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Beef Jerky

By amy • • Jul 1st, 2016 • Category: Columns, Meat, Poultry, Seafood, Snacks

Faster than a greased calf, and threatening to engulf the nation’s cash register counters, the jerky business is increasing at an uncanny rate. In 2013, U.S. sales of meat treats exceeded one billion dollars. Today, if you visit a convenience store – or an artisanal butcher shop – you will notice an ever-expanding array of packaged protein to go: plain or fancy cured beef, chicken, turkey, pork, or game meat – even crocodile (currently being developed in Florida). Who eats jerky, anyway? And why is it suddenly a big deal?

What happened is this: the jerky industry upgraded itself. In recent years, the strategy has been to target two different kinds of consumers: not only the core faithful – the Doug Pickuptrucks – but also the downtowners, the discriminating urban types who value authenticity. The former are already well served; the latter is where the market growth is.

For example, beef jerky can be pitched to fitness enthusiasts as a good way to quickly ingest protein. The popularity of nose-to-tail dining has also cast jerky in a new light, and those on paleo diets are heavy consumers of jerky. At the same time, jerky is twisting itself into new, gourmet-friendly shapes. Flavoured jerky products continue to proliferate beyond mere chipotle or maple (sriracha is already considered old hat – an interesting development in a market that actually tastes like old hat). In the States, the latest innovation is the meat bar, premium meat pitched as a sort of cereal bar, but made with lamb or beef in high-end recipes, and handsomely packaged. (Omnibar’s beautifully designed Beef Bar contains beef, nuts, sweet potato, oats and flax seed). But the new new thing is jerky trail mix, a mash-up of nuts, seeds, dried fruits, and jerky. As Dick Stevens, CEO of Dick Stevens’ Jerky Mix told Food Navigator recently, “People don’t want M&Ms in their trail mix any more.”

Which raises the question: what do people want? Emerging from their bone-littered chaw caves to search for answers are this week’s expert judges: Cuisinier and Patissier Eyal Liebman, wizard of L Is For … Private Dining Experiences; colossus Peter Neal, co-owner Neal Brothers Foods; and chief carnivore Chris Zielinski, Culinary Director, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, all in Toronto. Space limitations prevent us from evaluating every product in a given category; entries reflect the luck of the draw. Items are blind taste tested and awarded between zero and five stars. The panel tasted flavoured and regular/original beef varieties.


Brand One

Jack Links
Original Beef Jerky
80g, $5.49
widely available
for more information visit jacklinks.com

Eyal: There are lots of small bits, which would be freaking annoying to fish out of the bag. Nice authentic-looking red colour, and a beefy, natural aroma. The taste is very good, but – am I the only one? – I’m finding the tiny pieces are better; they’re less stringy.
THREE STARS***

Peter: Great taste, clean not chemical, and not too much sodium, which is important. Nice aroma, but I’m turned off by the miniscule fragments, which are like rawhide. The texture could stand improvement – the pieces are dry and too chewy.
THREE AND A HALF STARS***1/2

Chris: All those bits of jerky shrapnel make me think I’m not going to get a good chew. Good colour; sweet, smoky smell; light, teriyaki-like taste. But it’s all so dry it falls apart – Brand One is too crumbly for me.
TWO STARS**

Brand One Total EIGHT AND A HALF STARS ********1/2


Brand Two

Jerky Baron
Original Beef Jerky
125g, $15
available on-line at http://jerkybaron.com/ NO LONGER AVAILABLE

Eyal: Dehydrated chicken legs! Or – dried Chinese medicine sticks! Licorice, maybe. Interesting appearance. Very chewy, very salty, and I’m finding it hard to locate the beef – Brand Two is borderline chewing gum.
ONE STAR *

Peter: I like the shapes, they look like vanilla pods. There’s a pleasant smell. But I don’t love the texture – tough and fibrous – or the taste, which is like soy with a chemical aftertaste.
TWO STARS**

Chris: Brand Two smells like soy sauce and lemongrass, and tastes like soy, with traces of ginger and cardamom. I would have a hard time getting through a bag of these things – they’re incredibly tough. If I had younger teeth, maybe.
TWO STARS**

Brand Three Total FIVE STARS*****




Brand Three

Longview Jerky Shop
Original Beef Jerky
80g, $6.00
available on-line at longviewjerkyshop.com

Eyal: Brand Three better be good, because judging by appearance I wouldn’t put these dark scraps in my mouth. But I am proved wrong. Texture and taste turn out to be amazing, a tad salty but with great balance of stringiness to moisture.
FIVE STARS*****

Peter: I’m curious about this; the pieces are charcoal-coloured and uniform, like chunks of licorice. The aroma has a great deep molasses barbeque thing going on. The taste is very good; genuine small batch artisanal, with no trace of sulphites. Bold rich flavour – this is my favourite so far.
FOUR AND A HALF STARS****1/2

Chris: This is the jerky to have with a beer, because it’s quite salty. Brand Three has a full frontal barbeque-teriyaki flavour, which I really like. The texture is interesting; it’s quite pliable, you can tear it apart easily.
FOUR AND A HALF STARS****1/2

