The Best Beef Jerky, According to Pro Snackers
Hitting the road? Craving a salty snack? Snag a bag of the best beef jerky as chosen by our Test Kitchen.
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Searching for the Best Beef Jerky
Everyone has a road trip snack—you know, the one item you always grab at the gas station on your way out of town. Polling Taste of Home staffers, Combos, Swedish Fish and beef jerky are popular favorites.
But there’s a reason beef jerky tops many snack lists: It’s chewy, salty and packed with protein to keep you fueled up as you drive cross-country. But before you run into Wawa, make sure you’re grabbing a jerky that’ll really satisfy.
How We Sampled Beef Jerky
Our team recognizes that there are a lot of jerky flavors out there ranging from mesquite to spicy to teriyaki and beyond. For this test, the Test Kitchen focused on original recipes. If you can’t get a basic bit of jerky right, there’s not much hope for leveled-up options.
Each of these options was then judged according to these three categories:
- Aroma: The second our testers rip open a bag of jerky, they want to be impressed. A good jerky should have a savory smell with notes of smoke and even spice.
- Texture: This is a challenging category. Part of beef jerky’s appeal is its toothsome texture. However, a jerky that’s too tough is no fun to snack on. For this test, our pros paid careful attention to the cut of each brand.
- Flavor: Beef jerky has to hit a lot of flavor notes including savory, salty, smoky and a touch spicy. Even classic recipes should include a bit of black pepper heat.
While the crew tested nine different options, they agreed that four rose to the top.
Most Homemade-Tasting Jerky
Old Trapper Old Fashioned Beef Jerky
Catherine Ward in our Test Kitchen says, “this reminds me of the beef jerky we get from our local butcher who smokes it in-house.”
This jerky garners such favorable comparisons first because of its appearance. Each piece is irregular in shape and has a deep red hue—no artificial colors or too-perfect strips here! And the flavor is reminiscent of small-batch jerky with great beef taste, hints of mesquite smoke and black pepper. Overall, this jerky has a nice balance of salt, sweet and smoke that keeps you coming back for another bite.
And the texture? These strips are thicker cut but have a pleasantly chewy—not tough—bite.
Best Tender Beef Jerky
Jack Link’s Original Beef Jerky
While everyone wants some chew in their beef jerky, some snackers want something a touch more tender. If that’s your style, snag yourself a bag of Jack Link’s Original Beef Jerky.
Tearing a strip apart in the Test Kitchen, Josh Rink notes Jack Link’s top-notch texture. “Each strip has a nice thickness and is tender,” he says. “It has some chew but it’s not tough.”
But this jerky is much more than a crave-able, rippable texture. The flavor here is nicely balanced with notes of smoke, sweetness and black pepper—something akin to barbecue flavors per Josh. Jack Link’s jerky isn’t overly salty, so it’s an option you can snack on without glugging water after a strip or two.
Best Sweet and Salty Jerky
Tillamook Country Smoker Simply Crafted Old Fashioned Beef Jerky
No one is immune to the charms of a sweet and salty snack. It’s why we love salted caramel and even crazy treats like chocolate-bacon bark. If this is a combo you can’t resist, pick up a pack of Tillamook Country Smoker Simply Crafted Old Fashioned Beef Jerky.
Ripping open a bag, you’ll get a powerful aroma of sweetness and smoke. The strips are reddish and can be easily ripped apart—though they still have a nice chew to them. Take a bite and you’ll get notes of salt, black pepper and molasses.
Catherine sums up strips of this jerky nicely: “It’s tangy, sweet and finishes with a slight heat.” You can’t get a better blend for a road trip snack than that!
Best Smoky Jerky
Oberto Original Beef Jerky
“There’s a good balance here,” says Sarah Tramonte. “And a really nice smoky flavor.”
And this balance isn’t only in the flavor—which the Test Kitchen notes also has touches of salt and brown sugar—it’s in the texture as well. Each piece of this jerky pulls apart in satisfying strips and has a nice chew—not tough but with a definite bite.
Taste of Home
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