For meat-eaters, a well-made piece of beef jerky is truly a delicious treat. Unfortunately, a high-quality beef jerky product doesn't come cheap. Why, exactly, is beef jerky so expensive, and are people really getting what they pay for?
There's good news, and beef jerky fans will be happy to know that the industry's big names aren't in cahoots to rip off the everyday consumer. The major reason that jerky is often so expensive is that there's a lot that goes into making that bag of jerky, and that means it really isn't the cheapest food to produce from start to finish. It's actually pretty pricey when it comes down to it, and a large percentage of that cost is the beef itself.
Producing beef costs significantly more than pork or chicken, and requires about 10 times the number of resources. Everything from the land to the grain to the water is a factor, and makes cows costlier to raise than other livestock. There's also the aspect of beef's popularity with American consumers, which has led to a lot of competition that has raised beef prices overall. These days, people might not opt for beef as much as chicken, but when they do, they're paying considerably more for it.
According to the Wall Street Journal, beef prices aren't just rising in the United States, but around the globe as well. The global rise in beef prices might seem unrelated to the small jerky brand in your home state, but those high-priced cuts are also the same sections of meat used in the jerky. There's a reason $8 jerky tastes better than $1 jerky — it's made with better cuts of meat.
According to jerky brand Mountain America Jerky, the best jerky is made with lean cuts of beef, usually top and bottom rounds, because they provide a lot of flavor and good texture. They also tend to cost significantly more than fatty beef scraps.
It follows, then, that certain cuts are also limited in supply. You can get a lot more tripe out of a cow than you can tenderloin — but tripe jerky isn't a big seller in the United States. Because seriously, is there anything worse than tripe?
If you want the tastiest pieces of jerky, you've got to start with the tastiest cuts of meat — and not all of the cow is tasty. The price of the beef is really only one of the factors for your pricey jerky, though, and there are certainly other costs to consider.
Good things take time, and in the case of beef jerky, they also take a lot of resources. Mountain America Jerky, for example, says that it takes them three days to produce a small batch through the smoking process. They could go for a cheaper and quicker method and use a commercial dehydrator, but as they put it, this wouldn't result in perfectly delicious "meat licorice."
In other words, they asked themselves if they wanted to make your beef jerky cheap or did they want to make it right? When it comes to jerky, you just can't have it both ways.
Another thing that a lot of people might not consider is the issue of shrinkage. Those tender little bites of beef jerky didn't start out so small. Yes, your 4-ounce bag of jerky might seem rather tiny for $8, but it still has $8 worth of beef in it that simply shrank during the drying process.
The whole point behind curing meat is to dry it out to prevent the meat from spoiling, and that drying process removes water — a lot of water. Big John's Jerky has explained that the beef they use is around 60 percent water, and the final result always weighs less than the beef they started with. Essentially, around 2.5 pounds of beef is only going to yield around a pound of jerky.
A $10 bag of beef jerky might not be as full as you would like, but at least you know that the jerky industry isn't jerking you around when it comes to how they make their product and price they sell it at.
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