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Safe Jerky Temperature In A Home Dehydrator

dehydrator-food-safety

Dried dehydrated meat (jerky) has traditionally been made by drying meat at low temperatures (140°F – 170°F) for a long period of time.

The processing conditions can make it difficult to assure a safe end result.

Safe Factors include:

– Quality of meat
– Drying temperature
– The Dehydrator itself
– Method used

When using a home dehydrator or any method or means to make homemade jerky, it is important to reach a sufficient temperature in the jerky drying process to kill pathogens such as Salmonella and E. coli O157:H7.

Note: The following home dehydrator will get hot enough for homemade jerky:

Excalibur Food Dehydrator

Here are some safety tips how to jerk safe dehydrated meat in your home dehydrator:

 

Use Quality Lean Meat

Use only lean meat in excellent condition. For jerky prepared from ground meat, use meat that is at least 93% lean.

 

Trim The Fat And Slice Thin

Trim meat of excess fat and slice no thicker than one-quarter inch (1/4″).

Tip: Partially freeze meat to make it easier to slice. Slice the meat with the grain if you wish to prepare the chewy jerky preferred by many.

 

Setting The Dehydrator Temperature

Determine and verify the true actual operating temperature of the dehydrator when it’s turned on, but while empty.

Here’s how to do it:

Do not necessarily rely on the dehydrator’s temperature control setting until verified with an accurate thermometer.

Use a low profile thermometer with the proper range such as this one to verify the temperature:

Taylor Precision Products Instant Read Thermometer (1-Inch Dial)

VERIFY DEHYDRATOR TEMPERATURE

Determine your dehydrator’s drying temperature using a low profile (so it fits in the tray) dial‐stem thermometer as follows:

– For an oven or a horizontal air‐flow dehydrator, place the thermometer inside the unit and close the door.

– For a vertical air‐flow dehydrator, stack 2 to 3 trays on the base and place the thermometer between the top 2 trays such that the dial is sticking out between the shelves.

– Turn the dehydrator on to its maximum setting; typically 155°F.

– Record the temperature once it has stabilized.

Note: Do not verify the temperature when the dehydrator has food in it! Evaporate cooling occurs as the product loses moisture and this will give you an inaccurate temperature reading.

To safely dry meat at home, your oven or dehydrator must be able to maintain a temperature of at least 145° to 155°F.

Tip: Use only dehydrators with temperature control. Do not use dehydrators with factory preset temperature that can’t be controlled. Research at the University of Wisconsin‐Madison (2008) has shown that dehydrators with factory‐set temperatures that can’t be adjusted do not reliably produce a safe product and are not recommended.

 

Safe Drying Methods

In research performed at the University of Wisconsin‐Madison, at that time only a few dehydrators on the market would maintain the necessary temperature of 145° – 155°F. The Nesco Gardenmaster and the Excalibur.

Nesco FD-1040 Gardenmaster Food Dehydrator, White, 1000-watt – MADE IN USA

Excalibur Food Dehydrator

Each of these units contain a large heating element, they have strong air flow, and adjustable temperature settings.

Drying meat at a temperature below 145°F will produce a product that looks done before it is heated enough to destroy pathogens, and before it has lost enough moisture to be shelf-stable.

While dehydrating meat for a sufficient length of time at a temperature of 145° – 155°F may produce safe results, as a safety precaution use one of the following methods to dehydrate your meat:

 

Method 1: Dehydrate, then Oven Heat

Dry for 6 hours (or more depending on desired dryness) and remove jerky from the dehydrator. For an added measure of safety, place dried strips on a baking sheet. Heat in a pre-heated 275°F oven for 10 minutes, which should bring the internal temperature of the meat strips to at least 160°F. Strips thicker than 1/4″ (when raw) may require longer to reach 160°F. Remove the oven-heated meat from the oven, cool to room temperature, and package.

Method 2: Pre-Heat, then Dehydrate

Steam or roast meat strips in marinade to an internal temperature of 160°F before drying; heat poultry to 165°F (internal temperature) before drying. This pre‐heating step assures that any bacteria present will be destroyed before drying and a lower dehydrator temperature (130° to 140°F) can be used. Since it can be impossible to accurately measure the internal temperature of a thin strip of meat, you can boil meat in marinade (or water) for 5 minutes before drying. After heating (or boiling), dehydrate meat for 4 to 6 hours. No post-dehydration oven-heating is necessary. Unfortunately, this USDA‐recommended method may produce a dried, crumbly product rather than chewy, flexible jerky.

