Thursday, August 31, 2017

Why Hunters Love Jerky, And What You Need To Know About Making It At Home


Jerky is the quintessential snack of hunting season. Convenient to carry in the fields, woods, or marsh, it’s easy to appreciate the versatility and reliability of this flavorful snack. All jerky, however, is not created equal. While there’s quality jerky at high-end retailers, it’s oftentimes costly. On the other end of the spectrum is gas station jerky, which is full of preservatives and hard-to-pronounce ingredients. Historically, hunters have proven themselves to be scrappy, so it’s no surprise that their solution to this conundrum is to make jerky at home, which is cost effective, healthier, and not as intimidating as it may seem.

To make delicious jerky at home, it’s important to be armed with the necessary supplies (which we will touch on throughout this post) and enough time to do it right. Give yourself at least a day of flexibility to tend to meat while it’s cooking or drying. If you’re new to making jerky, start with smaller batches and see which method best suits your kitchen habits and taste buds.

Read on to learn how to make jerky at home, as well as useful tips for best results.

Decisions, Decisions

There are so many decisions when approaching how to make jerky for the first time, but don’t let that put you off. Once you figure out your favorite methods, you can be as consistent or creative as you want.

Newbies typically start with an oven, since it’s an appliance most already have in their home. But plenty have argued for the benefits of using smokers or dehydrators. Smokers tend to be the most intensive, requiring lots of attention and have a higher risk of over-drying. Dehydrators are best for those looking to make jerky consistently because they’re typically easy to clean, can be set to the same settings repeatedly, and allow you to walk away for longer periods of time.

Aside from cooking methods, you also have to decide whether to grind or slice meat, whether to make strips or sticks from the ground meat, and how thick you should make strips and slices. As evident on the multiple forums and blog posts where hunters debate the best type of jerky and ways to prepare them, there’s no true superior method. At the end of the day, it comes down to your preferences.

Preparation

Chewy or brittle, stick or slice, classic or unique. This is where your decisions truly affect the outcome of jerky.

Check out these pro tips to step up quality and avoid beginner’s mistakes:
  • Always stick to leaner cuts (i.e. flank steak, eye of round, sirloin tip, bottom round, and top round), which result in a more tender chew and offer a longer shelf life than fatty cuts. Fat dramatically increases expiration. It’s also wise to trim any excess fat from lean cuts.
  • The thickness at which you slice the meat can either make it easier, or much more difficult, to chew. The optimal slice is ¼”. Consider using a cutting board preset specifically for jerky. Not only will precision be more attainable, but it also makes slicing a much safer activity.
  • Before you even take to slicing, it’s recommended that you freeze the meat for 30 to 40 minutes beforehand for better control.
  • Most blogs and recipes will suggest cutting with the grain for a traditional leathery chew. If you’re looking to crumble the jerky to use as a topping or for other recipes, however, cut against the grain for a more brittle and chewier end product.
  • Slicing jerky isn’t the only option! Another popular choice is grinding meat and using a jerky gun, which gives you the ability to make sliced or stick jerky, as well as sausage.

Seasoning


There are a ton of ways to address seasoning, and this may be where you can experiment the most. When starting out, your best bet is to opt for simple salt and pepper. When the texture and flavor of the end result isn’t competing with strong flavors, you’re more likely to get a better sense of what you like about it, and what you’d want to try next time.

Once you know exactly how you like to make jerky, that’s when the real experimenting can begin. Check out blogs and forums to find DIY seasoning recipes, or seek out reputable seasoning products available online or at a local retailer.

Regardless of the seasoning you try, be sure to marinade the meat for 4 to 24 hours before cooking/dehydrating. The longer the meat marinades, the more flavorful it will be. For best results, let meat soak overnight. Pat jerky strips dry to help speed up the dehydration process.

Method

As mentioned previously, the three methods of making jerky are baking, dehydrating, and smoking. With baking and dehydrating being lower maintenance, using a smoker requires more attention.

Every aspect of the smoker will influence the final result, especially the type of wood chips used. Some view this as an opportunity for more experimentation, while others see it as a potential for inconsistent and unreliable results. Dehydrators, on the other hand, allow for a higher quantity of jerky, as well as more control of every aspect of the dehydrating process.

As always, use your discretion to decide which option best suits you.

Shelf Life


The beauty of jerky is its convenience and long shelf life. When stored in the fridge, it can maintain all its flavorful goodness and chewy texture for up to six months. Or enjoy jerky within seven to ten days when kept in a cool, dry place. Vacuum sealing bags of jerky will ensure the snack will last one to two months when stored in room temperature.

Pro tips:
  • After cooking/dehydrating the meat, let cool for several hours before storing.
  • Never freeze jerky, as it can alter the taste.
  • If you notice condensation inside a bag or container of jerky, it’s time to throw it away.

What’s your favorite way to make jerky at home? Feel free to share tips and recipes in the comments section below!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Making Your Own Cider 101


As the hot summer days begin to cool off and fall quickly approaches, it’s time to trade in your beach beer for a cold glass of hard cider. The crisp, refreshing taste of hard cider has made its way into the hearts of many and has quickly become one of the most preferred alcoholic beverages on the market. While there are dozens of amazing cider brands to choose from, nothing quite compares to the feeling you get when you’ve harvested, pressed and watched your apples go straight from the tree to your glass. That’s right—brewing your own homemade apple cider isn’t just a rewarding experience, but a quick and relatively easy one, too!

