Why Is My Beef Jerky So Tough? [Causes & How to Rehydrate]

Jerky is a popular meat snack, to fix on a pellet grill. But sometimes it can be hard to get the right texture. Sometimes it can come out too tough and chewy to enjoy. This article will explain some reasons that cause it and what you can do to rehydrate it to make it more enjoyable.

Why Is My Homemade Beef Jerky So Tough & Dry?

The main reason beef jerky comes out tough and dry is you’re using the wrong meat, sliced it incorrectly, cooked it too long, or smoked it at too high of a temperature.

why is my beef jerky so tough

Beef jerky can be hard meat to smoke because you can’t use a handheld thermometer to tell you when it’s done.

Therefore, if you pull it off the smoker too soon, it will be moist, causing it to spoil too quickly, If cooked too long or at a high temperature it will be too dry, and chewy.

Making beef jerky in a smoker is extremely popular because you don’t have to add any liquid smoke. Plus you get to flavor it with your favorite seasonings and the hardwood pellets will infuse the flavor into the meat.

That said, if not planned properly from start to finish, you could be left with dry jerky that won’t be fun to eat. So, before we get into how to rehydrate dry jerky, let’s first look at what causes it to become dry.

What Causes Beef Jerky to Become Dry?

Cut of Meat

Whether or not jerky comes out dry starts with the cut of meat you choose. If this is your first time smoking beef jerky, use lean meat such as top round, also known as London broil or Inside round steak. It’s one of the most popular choices for commercial jerky makers.

It has little to no intramuscular marbling, making it a great cut for dehydration.

I’ve put together a list of the best and worst meats for making homemade beef jerky to help you choose the right one.

Cooking time and Method

The first reason why your beef jerky is too dry includes cooking time and temperature. If you cook the meat for too long or at a high temperature, the proteins will coagulate (dry) quickly leaving nothing but a tough chewing job ahead of you.

Thickness of Meat

Most people slice their jerky between 1/16 and 1/4 thick. If it’s cut too thin, it will cook too fast, causing it to dry out faster. Thicker slices will take longer to cook, also causing them to become chewy and tough.

That said, as long as all the pieces are the same size, you will be fine. If they are different slices it will be hard to cook them properly without overcooking some.

The most important thing when slicing is to slice it against the grain, otherwise, it will come out tough and chewy no matter how it’s cooked.

Should Beef Jerky Be Dry?

Yes, beef jerky is dehydrated meat. Meaning, it’s been dried out leaving you a pliable leathery texture that is easy to eat.

Here’s what beef jerky should look like after smoking it.

Now that you know why beef jerky comes out dry, what can you do about it? With the high cost of meat, the last thing you want to do is throw it away. Below are some tips to help you make the best of dry beef jerky.

How Do You Moisten Dry Beef Jerky? (9 Ways to Rehydrate)


Grab a microwaveable container with a lid that is big enough to hold the beef jerky and a small container of water.

Put both the jerky and the bowl of water in the container with the lid on, without tightening it. Place in the center of the microwave and cook on high for about a minute.

The goal is that the steam from the water will moisten the jerky enough to eat.

If it’s still not soft enough for you, repeat the process in one-minute intervals until it is soft enough to eat.

Use Liquid

Use a pasting brush and apply a liquid such as Worcestershire sauce, chicken or beef broth, liquid smoke, soy sauce, or just plain water, directly on the jerky. Then put the beef jerky in a Ziplock or vacuum-sealed bag for no more than 24 hours.

For the best flavor, use the same liquid that you marinated the jerky in before cooking.

The moist environment will soften up the jerky making it edible. Make sure you don’t leave it too long, otherwise overexposure to moisture will ruin it.

Seal Without Liquid

When you take the jerky off the smoker, you know whether it’s going to be tough or not. If it’s too tough, place the jerky on a cooling rack and let it cool completely. Once it is completely cooled, place it all in an air-tight container (without liquid) and leave it for a few days.

After a few days, any remaining air will redistribute throughout the container will redistribute throughout the meat, helping the dry pieces soften up.

Use A Potato or Apple

Put the over dehydrated beef jerky in a ziplock bag, along with a slice of potato, apple, carrot, or a stick of celery, and place it in the refrigerator overnight. The juices from the vegetable or fruit will dehydrate the jerky, making it edible and flavorful.

If you don’t have an apple or a potato, then put a slice of bread in the bag. There are some Reddit users who have luck with this method.

What If You Can’t Fix Over Dehydrated Jerky?

If after trying everything on this list and the beef jerky can’t be salvaged, not all is lost. Cut it up and use it in a soup. This beef jerky stew recipe is easy to make, but there are plenty of other recipes online as well.

Here’s what I’ve used in the past when I smoked a batch of tough jerky.

What You’ll Need:

  • Tomato paste
  • Diced onions
  • Diced sweet peppers
  • Sweet peppers
  • Chicken stock
  • Bay leaf (1)
  • Chopped garlic
  • White wine
  • Shredded jerky
  • Garbanzo beans or white mountain beans
  • Frozen turnip or collard greens
  1. Saute the onions and sweet potatoes in oil until tender, then add the tomato paste and garlic powder.
  2. Add a splash of white wine, then add the chicken stock and bay leaf.
  3. Next, add the tough shredded beef jerky, with the beans of choice.
  4. Throw in some frozen greens and allow it to simmer for a few hours.
  5. Remove the bay leaf and serve.

You can also use the tough jerky in eggs and rice as well. It takes a little creativity, but it’s possible to eat jerky, no matter how tough it comes out.

Final Word

Beef jerky is dried meat that has a pliable leathery texture. The most common reason for it being chewy is starting with the wrong cut of meat and cooking it too long.

If your smoked jerky has come out too dry, you’re not the only one it’s happened to. Dry homemade beef jerky is more common than you think it is. Hopefully, the tips above will help you re-hydrate it so you can enjoy the fruits of your labor.

I recommend cooking a small batch, especially if you’re not sure how it’s going to come out.

Related Articles

Skip to content