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).
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.
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:
hot pickle, sharp cheddar, hot smoked sausage. simply an unparalleled writing break snack pic.twitter.com/Z6tr1mGRlX
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.
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!
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.
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.