Selecting the right meat cut is critical when making homemade beef jerky. It’ll make or break your jerky and also determine its shelf life. So, we’re taking out the guesswork and sharing the best cuts of meat for beef jerky.
And if you want to learn how to make your own smoked beef jerky, check out our video below.
Best cuts of meat for beef jerky
1. Eye of round
We will mention other beef round cuts below, but the eye of round is the winner over its counterparts. Why? Well, it’s the most tender.
Beef round comes from the animal’s rear, and the eye is one big oval muscle from the rear leg. Naturally, these are large muscles, and thus, the meat is quite tough. But the eye of round has a few things going for it:
- It’s a large cut, which makes it ideal for a big batch of jerky.
- It’s cost-effective and one of the cheaper beef cuts.
- It has lots of connective tissues and cartilage and is lean with minimal interior fat. So, trimming the fat cap is typically unnecessary.
- It can handle a bold marinade like the one we use in our smoked beef jerky recipe.
- The grain conveniently runs the cut’s length, so you can easily slice against the grain for beef jerky.
This is why we recommend using it to make beef jerky.
2. Bottom round
The bottom round or round roast is the outer muscle on the animal’s upper rear leg. It’s less tender than the eye of round, but it also has a touch more interior marbling. This means it’s typically a bit more flavorful than the eye and makes great beef jerky.
3. Top round
Also known as the London Broil or the inside round steak, the top round sits pretty well between these other round cuts. It’s the most popular cut commercial jerky companies use. While the bottom round is the outer muscle, the top round is the inner muscle.
What does this mean for you? It’s more tender than the bottom but less tender than the eye. However, it’s just as lean, flavorful, and cost-effective as it comes in large pieces, so it’s a winner in our books.
We used top round in our peppered beef jerky recipe.
4. Sirloin tip
The sirloin tip sits behind the animal’s ribs. It’s another lean cut with minimal marbling and an excellent alternative for making beef jerky. You might have to trim a little, but it’s worth it for some of the best beef flavor available.
Sirloin also wins the award for the most tender round cut as it doesn’t contain much muscle. But this tenderness equals a slightly higher price tag. It’s also a little harder to find in grocery stores, so you might have to head to your local butcher to secure it.
5. Flank steak
More expensive again is the flank steak. This comes from the animal’s abs. It has more interior marbling and fat, so you’ll need to do some trimming. But it’s still a lean and extremely flavorful cut.
Once again, ensure you cut against the grain as beef flank is heavily grained with long muscle fibers. Otherwise, flank steak can be extremely tough. Fun fact: it’s most commonly used for dishes like fajitas, as it has to be sliced thin to be chewable.
Also known as blade meat, cap, and wedge meat, lifter meat is from outside the ribs. It’s a thin, flat beef cut, a.k.a. the optimal shape for making jerky. You can expect a deliciously tender texture, rich beef flavor, and moderate marbling. It might not be as cheap as round roast, but we think the flavor and tenderness make up for the price.
Unique cuts of meat for beef jerky
Here are some other less common cuts for making jerky.
1. Ground beef
Some people enjoy using ground meat to make beef jerky. If you go down this path, ensure it’s lean ground beef (at least 90% lean if you can get your hands on it). The texture of ground beef jerky is very different from whole beef jerky. But a lot of people prefer it because it’s easier to chew.
Hot tip: A jerky gun will make your life much easier if you make ground beef jerky.
We love brisket around here, but did you know you can also use it to make beef jerky? Brisket is pectoral beef meat from an animal’s chest area. It does have its pros, as it’s affordable, tender yet chewy, and tastier.
But brisket also has more fat than round cuts, so trimming is necessary. Your best option is to choose the flat versus the point cut. This is the leaner cut with the deckle removed. You’ll still have to remove the fat, but the rich, beefy taste makes up for it. However, brisket jerky typically has a shorter shelf life than other options (more on that below).
Tri-tip steak comes from the lower sirloin above the flank near the animal’s rear. It has strong ties to California and was initially called the California cut. It’s a boneless steak that’s lean and tender but with excellent intramuscular marbling. If you can find it in your butcher, it’s worth trying for tender beef jerky.
Venison is a fantastic alternative meat for jerky. It’s incredibly lean and incredibly tender. If you hunt your own, it’s also extremely cost-effective.
Elk is another lean and tender alternative with minimal marbling. But the bonus of elk is that it has a very mild game flavor compared to deer meat.
What to consider when selecting meat for beef jerky
Here are a few things to consider when selecting meat for beef jerky:
1. Fat content
The fat content is the most important thing to consider when selecting your meat for jerky. Beef with a higher fat content or extra marbling (such as chuck roast) doesn’t dry out properly and will spoil quickly, shortening your shelf life.
Most people don’t like the taste or texture of oily, chewy patches in their homemade jerky. There are some people that buck this trend though, and we’ve tried Wagyu jerky before that tasted amazing so be sure to experiment and work out what you prefer.
You need quite a bit of beef to make jerky. We recommend aiming for three pounds of raw meat for every one pound of finished beef jerky. Plus, you’ll probably want to make a big batch as it’s time-consuming. Therefore, you ideally want to keep the cost down. Fortunately, round cuts are the best option and one of the most affordable beef cuts.
You want to buy the freshest meat possible before making homemade beef jerky. Using older meat for jerky will start you off on the wrong foot and not end well. When shopping, look out for dark spots and odd odors.
To sum it up
Several options are available regarding the best cuts of meat for beef jerky. Just remember to stick to fresh, lean meat to lengthen your shelf life. Check out our recipe for smoked beef jerky if you’re starting your jerky journey. Or you might also want to try homemade teriyaki beef jerky.