is 1 of 5 flavor profiles that is often missed in a lot of recipes, but adds a different flavor from sweet, sour, bitter and salty. Umami is found in mushrooms, meats, seaweed, soy-based foods, aged cheese, tomatoes, and more. If you are a fan of Chinese and Japanese foods, you’ve definitely had fish sauce.
Fish sauce adds depth to meat dishes like meatloaf and meatballs and is a secret ingredient in soups, stews, and vegetable dishes. It isn’t fishy, but it is salty so be aware of adding any additional salt to recipes.
Fish sauce just so happens to be the flavor I crave more than chocolate and why my cheese addiction is on point. So, of course, it made all the sense in the world to add it to jerky. With a meaty, soy, brothy, savory flavor, fish sauce is just the flavor needed to kick up that venison jerky flavor a notch.
Your local grocery store probably has fish sauce in the Asian food aisle, but if you live in a small, rural area like me, it may be best to order it online. I found in my journey of learning about fish sauce that most recipe experts prefer Red Boat Fish Sauce, so I went with that and love it too! Read the comments in that link to learn more about people using fish sauce in their recipes.
Red Meat and Umami
Most red meats have the umami flavor in them. Leaner cuts like backstrap have to be carmelized to really bring out the umami flavor, but tougher cuts that are used for jerky really deliver, especially when paired with additional umami flavors.
Pink Curing Salt
Another ingredient I use is pink curing salt. Curing salt helps preserve the jerky so it lasts longer. It works to fight off spoilage and bacteria and makes the jerky more shelf-stable. It’s not essential, but it does add an extra layer of food safety to your jerky and isn’t that pricey. I discovered Boise Salt Co. a few years back to get pickling spice for corned beef and was happy with that, so I got my pink curing salt from them too.
Use pink curing salt sparingly. I found that 1/4 teaspoon per pound of meat works great.
Safety with Venison Jerky
It should be fairly straight forward with how to care for raw meat before consuming it, but I feel a little compelled to list out a few safety tips when making venison.
- Before making venison into jerky, freeze it first. Just like with sushi or carpaccio, you should always freeze meat to help get rid of harmful bacteria. After the meat has been frozen for at least 24 hours, you can thaw it to prep for jerky.
- It’s best to thaw meat in the refrigerator to keep bacteria from growing. The food temperature danger zone is between 41°F – 145°F.
- When you marinate the meat, make sure to keep it in a refrigerator that is 35°F – 40°F.
- It is recommended by the USDA to heat red meat jerky to at least 160°F before dehydrating to kill any bacteria. For poultry, the temp would need to be 165°F. The dehydrator I recommended above will get the meat up to that temp. You’ll be dehydrating the meat for the first 2 hours at 160°F before lowering the temp to 140°F for the remaining dehydrating time. If you don’t have a dehydrator that will reach 160°F, cook the meat in the oven for 10 minutes at 300°F. For best results, use a thermometer to test for temperature instead of assuming the meat reached 160°F.
- The marinade in this recipe will add the needed humidity when you bring the meat up to 160°F.
- Use pink curing salt to help fight off bacteria.
- After the jerky is done, let cool to room temperature before storing it so that condensation doesn’t build up in the storage container.
- Store beef jerky in the pantry in a sealed container for up to a month, or freeze in a vacuum-sealed bag for later use.
Alright, let’s get to making that jerky.
- Slice venison steaks 1/4 inch thin against the grain.
- Add remaining ingredients to a large plastic bag. Squeeze the bag to mix the ingredients together. It won't look like a lot of ingredients for the amount of meat, but trust me it'll be good.
- Add the sliced venison to the bag, seal, and swish the bag around to get the marinade into the meat.
- Refrigerate overnight turning the bag over once.
- Add the jerky in a single layer on the dehydrator racks leaving space between each jerky strip. Insert the racks back into the dehydrator.
- To start, turn the dehydrator to 160°F to bring the jerky up to a safe cooking temperature for 2 hours. After the initial 2 hour cook time, it will be safe to lower the temperature to 140°F for the remaining cook time of 3 hours.
- After 3 hours of total cook time, check to see if any smaller pieces are done. You can test for doneness by bending the jerky and seeing a white break line. Done jerky should be chewy, and does NOT snap in half completely. If it snaps in half it is overdone.
- Let jerky cool in the dehydrator after cook time is done. This will help prevent condensation from building up in the storage bag.
- Store jerky in a big plastic bag or container that is sealed. If you won't be eating the jerky within the month, you can seal it in a vacuum seal bag and freeze for later use.