How to Make Beef Jerky in an Oven, Or Better Yet, a Food Dehydrator

Can you make jerky in a regular home oven? Yes, a home oven can be used as a makeshift food dehydrator. Food dehydration essentially requires two basic elements; heat and air flow. These two elements work in concert to remove moisture from food. As the heat warms the food, its moisture is released and evaporated into the air. To dehydrate food in an oven, you simply place food items on the wire racks in your oven, set the heat and leave the oven door slightly ajar to let air and moisture out. You can also place a fan by the open oven door to provide some air circulation.

The basic meat preparation steps for making jerky are as follows: o Choose a lean piece of meat and trim off all the fat, connective tissue and or tendons o Slice the trimmed meat into 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick strips. The slices can be made with or against the grain. o If desired, the meat strips can be marinated with sauces and seasoned with spices, salt and pepper. o The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends that, before dehydrating, the meat strips be heated to a temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit (71 degrees Celsius). The USDA recommends this step to destroy any harmful bacteria that may be in the raw meat. Per the USDA, studies have shown that harmful bacteria can survive temperatures of 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius). The USDA specifically recommends preheating, before dehydrating, for ground beef based jerky. o Maintain a constant drying temperature of between 130 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit (54 to 60 degrees Celsius).

Advantages of dehydrating food in an oven include: a) an easy, practical way to experiment with food dehydration and b) little to no additional investment is required, assuming an oven is already available. However, dehydrating with an oven does have its disadvantages including: a) an oven lacks air movement, which is a critical component of food dehydration and could result in improperly dehydrated food, bacteria and microbial growth and premature food spoilage, b) inefficient energy use given the oven's size and cost (it is estimated that leaving the oven door open will require the oven to work 25% to 30% harder to maintain the desired oven temperature), c) the danger inherent in leaving the oven door open while it is in use, especially if you have younger children, d) the heat emanating from the open oven door will heat the surrounding area – not so good if it is spring or summer or if you live in a warmer climate, e) some older ovens can not set temperatures below 200 degrees Fahrenheit (93 degrees Celsius) and f) your oven will obviously be out of commission for several hours.

Food dehydrators are specifically designed to provide a constant ideal drying temperature combined with heated air that circulates via a blower or fan. Thus, the two main components in food dehydration – heat and air – are controllable via the dehydration unit. A food dehydrator's advantages include: a) a more efficient usable unit and space, b) a temperature control that can reasonably maintain a constant desired drying temperature, c) a fan that circulates the air, thus removing moisture and d) a more efficient dehydration processing time.