Is adding nitrates mandatory when making jerky?

SquidHC

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As the title says, do I really need to add nitrates when making jerky? I prefer to avoid eating them, and we don't let our kids eat any at all.

If I'm making small batches that will be eaten in a few weeks is there any risk of spoilage?

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MuleyFever

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I wouldn't see why you would need them short term. I know people that just marinade and cook it in the oven low and slow, or smoke it.
 

92xj

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They allow you to stay in the danger zone <140 for >4hours. Get your jerky to 160 within 3 hours of taking out of fridge and dont worry, if you go 4 hours under 140 be forewarned you could be breeding the poop water. Easily doable with jerky. For sausages it's a lot harder to get the good product and get out of the danger zone in under 4 hours. Almost impossible​.
With your jerky, onced "cooked"/dehydrated/smoked, store in vacuumed sealed bag for months in freezer. For stuff you're eating store in the fridge without cures.
 
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SquidHC

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Thanks 92xj. I have a pretty high quality dehydrator and it goes up to 160, and recommends setting it to that temp.

Question though. I put it in there at 6pm. It says 4-12 hours depending on thickness. This stuff is pretty thick (roughly 1/4-3/8"). Is there a risk of over-cooking? I'm planning on leaving it till I get up at 5am (11 hours cook time).
 

coop22250

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These are the lethality times for all pathogens for a 6 log reduction (USDA requirements). You can make jerky with about anything you want, the difference is whether or not it is shelf stable or needs to be frozen for storage. The most important thing is the water activity (Aw) after lethality is achieved. The water activity is what controls the growth of pathogens. I believe the goal is .8 water activity but I can't remember if that's correct, I have been out of the food safety inspection for awhile.

Because you cook something to lethality of 160 or greater, that reduces pathogens to a negligible number but does not 100% eliminate them as pressure canning does. If the water activity is not low enough they can reproduce until concentrations are high enough to cause illness. This is when you hear of salmonella/e coli on fully cooked products. The product was fully cooked but wasn't processed correctly to inhibit growth.

The problem is the cheapest tester is about $200, so not many people purchase them.

A study by Univ if Georgia in 1998 tested jerky both with cure and without. They contaminated both with E Coli, cooked identical then tested the amounts of pathogens left. The cured jerky reduced them quite a bit more. Part of the study indicated that E. coli could survive 10 hours at 145 if the meat was too dry before it reached 160.
This is why there is a humidity requirement for USDA establishments making jerky also, to make sure the organisms don't dry out and become heat resistant. A small bowl of water in your smoker will evaporate and fix this, remove it after temps are acceptable and finish drying.

It should not be a problem, I just would recommend freezing it and getting it out as you use it, not storing it on the counter for a couple months then heading into the woods.
 

jmez

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The real danger is botulism. Cures or nitrates prevent the growth of botulism. If it grows in the meat it will release toxins and these are unaffected by freezing.
 

Bughalli

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Everything said above is correct...but I have made jerky for more years than I can remember. Never used nitrates. I set the dehydrator at 145, with a timer of 5 hrs. Usually run it over night. Once done I let it cool (if not already cool when I get up). If planning to eat in a day or two I keep in ziplock at room temp or refrigerator, if eating in a week or so I keep it in the refrigerator, longer than that I keep in freezer. I make it for long car rides and hunting/fishing trips, so it usually doesn't last more than 3-4 days.

Yes, you can over cook it. It will get very hard (like a rock). Thin pieces will get brittle. You might want to keep any eye on it until you dial in your setup.
 
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Moose2367

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Made a lot of jerky here in Aust, only once have i used nitrate, and it tasted different, didn't like it at all.

The key to preventing bacteria is to dry it completely. Moisture means bacteria can grow, so if you dry it so it is crispy, you'll be fine. That's how real jerky is supposed to be anyhow. A lot of people don't like it that dry but then you need to use nitrate.

I used to live in the Northern Territory, where it is always hot and humid, never needed to freeze or refrigerate my jerky.
 

camping1601

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I just bought a new dehydrator and none of recipes it came with use Nitrates, but it says to freeze the meat for so many weeks first and to heat it to 160 when done.
I personally use Nitrates.
 

Poser

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As the title says, do I really need to add nitrates when making jerky? I prefer to avoid eating them, and we don't let our kids eat any at all.

If I'm making small batches that will be eaten in a few weeks is there any risk of spoilage?

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Do you let your kids eat asparagus?
 

LostArra

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If you are concerned about adding nitrates you could look at celery powder/crushed celery seeds/celery juice. If I remember correctly govt regs require celery cured meats to be labeled "uncured" when in fact they are cured using the naturally occurring nitrates in the celery.
 

desertcj

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I've never been real scientific about making jerky, but I've never used nitrates. I do dry my jerky until it's basically crispy and I store it out in my garage fridge just because. I do keep a bag in the cupboard while I'm eating out of it. A gallon freezer bag usually only lasts a couple weeks before it gets eaten though.
 

Tod osier

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Never in jerky. Lot of good information above. The combo of salt, dryness and heat for a long time eliminates risk of pathogens growing..
 

ChrisS

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Nitrates are there to control botulism formerly known as the sausage sickness. Botulinum bacteria need four things to grow: 1) moisture 2) lack of oxygen 3) temps between 40F and 140F and 4) time.

Take a wet meat and put it in a warm smoker (O2 free) for six hours and voila, perfect conditions to grow botulinum bacteria. Knock out any one of those and you'll prevent botulism.

Drying jerky in a dehydrator doesn't need nitrates because it's an aerobic environment. Adding nitrates to meat going in a smoker prevents botulinum bacteria from growing. Cooking the snot out of something at 450F will kill botulinum bacteria (but if the toxins are already in the meat at dangerous levels, cooking doesn't change that).
 

thopkins22

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Take a wet meat and put it in a warm smoker (O2 free) for six hours and voila, perfect conditions to grow botulinum bacteria. Knock out any one of those and you'll prevent botulism.

What constitutes a "wet" meat? My briskets go for 12-16 hours between 180-240...and the thermometer doesn't usually hit 160 until six hours or so....

My personal rule is to tread carefully with animals that have simple stomachs, and with ruminants I flat out don't worry. But that has much more to do with existing bacteria, rather than my ability to breed new ones.
 

texans42

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As the title says, do I really need to add nitrates when making jerky? I prefer to avoid eating them, and we don't let our kids eat any at all.

If I'm making small batches that will be eaten in a few weeks is there any risk of spoilage?

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I turn 80-100lbs of venison into jerky a year. Never used it. Just salt pepper and hang. Occasionally I'll add some cold smoke. I store mine in freezer. 20 years and no issues
 
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