The History of Beef Jerky

When it comes to beef, everyone has their own favorite cut. Some people would prefer a good rack of ribs almost any day of the week, while others may prefer a nice juicy porterhouse steak with some mashed potatoes and grilled vegetables. 

But these various cuts all have one downfall, the cook. If the chef doesn’t know how to make it, you might as well be eating the meat raw. But what if you could enjoy all the goodness of beef without having to worry about how it’s cooked. Oh wait, you already do, and it’s called beef jerky.

One of America’s favorite snacks, Beef jerky is amazing to taste and goes with just about anything. But if the popularity of beef jerky has gone over you or you just don’t know what it is, you may be scratching your head. So for the uninitiated, here is a little recap.

What is beef jerky?

Beef jerky is a relatively thin cut of meat that is drier than most cuts of meat. Its dryness is a defining characteristic and is very important. Drying and dehydrating the meat keeps it from spoiling. The drying process also includes adding plenty of salt to the cut, as that keeps bacteria away from the meat.

Of course, that is the most barebones way to prepare jerky, which is essentially dried salted meat. We, on the other hand, add some nice spices to our jerky along with different flavors. That makes it ready to eat right out of the packaging. Putting aside our little self-advertising there for a second, let’s talk more about beef jerky.

Have you ever wondered where beef jerky even came from? What it means? And why you’re asking philosophical questions about what is essentially dried meat? Well lucky for you, were about dive headfirst into the history of beef jerky and how it all started.

The History of Beef Jerky

First, let’s start with the name: Jerky. Although people have somewhat become numb to this name and have accepted it, it’s not really an English word. Sure the word jerky seems English enough, but the original name for jerky was Ch’arki. And the name may be a little hard on the tongue, seeing how it’s from a very old language called Quechua.

In Quechua, Ch’arki literally translated to dried meat, and eventually, when it made its way to the United States, people called it jerky. Of course, back then, this Ch’arki wasn’t marinated or had spices on it, it was just salty dry meat that people at the time could use later.

But how did this strange new type of meat – for the time – make its way into the United States? Well, for that, you can thank our European brethren, as they stumbled upon it during one of their travels.

The Europeans and Their Odd Discovery

 

Most people don’t exactly know where the origins of jerky start, it’s not like there’s a museum dedicated to it or historians tirelessly trying to find the genius who invented dried salty meat. Some say that jerky came from a Native American tribe thousands of years ago, while others debate that the Quechua tribe came up with it. Regardless, the most concrete evidence about the whereabouts of jerky came from the Quechua tribe,so that settles that.

As the Europeans first stepped foot on the land of the New World, they came across natives that were preparing some sort of dried meat. The natives of the Quechua village used meat from llamas and alpacas that they bred around their village. They would cut the meat into slices, pounded them thin and eventually let them cook under the sun or over a fire after rubbing salt on them.

Remember the Europeans we just talked about? They were actually Spanish conquistadors that were taking control of parts of America, but more on that later. Upon seeing dried meat,they were instantly impressed with this technique that the natives employed and gave it a name of their own: Charqui. Fancy, right?

The Conquistadors Go To the Americas

After visiting this tribe, they continued their travels, knowing about the new amazing recipe that they learned. Of course, this recipe came in handy, seeing how they were colonizing America and were forcing Christianity on all its people. As they managed to conquer more of what you now call The U.S. – land of the free – they saw other tribes using the same techniques.

These tribes were also adding salt to meat and drying it under the sun. The only difference between these other tribes and the Quechua was that these tribes were using different types of meat. Meat from elks, buffalos, and deer were prime choices for these tribes. And much like their land and property, the Spanish conquistadors soon took this idea of drying different meat. Well, now you know who to thank for that nice jerky you’re enjoying.

With the conquistadors slowly, well, conquering parts of the US, the idea of Charqui slowly started to spread. As more people got their hands on Charqui, Americans gave their own accent to the word, truly cementing its place in American culture. And just like that, Jerky came into being.

Why Jerky Was So Important For the Time

There’s a reason that Jerky has managed to stand the test of time, despite being the easiest type of meat to cook. The real reason why Beef jerky managed to stay this long is because of its long-lasting properties.

As you can imagine, people at the time didn’t have a proper fridge. Hard to imagine, right? And since there was no way to store cooked meat properly, people depended on jerky for that quick burst of protein that they can take on the go. This made it especially great for soldiers, as they could get the protein that they need at any time as they forced Native Americans into submission.

Moreover, as it was a reliable source of protein, people could also use it when food was scarce. Jerky was also a staple of every cowboy’s diet since they were easy to carry and were very filling.

Improvements in Taste

As you could imagine, eating salty cuts of dried meat weren’t very satisfying for people. The salty taste would often leave people thirsty, and the bland taste was a little too much for some people. So people decided that they could improve the taste a little bit by adding spices to the mix. And it turns out; spices were that missing ingredient that further boosted the popularity of jerky to new heights.

People loved the new taste of jerky, and as living standards began to improve, realized that this could be more than just meat. And soon, jerky became one of America’s favorite snacks.

Conclusion

And with that, we come to an end of our little history lesson. Starting from Native American villages to every American household, beef jerky has come a long way. Sure, you may think that with the invention of preservation techniques, we’d have abandoned the traditional snack, but beef jerky will continue to remain a staple in American cuisine and culture.

Resources:

https://www.hicountry.com/from-the-field/history-of-jerky/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerky

https://www.jerky.com/pages/history-of-jerky