Rogue Pepper is stoked to bring you the start of a new series by Chris, Stephanie’s brother and resident cured meat enjoyer. Fellow carnivores, let’s show him some love, as he embarks on a very important journey near and dear to our hearts. . .
Once in a while in life, you get the opportunity to take on what seems like an insurmountable challenge. In mythology and fiction, it usually takes the form of someone having to travel away from their home to battle a surreal ferocious beast to save their loved ones. They embark on what is known as the Hero’s Journey, with many obstacles and lessons that have them coming out as a stronger, and often better, person than they were at the beginning of their journey. This series is going to be an account of the Hero’s Journey that I am about to take on, but instead of battling the minotaur, I am going to have the unique challenge of cracking the mysterious longingly missed, but not forgotten, beef jerky recipe of my Grandfather.
Without a little bit of background information that sounds like it would be a pretty lame, not to mention tame, adventure. So before we get to the Holy Grail I am chasing, I will give a little background on my culinary experience or lack thereof. I in no way consider myself a cook. I of course enjoy food a lot, and even though I do consider myself a sandwich connoisseur of sorts, I don’t really know much outside of the absolutely basics. By basics I am truly referring to the ABSOLUTE basics. For example, I know we usually need to cook meat before we eat it, and I know that it is prudent to add some sort of spice to it prior to cooking. Beyond that, anything I do in the kitchen is an experimentation that has equal chances of ending in a passable meal or an inedible mess. Needless to say, I will be doing a lot of research before my first attempt into this strange world of jerky, and there will definitely be a lot of trial and error.
Now that my introduction is out of the way, let’s take a look at the real star of this show and the whole reason I am doing this, the delicious beef jerky. My Grandfather, who passed away in 2012, was world famous for making his beef jerky. This might sound like an exaggeration, and in part it is, but in our family, this was one of the best treats we could hope for. The first thing we would do when we got to my Grandparents was go straight for the cabinet and look behind the giant industrial size roll of plastic wrap just hoping to find a Ziploc bag of this delectable culinary delight. If we got lucky, you’d find a couple bags of the jerky, and could grab a few pieces for your pocket before going back outside to unload the bags from the car. It was a very familiar sight to see our father carrying the laundry basket that, to this day he uses as a suitcase, while gnawing on a piece of jerky. This jerky was loved so much by our family it was not uncommon and totally acceptable that my father and I would get a coffee can filled with the stuff as a Christmas present.
It goes without saying that this is not your everyday convenience store jerky. This beef jerky is so thinly cut that it often had holes in a piece. It was spiced and seasoned in a way that it was salty and savory, but with just enough sweetness, that it melded together in a symphony of flavors that all complimented each other without any one of them being overpowering. More often than not, Gramps would garnish the jerky with whole peppercorns right on top which, in my opinion, only added to the euphoric tastes.
I have never had any other jerky, beef or otherwise, that has ever achieved the same heights. This isn’t without searching. I have tried many of the mega mart and convenience store jerkies but expecting those to compete is like eating at McDonalds and expecting a $40 hamburger. I have tried family, friends, and other smaller vendor’s homemade smaller batch jerkies and though they can sometimes come close, none of them ever seem to get ever seem to get the flavoring and cut quite right.
My sisters and I always joke that I should get a dehydrator and try to figure out what we need to do to replicate our Grandfather’s beef jerky. Partly for ourselves, well mostly for ourselves, but also for the future generations. I can’t imagine a world in which my nephew never knows the tastes of this perfect jerky. So to my delight, I got a dehydrator from them for my recent birthday, and I am finally ready to take on the challenge so that the recipe isn’t lost forever. I’m hoping that with some research and hard work, I can figure out this riddle of jerky alchemy in such a way that my Grandfather would be proud to say that this isn’t his batch of jerky but his Grandson’s.
Wish me luck!