How about some homemade beef jerky? Because while it may sound daunting to season and dry your own meat, it actually is a simple process that requires little hands on time. It also can be done well ahead — as in several weeks — and the results are pretty spectacular. And let's not forget how wonderfully a well-seasoned hunk of jerky goes with all that beer you'll be drinking.
At its most basic, jerky is thinly sliced meat that is slowly dried until most of the moisture is removed. While some people use food dehydrators for this, an oven set at 200 F works just fine, too.
But nobody wants plain jerky, and that's where the marinade comes in. Once the meat is sliced, you give it a bath in something really flavourful for 8 to 10 hours. And those flavours can go in pretty much any direction you like, though big and bold are pretty much the best way to go. Think ingredients like hot sauce, lime juice, soy sauce and coffee.
In terms of equipment, all you need are a rimmed baking sheet and a wire rack (the sort you cool cookies on). You set the rack over the pan, lay the marinated meat on the rack, then pop it in the oven for a few hours.
Once the jerky is dried, be sure to let it cool fully. It will seem tender at first, but it will be drier and firmer once cooled. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for several weeks. Or until you have time to make a beer run for the big game.
SWEET HEAT BEEF JERKY
When making jerky, you want to get very lean beef. Top or bottom round is good if you want large, wide slices of jerky. For thin strips, flank steak (cut against the grain) is good. Whatever cut you get, be sure to trim away and discard as much fat as possible before slicing and marinating.
Start to finish: 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 hours (30 minutes active), plus cooling
12-ounce can cola (not diet)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons hot sauce (adjust to your tolerance)
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
2 1/2 pounds lean beef
In a large bowl, gently whisk together the cola, brown sugar, soy sauce, hot sauce and black pepper. Cut the beef into slices about 1/4 inch thick and add to the marinade. Cover the bowl and refrigerate 8 to 10 hours.
When ready to dry the jerky, heat the oven to 200 F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil, then set a metal rack over it. Mist the rack with cooking spray.
Remove the slices of jerky from the marinade, shaking them lightly to remove excess liquid. Arrange the slices on the prepared rack, leaving just enough space between them so they don't touch or overlap.
Place the baking sheet on the oven's middle shelf. Leave for 3 hours. Once an hour, rotate the pan front to back. After 3 hours, check the jerky. It should be just barely tender. If not, return to the oven for another 30 minutes to an hour, checking regularly. Remove the pan from the oven and let dry completely on the rack. Refrigerate in an air-tight container for up to 3 weeks. Let come to room temperature before serving.
Nutrition information per serving: 150 calories; 45 calories from fat (30 per cent of total calories); 5 g fat (1.5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 60 mg cholesterol; 3 g carbohydrate; 0 g fiber; 3 g sugar; 21 g protein; 135 mg sodium.
MAPLE COFFEE PEPPER JERKY
Want sweet, bold flavour without the heat? Try this variation on the recipe above. Use the same method for preparing, marinating and drying the beef, but substitute the following marinade.
2 cups strong black coffee
1 cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
3 teaspoons kosher salt
In a large bowl, stir together the coffee and maple syrup until the syrup dissolves. Stir in the black pepper and salt. Use the marinade as directed in the recipe above.
Nutrition information per serving: 150 calories; 45 calories from fat (30 per cent of total calories); 5 g fat (1.5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 60 mg cholesterol; 5 g carbohydrate; 0 g fiber; 4 g sugar; 21 g protein; 190 mg sodium.
AP Food Editor J.M. Hirsch tweets at http://twitter.com/JM_Hirsch . Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org