While cold storage for food preservation was known to the ancients, it only became a modern convenience within the last century. Likewise, modern supermarkets, with their endless selections of shrink-wrapped meat products, is relatively new.
For millennia, the meat that came from slaughtered animals would necessarily have to be preserved in some way to prevent it from going rancid. One of the easiest and most long-lasting (think “Ancient Egypt”) methods was to dry small strips of raw meat.
This method of food preservation has migrated across time and continents, with each region putting its own method and seasoning imprimatur on it. The preparation is essentially the same, where strips of meat are salted, cured, and/or flavored, then left to dry either in the sun, over a slow fire, or smoked. The result is a wide variety of styles and flavors of what we know as jerky.
Below are just a sample of what are dozens if not hundreds of variations of beef jerky available throughout the world.
Bak Kwa – China
Made from ground meat, this thin wafer of slightly sweet jerky is a favorite during the Chinese New Year.
Biltong – South Africa/Australia
Biltong is often macerated in vinegar before seasoned and left to air dry for up to two weeks.
Carne de Sol/Jabá – Brazil
South America has a number of jerky preparations, but carne de sol is the most well-known. With its origins in Sephardic Jewry, carne de sol is beef that has been salted, then left to dry in the sun for two days.
Ch’arki – South America
This South American dried beef is the source of the name “jerky.” It is usually made from beef, but may also be made with llama or alpaca meat.
Coppiette – Italy
These Roman dried beef strips, usually from the hind leg, are flavored with fennel and hot peppers.
Dried strips of beef that have been salted and/or seasoned, then oven or air dried.
This Nigerian form of jerky is dried, then immersed in a spicy peanut sauce, then dried again.
Niu Rou Gan
What’s different and interesting in this Mandarin Chinese version of dried beef is that it is first boiled to remove impurities, then stir fried to add flavor, then finally either air or oven-dried.
Quwant’a – Ethiopia
Often seasoned with the cardamom and/or fiery spice mixture berebere, this jerky is oven-dried and used in the popular dish Quwant’a FirFir.
Sámi Reindeer Gurpi
Made from the scraps of reindeer butchery, gurpi is wrapped in caul fat and smoked for hours.