Ingredients and Equipment:
10 lbs. of apples/1 gallon of juice
Fruit press
Large bucket
Nylon filter bag
Fermenter and air lock
Cheesecloth or large straining bag
Sanitizer (Star San)
Yeast of your choosing
Yeast nutrient
Bottling bucket
Bottle capper
Caps
Bottles
Syphon tube


Picking Your Apples:
Before you start brewing your homemade hard cider, you must first consider the ingredients and equipment you need to make the process run quickly and smoothly. Keep in mind that the type of apple you choose will greatly impact the overall flavor of your cider. If you want a sweeter flavor, opt for Gala, Fuji, Cortland, Golden Delicious or Red Delicious apples. Looking for a more acidic, tart flavor? Try Pink Lady, Braeburn, Jonathan or McIntosh apples instead! You can also mix and match types of apples to create a truly unique flavor that matches your personal taste preferences.

Juicing:
First, clean and mash or crush your apples into small pieces to prepare your fruit for pressing. Purchasing a fruit press, like our Harvest Fiesta Stainless Steel Fruit Press, will be greatly beneficial in the juicing process. To use, simply retract the telescoping base and pour your mash into the basket. Place a nylon filter bag in the basket before loading your apples. Doing so will catch the remains of the pressed fruit and make cleanup much easier once the process is completed. Be cautious not to overfill your press, for doing so will greatly reduce your juice yields.

Once you’ve loaded the basket about ¾ full, slide the base back into the center and place a large bucket under the spout to catch the juices. Easily crank the top handle until you’ve pressed the maximum amount of juice out of the apples in the basket. Once completed, retract the basket once again and remove the nylon filter bag. You may move the fruit contents around and give them a second pressing if need be. Transfer your collected apple juice into a jar or container and store away for later processing and fermentation. Check out this video to see the device in action!



Adding Fruit Matter:
After you have successfully pressed and stored your juice, consider adding small bits of apple to the mix. In homemade hard apple cider recipes, adding fruit matter to your ciders is often recommended, especially when using particularly harsh yeasts. Adding bits of fruit not only boosts its fresh, natural flavor, but the pieces also act as food for your yeast to consume. Fresh apple matter is always best, but frozen pieces work as well. Freezing tends to rupture the fruit’s cell walls and helps make it easier for more sugars to be processed by the yeast.

Pasteurization:
There are dozens of effective methods of pasteurization. Frozen fruit is typically pasteurized before it freezes, so simply dropping frozen fruit matter into the mixture will do no harm to your brew. However, it is important to realize that you will get much more color, quicker fermentation and more flavor if you blend and “mash” the fruit (whether it’s frozen or not) before adding it into the juice.

Choosing Your Yeast:
There are a variety of dry and liquid brewing yeasts that will work great for your home brewed cider, and you can find them either online or in-store at various homebrew stores. Although you can buy specialized yeasts for fermenting cider, dry wine yeasts do an excellent job and are a much cheaper alternative.

Keep in mind that the yeast you use will contribute nearly the entire character of your cider. While this may not be news to many of you, it is important to keep that in mind during the entire brewing process. Try to steer clear of Montrachet or red wine yeasts, as they take an extremely long time to ferment and produce the desired flavor. Also avoid yeasts that generate a lot of isoamyl acetate, for the banana-like flavors these yeasts produce tend to clash with the apple flavor. Opt for dry white wine yeasts instead, or try the typical S-04 yeast, which will create a dry, slightly tart flavor that is very enjoyable. Other yeasts to consider are:
  • Lalvin 1116
  • Lalvin 1122
  • Lalvin D47
  • WLP001 California Ale Yeast
  • 002 English Ale Yeast
  • 013 London Ale Yeast
  • Graff and saison yeasts

Fermentation:
Before you begin the fermentation process, make sure your fermenter and everything that touches your cool must (“must” refers to unfermented juice) is clean and sanitized. The best and easiest way to do this is to have a gallon-sized vessel (i.e., a bucket or a water pitcher) full of star san, a sanitizer for beer and wine equipment. Pour a small amount of the sanitizer into your fermenter and swish it around, making sure to evenly coat all of its surfaces a few times. Upon completion, dump the remaining star san into a bucket and place any of the small equipment you plan to use in the bucket as well.
Now you can pitch some yeast! Follow the steps below to successfully ferment your cider:
  1. Heat one cup of water until it boils, and then immediately turn the heat off. After doing this, add your yeast nutrient, let it cool to around 80-100 degrees Fahrenheit and then add pectic enzyme if you wish.
  2. Pour the mixture into your clean, sanitized fermenter and transfer the must (pressed apple juice) into the fermenter and pitch your yeast.
  3. Use about one packet of yeast per 5 gallons of unfermented apple juice. Remember that too much yeast is better than not enough!
  4. Use yeast nutrient according to your package directions (some packets state to use 1/2 tsp per 5 gallons, while others say 1/2 tsp per gallon).
  5. If you’d like, use about 1 tsp pectic enzyme per 5 gallons of must.
  6. Finally, cover your fermenter and attach a sanitized airlock. Let the contents ferment at 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit for a couple of weeks.


Bottling Your Cider:
Once the fermentation process is complete, you are now ready to bottle your hard cider! Using a hydrometer is the most accurate way to check if your cider is fully fermented. Upon completion, the cider should taste very dry. Keep in mind that if you bottle a cider that is too sweet, it may end up exploding from continued fermentation occurring inside the bottle.

Clean and sanitize a bottling bucket and heat two cups of water to boiling temperatures. Once the water starts to boil, turn off the heat and dissolve a priming sugar (corn sugar or dextrose) in the water. You will want about 1 oz per gallon (or 3/4 cup for a 5-gallon batch). Pour the hot dissolved sugar solution into the bottle bucket and carefully siphon your cider into the bucket as well. Fill your cleaned, sanitized bottles, leaving 1 to 1.5 inches of headspace. Cap and leave the bottles in a warm room for two weeks to carbonate. Next, refrigerate the bottles for three to 12 months. Keep in mind that cider ages well, so give it some time to sit for the best results possible.