Ah, beef jerky – the quintessential snack that’s both a road trip staple and a gourmet delight. Often found nestled between kale chips and protein bars, this meaty treat is a favourite for many. But why does this dehydrated delight often cost more than a decent steak at your local pub?
The heart of any good beef jerky is, obviously, the beef. We’re not talking about any old cut here. Jerky calls for premium, lean cuts – think eye round or topside. These aren’t your budget meat cuts; they’re the kind that would make a fantastic Sunday roast. And as any savvy shopper at Woolies or Coles knows, higher quality equals a higher price tag.
One of the most critical steps in making beef jerky is dehydration. This process removes a substantial amount of moisture from the meat, causing it to lose a significant portion of its weight. It’s not uncommon for 2.5 kilograms of raw beef to yield only about 1 kilogram of finished jerky. This weight reduction inherently increases the cost per kilogram of the final product.
1kg of topside beef will currently set you back around $20-25 AUD per kg. You are looking at $50 just for the beef to make one kilogram of jerky. We haven’t even gotten to the part where you dehydrate it for a solid day. I also think the amount of water in beef is something many people don’t realise. You also have to factor in trimming down your beef (important to stop it going bad).
The production of beef jerky is neither quick nor simple. It involves a lengthy marination followed by a slow dehydration process. This extended procedure not only takes time but also consumes a considerable amount of energy. Moreover, maintaining consistent quality adds to the labour costs, requiring meticulous monitoring throughout the process.
Beef jerky must be packaged to preserve its freshness and flavour over time. This involves using specialised, airtight, and moisture-resistant packaging materials, which are more costly than standard packaging. These materials help extend the product’s shelf life and maintain its quality during transportation and storage.
Like any food product, a lot of effort is put into the ingredients and production. And this is before we even get to the other factors of producing a good product. Marketing, transportation, compliance costs (health and safety).
At the end of the day, it is still more rewarding and cheaper to produce your own beef jerky at home. You can experiment with different flavours and even different cuts. If you can get a good sale on a quality cut of beef from a butcher or supermarket, it can make it even cheaper. I am a big fan of buying my beef for jerky from a butcher because they will also cut it up for you into the right size and consistency.