Making homemade jerky with a pellet grill is extremely easy, as long as you use the right cuts of meat. Not all cuts of meat work well for making jerky.
One of the biggest mistakes people make when making their own jerky is using the wrong cut of meat. In this article, we’ll look at the different cuts of meat and which parts of the cow they come from, as well as other tips for helping you choose the right meat.
What Are The Best Cuts Of Meat to Make Beef Jerky?
When it cooking homemade jerky, there are a few cuts that have been found to be the best. Some of these include top round steak, bottom round, top round, and flank steak. The reason these cuts work so well is that they have a good muscle fiber composition and not a lot of fat.
Making the best beef jerky starts with using the right meat. It’s important to choose lean, fresh meat. It will not only produce a more flavorful jerky, but it will also help your leftovers last longer.
Pro Tip: The best cuts of beef for making jerky are the ones that contain the least amount of fat in them.
Breaking Down The Cow
In order to understand which cuts of meat are best for jerky, it’s important to understand the different parts of the steer.
Most people don’t realize that there is more to a cow than just ribs and steaks. At least I had no clue until I purchased my pellet grill and started smoking meats.
Below are the different parts of the steer and which parts are best for steaks, fajitas, roast, etc.
I’ve broken the article into the worst and best cuts for jerky.
Best Cuts of Meat for Making Beef Jerky
Beef round is a great choice for making beef jerky because it is a large primal cut that consists mainly of the rear leg and rump of a cow. Those muscles get a lot of work and exercise, making it tough meat. Beef round encompasses the knee, leg, and hip, therefore it has a lot of connective tissues, cartilage, and tissue.
It is lean meat with very little fat marbling making it a great candidate for making jerky. When you purchase it, you’ll notice more fat than muscle.
It’s an inexpensive cut of meat, which is why it’s so popular when making jerky.
The top round is a subcategory of beef round and is a cut from the inside of the leg. Therefore, you may often hear people refer to it as inside round. It’s a great cut for roasts, steaks, and jerky.
The bottom round is another subcategory of beef round and comes from the outside leg muscle, making it the toughest of the round cuts. Some butchers refer to it as rump roast.
Other sub-primal cuts that come from the bottom round are the tri-tip, flap cuts, and ball tip sirloin.
If you’re on a budget, the bottom round is usually cheaper than the top and beef round.
Sirloin (Top and Bottom Sirloin)
Sirloin is also known as a porterhouse and is an expensive cut of meat to buy. It is located at the top of the cow directly behind the ribs.
Unlike other cuts, it doesn’t contain a lot of muscle, making it a tender piece of meat.
The top of the sirloin sits just above the flank and just above the top sirloin. These cuts of meat are popular for making roasts.
It’s a very flavorful and tasty cut. They do contain an outer layer of fat that will need to be trimmed away before using for jerky.
Flank steak (also known as London Broil) is my number one choice for cooking jerky. It is a beefsteak cut that comes from the abdominal muscles of the cow, right behind its chest.
Because of this, it is a chewier piece of meat than other types. When cutting the meat, you’ll want to cut the strips against the flank’s grain.
Thinner slices work best and will make it easier to eat. Flank steak holds up well in marinades making it a great choice for jerky.
The biggest downside to this cut of meat is the cost. At the time of this writing, 1lb of flank steak costs $11.79. So, you’ll want do some price comparison and find the best prices.
The chuck portion of the steer comes from the lower neck and upper shoulder of the cow. It is most commonly used for bone-in or boneless roasts and steaks. But you can also cube the meat and use it to cook beef stew.
Butchers often grind the chuck for hamburgers, because it has a high-fat content. It’s an inexpensive cut of meat and is often referred to as “poor man’s brisket.”
It can be used to make jerky, just be prepared to spend a lot of time trimming the excess fat. The high-fat content also means the jerky won’t have a long shelf life.
Worst Cut of Meat for Making Jerky
Now that you know the best, you’ve likely asked yourself which are the worst cuts to avoid. After all, with the cost of meat prices these days, you don’t want to use the wrong meat for making jerky.
The following meats are great for smoking on the pellet grill, just don’t use them for making jerky.