Brand Three Total FOURTEEN STARS **************


Brand Four

Jack Links Small Batch
Original Beef Jerky
60g, $6.15
widely available
for more information visit jacklinks.com/products/small-batch-bacon-jerky

Eyal: There’s a grill flavour that would have been nice except they put in way too much salt and pepper. It’s labour intensive, very hard to tear but good in the teeth. Unfortunately, the appearance is like hamburger that’s been left on the grill for hours, like the kind my mother makes.
TWO AND A HALF STARS**1/2

Peter: Brand Four looks, well, bad. Not appealing. But there’s an interesting thing going on in the aroma and in the taste – a little hot pavement, a little tarmac. There’s a nice minerality to it. The texture is a bit gritty.
TWO STARS**

Chris: They look like small beaver logs. Without indicting myself, I’d say that the pieces smell like the roaches from contraband cigarettes – not that I’d know. The texture is dense and challenging. Big flavour – peppery and salty.
TWO AND A HALF STARS**1/2

Brand Four Total SEVEN STARS *******


Brand Five

Soo Jerky
Five Spice Flavour
85g, $5.59
available at Asian grocery stores across Canada
for more information visit soojerky.com

Eyal: I have to say the smell is the only good thing about Brand Five. I’ve seen unusual appearances in this test so far, but this one looks like schnitzel. The texture is too moist and too flaky, and it tastes like ground beef mixed with maple sugar leather.
ZERO STARS

Peter: Yeah, schnitzel or dried liver – not your ideal jerky. The mouthfeel is soft and mealy, and all I’m tasting is black licorice and anise. Awful!
ZERO STARS

Chris: Strange taste: I’m getting 5 spice, cinnamon, and a kind of Szechuan  sweetness, but it’s an artificial sweetness, not satisfying. There doesn’t seem to be any cow in there. It could be bacon schnitzel.
HALF STAR

Brand Five Total HALF STAR



Brand Six

Bay Meats
Maple Beef Jerky
80g, $7.99
available at select grocery stores in Ontario
for more information & to order on-line visit baymeats.com

Eyal: I hate it and love it at the same time. Brand Six has an excellent Asian-inspired smell. It chews forever but I like that. The problem is the aftertaste, which is foul. I would love this jerky if it had no aftertaste.
THREE STARS***

Peter: I like it, but here’s what I’m finding – some pieces are better than others. Nice shapes, with a beautiful, rich, consistent colour. There’s a smoky brown sugar barbeque aroma, and that sweetness and smokiness is there in the flavour, almost like a good barbeque chip.
FOUR STARS****

Chris: I’m picking up a kind of Worcestershire sauce/anchovy thing as well. The taste is sweet and welcoming, but finishes unpleasantly and softens quickly in the mouth. The pieces look like leather shards or dried shark fins.
THREE STARS***

Brand Six Total TEN STARS **********


Brand Seven

Krave
Sweet Chipotle Beef Jerky
92g, $5.99
widely available
for more information visit kravejerky.com

Eyal: Paprika. Maple sugar. I’m tasting a lot of things but no beef. Brand Seven is a good example of how looks can deceive, because this jerky seems perfect. But then it turns into slurry in my mouth …
ONE STAR*

Peter: Brand Seven has a moist inviting appearance. The smell is peppery and smoky and barnyard-y. But it tastes gritty and powdery and very contrived; the whole thing is overdone.
ONE STAR*

Chris: There are many things going on here, none of them very tasty. Smoked paprika for sure. A bit of heat – maybe some cayenne. That saddle-y element you find in some wines. The meat is merely a vehicle for paprika and cayenne.
ONE AND A HALF STARS*1/2

Brand Seven Total THREE AND A HALF STARS ***1/2


Brand Eight

McSweeney’s
Pepper Flavour Beef Jerky
125g, $9.97
widely available
for more information visit mcsweeneys.ca

Eyal: Brand Eight has a curious plastic-like surface, it makes me think I have to peel back Saran Wrap, but the mouth feel is pleasant and the taste is okay, even though the beef feels a bit artificial and there’s lot of pepper in there.
THREE AND A HALF STARS ***1/2

Peter: Nice smell, and – hey! – they look like pet treats. The taste is awesome once you get over the plastic-like aspect which seems to be coating the pieces. The flavour is sort of pepper-meets-Montreal-steak-spice.
THREE AND A HALF STARS ***1/2

Chris: If I opened the bag and saw these pieces I’d be happy, they’re a nice natural looking reddish-brown. I agree there’s a slight waxy thing – maybe a result of dipping the pieces in the flavour mixture. They smell like salami and I find them really easy to eat.
FOUR STARS****

Brand Eight Total ELEVEN STARS ***********

Results: From Alberta, natch, Longview Brand was the popular choice. At the other end of the scale, Soo Jerky tasted – there’s no other way to say it – sad.

Off The Menu: They did it to pizza, they did it to chicken strips. Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the corral, the jerky industry is gearing up for the next evolution in ‘added value’: dips. Over the next few years, expect packages of jerky to include McNuggets-style sides of sauces. Shelf Life says: consider the cow. No sooner are you off the ranch than you are dunked in Ranch.

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