It’s Time To Get Into Jerky

Hello and welcome back to It’s Time To Get Into, my new snacking series that emphasizes no-cook (or suuuuuper simple cooking, in some cases) food recs/hacks/etc., with an emphasis on products you can find at major grocery stores. Think of this series as a way to spice up your grocery shopping list and enjoy foods that don’t require much work on your part. Last time, we talked about the versatility and range of tinned fish available at grocery stories. This time, we’re talking JERKY. And, generally, MEAT SNACKS (but with non-meat varieties as well).


Classic Jerky

When you think of “jerky,” you probably think of your classic beef jerky. You might also think about cowboys???? For some reason, I’ve heard from multiple people who are like “jerky is for cowboys,” and what I’m hearing from that is JERKY IS GAY.

You also might associate beef jerky with convenience stores. And listen, the beef jerky section of 7-Eleven absolutely bangs. It’s probably the second best section of 7-Eleven after the hot roller.

In my head, I always thought beef jerky was something only to be eaten on road trips, much like I always thought tomato juice was something only to be consumed on airplanes. But you can absolutely just eat jerky (and tomato juice, for that matter!) in your own damn home. It’s basically a chip but MEAT and therefore a little more substantial than a chip, you know?

You’re probably already familiar with the big brands of beef jerky, like Jack Links. And if you’ve had one of those common convenience store brands and found the product too tough, don’t write off jerky entirely! Fresh or homemade jerky is more expensive than these convenience store big brands (“fresh” jerky, btw, is still dehydrated and shelf-stable but is still better to eat sooner rather than later for texture reasons!) but you know where you can find loads of homemade jerky? ETSY!!!! I know I’m supposed to be giving grocery store recs here, but seriously some of the best fresh jerky you can get is on Etsy dot com. Prices vary, and so do the flavors. Everything from garlic beef jerky to teriyaki beef jerky to spicy pineapple beef jerky. A lot of the Etsy jerky sellers offer several flavors, variety packs, and sample sizes (like this seller does 4oz packs in a slew of flavors) so you can figure out what you like.

As far as grocery brands go, I prefer Tillamook (just the plain sea salt+cracked pepper is solid) and Country Archer (this spicy sesame garlic one!) to Jack Links.


Meat Sticks

There are some practical differences between jerky and meat sticks, particularly when it comes to the process. But basically there’s just a ~vibes~ difference also. Beef jerky is like strip-style meat, while meat sticks, as the name suggests, are stick-style, more like cured/smoked mini sausages. The best meat sticks come from a butcher. But there are some good grocery options, too. My favorite way to eat meat sticks is as part of my go-to writing break snack: a meat stick, a pickle, and a piece of cheese:

I also sometimes eat a couple meat sticks on the side of eggs almost like they’re actual sausage? Kinda brilliant if you ask me!!!!!

One of my favorite grocery/convenience store meat stick options are Duke’s shorty sausages — particularly the green hatch chile and peach bbq varieties. Next up are Old Wisconsin snack sticks. Wisconsin knows how to do meat sticks.

So, yes, technically Slim Jims could fall under the category of “meat stick,” and look, I love a Slim Jim. My younger cousin taught me a “Slim Jim hack” which is basically just to refrigerate it and eat it cold??? For some reason, it really does taste good that way!!!! And I won’t knock a Slim Jim! There are definitely just other options out there, and The Atlantic even wrote about the proliferation of “fancy Slim Jim” alternatives.


Non-Beef But Still Meat Jerky

Beef is classic, but any meat can be a jerky!!!!! Once again, Etsy is a good place for finding gamey options like venison jerky or bison jerky. Patagonia Provisions has spicy buffalo jerky. If you live in a place where deer hunting is popular, local gas stations and convenience stores might have some venison jerky for you to try.

This Korean BBQ-style pork jerky can get pricey and be hard to find, but it’s SO GOOD.

Turkey jerky is a popular alternative to red meat jerky, and Country Archer’s honey chipotle version is good. Epic Provisions makes a lot of different non-beef jerkies like these sesame ginger chicken bites. Sometimes people who have textural issues with beef jerky prefer poultry jerky options.

On the stick side of things, I’m obsessed with these chicken honey & jalapeño sticks from Mighty Spark (they’re oft-featured in the meat stick x pickle x cheese snack stack I do on writing breaks). The Patagonia Provisions smoked venison jerky is also great. Roam makes these pork sticks in a bunch of flavors, like pineapple.


Fish Jerky

Part of why I’m writing about jerky this week is because our very own Laneia asked me how to like jerky when she has simply never liked jerky. Immediately, one of the first things that came to mind was fish jerky!