 

Shelf Life Of Dried Dehydrated Meat Jerky

Dried jerky can be stored for 1 to 2 months at room temperature; in the freezer for 6 months or longer. Vacuum package jerky to extend the shelf life! I store my dehydrated strips in glass ‘canning’ jars and use our FoodSaver vacuum sealer and jar lid seal attachment.

FoodSaver Automatic Vacuum Sealing System

FoodSaver Kit Wide-Mouth Jar Sealer with Regular Sealer and Accessory Hose

Related Article:
How To Dehydrate Chicken Strips

Note: As mentioned above, information source: University of Wisconsin‐Madison.

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32 Comments

  1. Is that a nine tray Excalibur in the picture? Sitting on a washer or dryer?

    I have the same dehydrator. Quite pleased with it.

  2. It is very risky to dehydrate pork or chicken for human consumption . Home dehydrators do not reach the required temperature to kill the pathogens and/or bacteria that make people sick. Chicken must be heated to 165 & pork must be heated to 170 for safe human consumption. Both should be heated before dehydrating because the dehydration process also preserves the pathogens . If the meat is dehydrated first, then cooked the meat will have to be heated longer for safety. The temperature of home dehydrators is simply not high enough to kill the pathogens. Not all meat contain the pathogens so just because you’ve eaten dehydrated chicken or pork & did not get sick does not mean it is safe. Please please cook these meats before dehydrating them!!!

    1. Pork is safe at 145 says USDA. Try it the next time you cook a pork tenderloin. Soooo much better.

    2. The food process: salt and vinegar. Meaning salt kill all bacteria over 3 -4 hours stay on salt. Vinegar same process. If meat got smoke not liquid smoke. smoke got antibacterial as well. Laslow

    3. This isn’t true. 165 will kill the bacteria in Chicken immediately but 140 will still kill it, just slower. 150 in a dehydrator would kill the salmonella that is the concern in chicken. Many people cook chicken to 140 using the sous vide technique. Salmonella dies in a couple minutes at 150 degrees.

      Pork is 145 now from what I recall.

  3. Thank-you Ken for your useful information! And thank-you anonymous for your informative reply. I just dehydrated some beef and I’m now going to use the “post-dehydration” method. I’ll be using your advice from now on as I would hate to cause any illnesses in my family or friends. Salmonella and E. coli don’t sound like real friendly guests to have in our guts!

  4. What about using my electric smoker to make jerky? Are there any rules/temps to using a smoker?

  5. I air-dried my venison jerky strips with no pathogens infecting the meat. No need for any preheating or using heat for them. I used salt, vinegar and spices for a 48 hour marinade to cure and flavor the meat before air drying. It became my favorite snack of all time. I just got a dehydrator so I can use it to speed up the drying process instead of waiting 2-3 weeks. The jerky didn’t last more than a month because they were too good and I keep eating it all up.

  6. I make jerky in our 9 tray all the time. I’ve been trying to pkg some for down the road but it gets eaten too dang fast. Never lasts more than a week. Especially if my son in law comes over. :-)

      1. Becky,
        5-6 hours may do it depending on humidity in your house. The drier it is, the less chance for mold. If you dry it like 12 hours until it is completely dry and brittle, it will keep without refrigeration, also depending on your cure. I like to dry mine until it is almost brittle, but still barely flexible, that seems to keep without refrigeration for the cure I use.

  7. The only reason i want some solar panels etc is to be able to run a dehydrator and light bulbs,
    Have been using an Excalibur just like the one in the pic for jerky and love it, a friend makes it thick and freezes it,
    I have wanted to experiment with longer term storage of the jerky, the stuff you buy in the store keeps for a year or more, what do they use?
    Anywho, thats something ive been wondering,

    1. Most likely it has Sodium Nitrite in it which is why you want to make your own leaving that out.

  8. been making jerky for years have special marinade soak meat for 13 days before putting in machine. Have. one from Cabbellas excellent People rave about my product thinking of going into business after retiring

  9. I use a vertical charcoal smoker. I get the coals hot, and then add handfuls of wood chips and smoke them @ around 170 for 3 hours then finish it in the oven same temp for about another 3-4 depending on thickness of the jerky. Turns out perfect everytime!

  10. Properly made beef jerky is cured before it is dried. Salt solutions beyond 5% salinity are almost completely inhospitable to bacteria and virtually any other pathogens. It is not possible for them to grow in these conditions, regardless of temperature. Period!

    Since most recipes for jerky call for a curing/marinade process these recipes are likely fine for air drying at ambient temperatures.

    After curing I will sometimes eat a few strips of the jerky before it’s dried. It is delicious and it’s basically safe.