Skirt / Plate
Skirt steak is a cut that comes from the diaphragm muscles of the cow. Making it a lean cut with a lot of tough fibers.
It often gets confused with flank steak, it’s a lot tougher and you won’t get a lot of flavor from this cut. Dehydrating the meat will just make it tougher and bland.
This meat is best when it is cooked over high heat, seared, or grilled. It is often used to make stir-fry meat and fajitas. If you have a dog, you can make them some yummy skirt steak dog treats.
The brisket is a cut of beef from the breast or pectoral muscles of a cow. It has a lot of connective tissue with high-fat content. A whole beef brisket consists of the following parts: flat cut, point cut, fat cap, and the deckle.
It is extremely popular for barbecue. I’ve written a step-by-step guide on how to cook a brisket on the Pit Boss. If you don’t feel like spending 12 plus hours cooking a brisket, you can also use it to make sandwich meats such as pastrami and corn beef.
The Rib is one of the most popular cuts and is located in the front section of the backbone. It’s where we get the flavorful ribeye steaks, short ribs, cowboy steaks, back ribs, etc.
Rib cuts are known for their distinct flavor, tenderness, and fatty marbling. Not only is rib fatty meat, but it is also fine-grained meat that is hard to cut into thin slices and will crumble when trying to dehydrate.
For this reason, it is not a suitable choice for making homemade jerky.
What To Look For In A Cut Of Meat For Jerky?
Beef jerky is a dehydrated food that gives it a longer shelf life than other foods. The dehydration process is what prevents it from spoiling. Therefore, it’s important to choose the right type of meat when making homemade jerky.
Jerky tastes best when you’re using fresh meat. Before buying the meat, check the “use or freeze by” or “best used by” package label. Many people make the mistake of buying meat that is expired or close to the expiration date to save money.
According to the USDA, it’s perfectly fine to use meat after the date has passed, and many people and myself have used it because it’s cheaper.
However, when it comes to jerky, the fresher the meat the better product you’ll get.
The cheapest meat isn’t the best meat for making jerky. They have more fat, and marbling which will sacrifice the quality of the jerky.
You don’t necessarily have to buy the most expensive meat, but you don’t want the cheapest. When I made peppered smoked beef jerky, I used flank steak.
Any of the cuts above will work fine, however, some cuts will require more preparation beforehand.
All jerky tastes like beef. The seasoning you add is what gives it unique flavors such as Terriyaki, spicy, garlic, habanero, etc. Choose fresh meats that have great beef flavor.
Most of the meats on this page are lean meats that need to cook low and slow. But since we’re dehydrating the meat, opt for a cut that doesn’t have a lot of muscles.
Otherwise, you’ll have tough jerky no one wants to eat.
If you’re not a beef connoisseur, you may not be familiar with the different USDA grades of meat.
Below are the different steak cuts and grades to help you understand what to look for the next time you’re in the meat department.
- Prime Grade: The highest grade of meat you can buy. Commonly served at high-end restaurants and not available at supermarkets. To buy this quality cut, you’ll have to look at online meat vendors.
- Choice Grade: The USDA labels the majority of beef sold in supermarkets as the choice grade. It is high-quality beef, with less marbling than prime grade. It’s commonly used for Fillets and ribeyes.
- Select Grade: It is a leaner cut that is popular among health-conscious individuals. It’s the lowest grade of meat sold at commercial retailers.
Choice grade is your best option. It doesn’t have as much marbling as prime grade and is not as tough as select grade meats.
Other Cuts of Meats You Can Use for Jerky
Most people use beef to cook jerky. However, some more exotic meats to use for jerky are venison, alligator, lamb, buffalo, elk, kangaroo and etc.
Of course, the types of exotic meat you use will depend on where you live in the world. Jerky can be made from almost any type of meat, as long as it is prepared properly.
Buying the best meat for jerky requires you to forget what you’ve learned about buying beef. The best cuts of meat to make beef jerky are lean, fresh, and contain very little fat.
It’s not so much the cut of meat you use, it’s the amount of fat content the meat has. The cheaper meats which are good for steaks are not the best for jerky.
Regardless of what type of meat you use, you’ll want to trim as much of the marbled fat as possible.
If the meat has too much fat, the jerky won’t last as long and will need to be eaten quickly!