Jerky was critical to the settling of the American West and remains a western culinary essential.
Deriving from the Quechua word ch’arki, meaning “dried meat” — specifically dried and salted llama and alpaca meat — jerky was critical not only in trade between the Incas and early European explorers, but also in the settling of the American West. Nutrient-rich and near imperishable, the foodstuff was made for easy transport and provided pioneers, traders, and trappers a form of quick and safe nourishment.
Today jerky is produced from meats as diverse as ostrich and turkey — even pork, which bacterial concerns formerly prevented — and is available everywhere, from gas stations to grocery stores. But several independent purveyors, such as New York-based SlantShack Jerky, want to elevate what has become a humble truck stop snack to gourmet fare while honoring its wholesome heritage. “Jerky is more than the overprocessed, unrecognizable meat stick that most people think of when one talks about jerky,” says David Koretz, SlantShack cofounder. “Simply put, it’s delicious. At its purest, jerky is a high-protein, fulfilling snack. Who wouldn’t want a steak in his/her pocket, provided it is done right with good flavors and high-quality production?”
Try one of the chef’s blends, like Hot & Smoky Beef with Vermont Maple Glaze, or customize your own by choosing your meat (grass- or grain-fed beef), marinade (check out the Bronx Brewery Pale Ale), and rub (for a kick, try Jerk McGurk’s Wild Rubdown). www.slantshackjerky.com
Mountain America Jerky
Founder Chuck Watson has been offering his gourmet all-natural Colorado-raised beef jerky since 1997. But he trades in more than just beef: Among his selections are alligator, elk, ostrich — even fish. www.mountainamericajerky.com
Known for its hickory-smoked hams, turkeys, and cheese, this popular Texas-Oklahoma chain also cures its own “real” beef jerky. Tough on the incisors but buttery soft on the tongue, it makes for ideal road-trip fare. www.robertsonshams.com
From the May/June 2013 issue.