  11. I have made turkey by air drying with little salt an it was good… I got a dehydrating unit.. Do i still have to pre cook meat ??? How many hours does it take for thin cut beef to dry at 165 degree’s in dehydrator

  12. Our family make jerky every summer, we marinate over night and it goes straight into a dehydrator for 12 hours. They we consume, no oven usage at all. We haven’t gotten sick and have been doing this for 40+ years

    1. Guy who does it wrong, most marinades are high in salt this means you cure before you dry thus it is fine. Most marinades are very salty for this reason

  13. I am making my first batch of jerky right now. I let it marinade for 24 hours before using some marinade packets that came with the unit. The dehydrator I’m using recommends to dry it at 160 degrees. It also recommends that the meat is cooked either before (by boiling for 5 min) or after drying (by cooking in oven at 275 degrees F for 10 minutes).

    I think that cooking the meat before or after may be an extra safety step that is not really necessary for beef. Some experts recommend cooking the jerky after drying in the oven until an internal temperature of 160 degrees is reached for beef, 165 for poultry. However, the meat has been drying at 160 for hours, so it most likely reached an internal temperature of 160 degrees. Also, the bacteria starts to die below 160 degrees, so it should be killed if dried properly.

    I think the extra safety step is recommended to avoid getting sick if you use questionable meat (spoiled meat or wild game) or if you don’t dry the meat long enough. Also, some dehydrators may not actually dry at the temperature it is set to. I checked mine with a thermometer and it read 162 degrees, but if it was in fact only cooking at 140 the bacteria may not be killed.

    Just like with other cooking methods, I think poultry and pork should be cooked to a higher temperature. To be on the safe side, I would recommend cooking these meats before or after the drying process.

  14. I dont know why they give such a short shelf life for jerky. I’ve had some in a canning jar with a dissicant(moisture absorbing packet) for 3, yes 3 years and it’s still fine. I do dry mine extra long. Take it every year camping. Break up pieces of the jerky to put in soups.(camping middle of nowhere with no stores) I ate a piece of it last night at home and it’s fine. Have some in dehydrator now planning on putting up in mylar bags with oxygen absorbers in case (SHTF).If it’s fine in a canning jar I’m sure it will be in a bag with all the air sucked out!!

    1. Yes, it is very much dependent on how much you dry it out… You said you dry yours ‘extra long’. Sounds like that’s one reason for your shelf-life success ;)

      The more brittle, the dryer it is (compared to leather/bendy).

  15. i don’t use a dehydrator at all , I HAVE BEEN USING A BRICK PIT … my jerky is marinated for 48 hours and then i smoke my jerky for hours at about 160F- 170F degrees until good and dry … i have used dehydrators once before and didn’t like the results seem to dry it out more than i liked, the pit method for me is the best i really enjoy the smokey fire flavor and my customers are continuously waiting on me to get another batch out … my jerky goes for $20-$30 a pound i do custom orders and will process wild game. if anyone would like to share any good recipies i would love to swap i have several.THIS IS NOT AN AD. … it was also great to see so many others still practicing this tradition.

    1. I make jerky all the time, I use a product called High Country Spicy blend…Amazing, I’ve never found a better jerky and make nothing else, everyone who eats it says it’s the best jerky they ever ate.
      Problem is you have to buy it 6 packages at a time at around $30 but well worth the price. I use to pay around $8.88 a single pack when it sold in stores. Now it’s sold from the factory in Lincoln Mt. Try it, I guarantee you will love it.

      1. Just a word about High Country Seasoning. The ingredients are not great…Maltodextrin too bad but Monosodium Glutamate…
        “MSG has been labeled an excitotoxin because it is thought to have the ability to overstimulate cells to death. Many people link headaches, flushing, poor attention and other symptoms, as well as diseases like fibromyalgia, to MSG intake.”
        Just google for more information.

      2. They sell the single packs on their website now as well as several other curing products and foods as well as instructional videos for food safety.

  16. was wondering, my dehydrator has a reading of 165degrees but temp will not go above 154 degrees I’m doing turkey that is cut 1/2 in thick, I like thick jerky, how long should i dehydrate it?

    1. JohnBBQ, it should be fully cooked before you start and it should be cooked until it is to your preference. For best storage time til it is crispy.,. if you can break it and it is dry- all way thru it will keep longest.
      I have done chicken and beef, but did not measure the exact thickness..I would think…i would begin checking it every 2 hours after it has been on for 8 hours… to get it to MY preference..I am guessing this is your first batch-so many things affect the drying time including the humidity during dehydration. Time this batch with all known factors that affect drying time and you will have a much better idea as you put on your second. batch.

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