The Complete Guide to Dehydrating Perfect Beef Jerky at 160°F

As a jerky fanatic, I’ve eaten my fair share of rubbery, dried out beef jerky. But when I started making my own jerky at home, it was a total game changer! I quickly realized that properly dehydrating jerky at just the right temperature is key for achieving the ultimate texture—tender and slightly chewy but never tough.

Through plenty of testing and tasting, I’ve dialed in precisely how long you need to dehydrate beef jerky at 160°F to unlock the perfect texture and intense flavor every time.

In this complete guide, I’ll share everything I’ve learned on how to make foolproof beef jerky by dehydrating at 160°F Here’s what we’ll cover

  • Why temperature is so important when dehydrating beef
  • Step-by-step process for prepping beef for the dehydrator
  • How long it really takes to dehydrate beef jerky at 160°F
  • Tips for testing jerky doneness
  • My favorite marinade recipes for flavorful jerky
  • Storage methods to keep jerky fresh longer

With my tips, you’ll be churning out the absolute best homemade beef jerky that will have your friends and family begging for more! Now let’s get dehydrating

Why Temperature Matters When Making Beef Jerky

The whole point of making jerky is to remove moisture from the meat to preserve it, while retaining delicious flavor. To achieve this, temperature and time are everything.

Here’s why 160°F is the perfect dehydrator temperature for beef jerky:

  • 160°F adequately kills bacteria and pathogens for food safety
  • The moderate 160°F heat dries meat out slowly so it stays tender
  • Too high and the meat dries out too fast, becoming tough and brittle
  • Too low and the jerky never fully dries, allowing bacteria to grow

So by maintaining a steady 160°F to slowly remove moisture, you’ll get the ideal chewy yet tender texture every time. Now let’s talk prep.

Prepping the Beef for Dehydrating

To set your jerky up for dehydrating success, proper prep is key:

  • Choose lean cuts. Flank, round, or sirloin offer the best results. Trim off any excess fat which can go rancid.

  • Partially freeze. For easier slicing, freeze meat for 1-2 hours until firm but not solid.

  • Slice thin. Use a sharp knife or slicer to cut across the grain into 1/4” thick or less strips.

  • Marinate. Soak strips in a flavorful liquid marinade anywhere from 2 hours to overnight.

  • Pat dry. Before dehydrating, blot strips with a paper towel to remove excess surface moisture.

With perfectly prepped beef, it’s now time to load up those dehydrator trays.

Determining How Long to Dehydrate Beef Jerky at 160°F

Here are my tips for achieving full dehydration:

  • Expect around 5 hours. In most dehydrators, beef jerky takes roughly 5 hours at 160°F. Times vary based on meat thickness, humidity, and your dehydrator model.

  • Rotate the trays. Halfway through, shuffle tray positions and flip all strips for even drying.

  • Don’t overlap. Make sure strips lay flat on trays without overlapping to expose all surfaces to air flow.

  • Go by texture, not time. Test doneness by texture rather than time. Jerky should bend but not break when folded.

  • Use an instant read thermometer. Meat is fully dried when the internal temperature hits 160°F.

  • Consider oven finishing. For added insurance, finish in a 275°F oven for 10 minutes to remove any lingering moisture.

  • Let cool completely. Always allow jerky to cool fully before packing for storage. Any residual heat can increase spoilage.

Now that you know roughly how long to allot, let’s look at the best ways to test when jerky is ready.

Testing Beef Jerky Doneness

The only way to know your jerky is perfectly dehydrated is to use these doneness testing techniques:

  • Try the bend test. Properly dried jerky should bend without breaking but not fold completely in half.

  • Check for cracks. Look for visible cracks on the jerky’s surface which indicate fully evaporated moisture.

  • See if it fractures. Jerky is done when you can fracture a piece cleanly instead of bending or tearing.

  • Feel for tackiness. There should be no moist or sticky spots on fully dehydrated jerky pieces.

  • Confirm the color. Finished jerky will be noticeably darker than the raw sliced meat.

  • Listen for the snap. Dried jerky makes a snapping sound when broken instead of bending quietly.

  • Measure the temperature. Use an instant read thermometer to check the internal temperature hits at least 160°F.

When in doubt, go longer until your jerky passes all the doneness tests for the ultimate texture and shelf life.

My Favorite Marinade Recipes

To make your jerky burst with finger-licking flavor, give it a soak in one of my favorite marinades:

Teriyaki Jerky – Soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic, and ginger for a sweet Asian-inspired flavor.

Fiesta Jerky – Chili powder, lime juice, cilantro, and cumin makes for a zesty Southwestern jerky.

Whiskey Maple Jerky – For an intoxicating jerky, use bourbon, maple syrup, Worcestershire sauce, and black pepper.

Honey Sriracha Jerky – Amp up the heat with sriracha sauce blended with honey, tamari, and sesame oil.

Jalapeño Lime Jerky – Bright citrus and spicy jalapeño flavors pair perfectly in this easy marinade.

BBQ Beer Jerky – For sweet, tangy and smoky jerky, use your favorite BBQ sauce thinned with beer.

Get creative blending flavors to invent your own signature marinades. Just be sure to allow enough time for flavors to permeate the meat.

Storing Beef Jerky for Ultimate Freshness

Proper storage keeps your jerky tasting great for months:

  • Let cool completely first. Never store warm jerky, as residual heat causes spoilage.

  • Use air-tight containers. Store fully cooled jerky in zip-top bags or lidded plastic containers.

  • Exclude oxygen. Squeeze out excess air before sealing to prevent oxidation.

  • Add desiccant packs. These moisture-absorbing packs help jerky stay dry and shelf stable.

  • Refrigerate for short term. For snacking within a few weeks, the fridge preserves freshness.

  • Freeze for long term. For storage up to a year, stash jerky bundles in the freezer.

Now you have all the secrets to making the most mouthwateringly delicious jerky you’ve ever tasted! Feel free to experiment with flavors and meat cuts until you perfect your signature jerky. Then get ready to become the neighborhood’s go-to jerky guru!

Homemade Beef Jerky, 5 Tips For Using A Dehydrator To Make Beef Jerky At Home


What is the best beef jerky dehydrator temperature?

The majority of dehydrators will recommend a temperature range of 160°F to 165°F (70°C to 74°C) for beef jerky. This range ensures not only the thorough drying of the meat but also addresses the primary safety concern: eliminating harmful bacteria.

How do you know when beef jerky is dehydrated enough?

The jerky should bend but not break. The “bend test” is the most important criteria to determine if jerky is done. Working with the same test piece (ideally, close to room temperature), bend it in half to test the flexibility. The jerky should bend and eventually break, but not snap off.

Should I flip jerky in dehydrator?

You don’t want the lowest rack hogging all the heat like a greedy neighbor on a barbecue day. By rotating those trays, you ensure that each piece of meat gets a chance to shine and become perfectly dried jerky.

Can I dehydrate jerky at 150?

Dehydrator: Use a dehydrator with a thermostat control that goes up to at least 150°F. The meat must maintain a temp between 145°F and 155°F to be safe. Don’t use dehydrators without controllable temperature.

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