Why Does Beef Jerky Cost So Much? Because It’s Worth It!
Beef jerky is an American staple with a long and celebrated history. “Jerky” is the result of a specific drying and salt-based meat preservation method called “ch’arki,” once widely employed by indigenous Central American tribes centered in Peru. Both the term (and the technique) were later adopted by Spanish settlers and carried North, ultimately assuming the name and form of the “jerky” that we know today.
Beef jerky is a truly delicious snack, but pound-for-pound it’s also a bit on the expensive side. Why is that? And is there a difference between small-batch beef jerky (like we offer at Stoltzfus Meats) versus store-bought mass-produced jerky that is factory manufactured?
Where’s the Beef? (And Where Does It Come From?)
Beef has always been an expensive food item, due to the considerable costs involved in raising and processing cattle for food consumption. Many of the largest industry jerky producers cut costs by importing beef from other countries, which, though cheaper, can affect the quality of the final product. The beef used in our jerky is of the highest quality, exclusively sourced from American cattle. While USA beef can be a bit more expensive, we feel the difference in quality is well worth the extra cost. It’s also important to us that all ingredients in everything we sell be of the highest quality, both as a matter of food safety and to ensure superior flavor in the final product.
The origin of the beef used directly affects the cost of beef jerky, but another important factor is the quality of the cuts of meat that are used. The beef used to produce the highest quality beef jerky must be lean. If there is too much beef fat in the meat itself, it shortens the shelf life of the jerky and makes it harder to preserve since beef fat is more prone to spoilage. Really good jerky is ideally up to 97% fat-free, which requires more expensive cuts of meat to achieve.
In addition to the high price of superior low-fat beef, the other raw ingredients needed to produce beef jerky also contribute to the production cost. The various spices, flavorings, and marinades used during production also make a difference in the quality of the final product. If one cuts costs by using cheaper, lower quality spices and flavorings sourced from a lower quality vendor, resulting in ingredients that are less fresh and vibrant, the beef jerky produced won’t be as flavorful and robust as it would if made with premium ingredients.
Raw beef is comprised of roughly 60% water by volume. When dried to produce jerky almost all of that liquid volume evaporates away, meaning it requires approximately 2.5 lbs of high-quality lean beef to produce a single pound of beef jerky. Some larger companies add expensive chemical preservatives when making their jerky or rely on wasteful automated factory processes to produce jerky in bulk, adding to the overall cost.
Smaller, more traditional producers can avoid these pitfalls through use of old-fashioned production and drying techniques to reduce waste and preserve the quality of the product, but these methods require more intensive hands-on labor to craft each batch, which carries its own cost.
Why does the best beef jerky cost so much? Because of the high cost of materials (raw beef, high-quality ingredients), the expense of non-automated processing, and the necessary time and care required to manage the dehydration process.
Is Making Beef Jerky Cheaper Than Buying It?
It certainly can be… in the long run. But understand that the tools, materials, and ingredients required to produce high-quality beef jerky can be a relatively expensive investment when one is first starting out. It also helps to have some knowledge about the process itself, as well as recipes and step-by-step instructions, to avoid an expensive period of trial and error while you figure out the best way to make your first batch.
Once you have a handle on the process and have the tools and ingredients needed to make it, you can save money by making your own jerky, usually from the second batch and onward. Since you control the quality of the ingredients you use, you might even trim the costs a bit more as you become more efficient. Homemade beef jerky may also be a good solution for people with specific food allergies or sensitivities.
How Long Is Beef Jerky Good For?
Beef jerky is dehydrated meat made by marinating, salting, and curing the meat before exposing it to heated air. By removing moisture, you reduce any possible breeding ground for bacteria. Adding salt to the drying process also aids in preserving the meat.
Shelf life will vary somewhat depending on the specifics of how the meat was prepared. Store-bought beef jerky will last (unopened) for between a year and two years if properly stored. Homemade jerky will last up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator, and up to one week in your pantry.
Once opened, beef jerky will last a few days to a week.
Try Our Beef Jerky: Superior Meat and Spice for the Price
The beef jerky we offer at Stoltzfus Meats is locally produced by the batch, naturally cut and seasoned. Only the finest ingredients are used in a traditional preparation process that produces real beef jerky of the best flavor and highest quality.We’re proud of our beef jerky and we think you’ll agree… it’s a delicious treat that’s worth the price by the poke or by the pound!