Epic Provisions makes these pricey but soooo tasty salmon snack strips. The Neptune sweet ginger citrus fish jerky (made with rockfish) is one of my favorites. The spicy version bangs, too.

And yes, the jerky hive over at Etsy has fish options, too! If you’re shopping around though, just make sure to specify that you’re look for HUMAN fish jerky and not fish jerky made for cats or dogs. I have come so close to eating a snack meant for a pet.


Fruit Jerky

Okay, I cannot entirely speak for the merits of plant-based jerkies that are more or less mimicking the flavors of meat jerkies, because I’ve never tried any! There do seem to be several intriguing options on the market, though, including this teriyaki ginger mushroom jerky (which I honestly might try and report back?!), this “smokey Carolina barbecue” vegan jerky made from soy, and this straightforward teriyaki plant-based jerky.

But if we expand the definition of jerky to basically apply to all dehydrated, strip-like snacks, then I think fruit leather and dried fruits FIT THE BILL, so here are some of my favorite grocery options in that arena:

The Trader Joe’s soft and juicy mango pack is one of my all-time favorite pool or beach snacks.

Rind makes several flavors of chewy fruit leathers, including coconut and melon, which tastes like summer.

Solely actually markets its fruit leather as “fruit jerky,” and I picked up a pineapple and coconut one at a fancy gas station and wished immediately that I had 12 more.

I mean, if you really wanna get fancy, you can get your own dehydrator for making basically adult fruit rollups (and also meat jerky!) at home. If I could literally figure out the cabinet/counter space for one, I’d be on this train!!!!

Happy snacking 🥓


I’m officially taking requests for snacks, grocery hacks, prepared food, and no/low-cook recipe meals you’d like to see explored in It’s Time To Get Into! Let me know what you’d like to see more of.


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Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is the managing editor of Autostraddle and a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Miami. She is the assistant managing editor of TriQuarterly, and her short stories appear or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Joyland, Catapult, The Offing, and more. Some of her pop culture writing can be found at The A.V. Club, Vulture, The Cut, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram and learn more about her work on her website.

Kayla has written 394 articles for us.

14 Comments

  1. I am a California certified master food preserver (also a master gardener but that is for another day), and would encourage everyone to make their jerkey at home.

    It’s safe and easy.

    My skills in the kitchen are rudimentary at best, but if I can do it, so can you.

    Many recipes on the internet but here is a good website:

    https://nchfp.uga.edu/how/dry/jerky.html

    The national center for home preservation is a treasure trove of information on all aspects of home preservation and all the recipes have been tested for safety at the University of Georgia.

    No special equipment is needed, oven works fine and the smell of jerkey drying for hours in the oven is the best home fragrance! (Unless your vegan!)

    One tip: homemade jerkey makes great gifts. Easy to send, always appreciated and you can impress friends with your home culinary skills even if they are sorely lacking like my own.

  2. When I got pregnant my #1 craving was beef jerky. I could barely keep any other food down but jerky was all I wanted. It’s been almost 4 years and I’m just now able to eat beef jerky again.

    I also love the Tabasco Slim Jims. That plus a Chunky bar and a mini can of Pringles are my favorite gas station/road trip snack.

  3. Mmmm yes jerky :D this, 100%. Was lucky enough to have some spicy homemade jerky from a coworker in the past and it was incredible…so maybe this’ll be a push for me to actually try and make it myself!

    Speaking of Tillamook Jerky, they have an amazing jerky outlet store next to the Tillamook Creamery on the Oregon coast. They have these huge mega jerky sticks (which I think are two feet long?!) and it’s a fun stop if you’re doing an Oregon coast drive.

  4. My personal recommendation is Dublin Jerky! They have so many varieties of flavors & meats!! All made by hand in their store in Grandville Michigan, but they ship everywhere. Truly the best, check them out!!

  5. I need a good cook book on how to make beef or any kind of jerky and just the process in general and they do make a put away machine I ordered it 346.00 and I get it Tuesday it u look it up under dehydrated machines u will see them new and cool

  6. Ugh I love jerky! (if you had told younger me that, I would NOT have believed you lmao)

    I usually just get store brand beef jerky, but lately I’ve been treating myself to vegan jerky. as a Kentuckian I am here to tell you that Louisville Vegan Jerky is SUPER good. looove the Smokey Carolina flavor. also they have a variety pack and will ship it anywhere…just a hot tip from me to you!!

  7. My partner and I tried jerky because of this article (Archer beef) and we are now obsessed! I’m going to the States again for a wedding and I’m earmarking a cool 30% of my suitcase for jerky and a matching percentage of deliveries to the friend I’m staying with (jerky provision in the UK is much weaker).

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