We know that one deer gives you a lot of meat at the end of your hunting trip. One of our favorite things to do with that extra deer meat is to dehydrate it into jerky. But just how long does it take to dehydrate deer jerky, and how hard is it to do?
The answer to this question is simple. The whole dehydrating process from start to finish may take anywhere between 4 to 13 hours. This is quite a range, but there are reasons for this. Some of this is the time it takes you to cut your deer meat and to put away the finished jerky.
How Long do You Dehydrate Deer Meat?
Your first step is deciding what method you are using to dehydrate your deer jerky. We have a few different options for you to choose from, any of which work for making jerky. Obviously, you do not want to use the historical method of setting the meat out in the sun.
Though we have found that it is possible to dry deer meat by the sun, this takes several days. Since the weather rarely stays cooperative for that long, it is best to stick with more modern methods. But we are showing you a few modern options that are faster and more reliable.
In the Dehydrator
The best way to dehydrate almost anything is in a dehydrator. These come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. You need a large one to do as much deer meat as possible at once, but small ones work too. Many dehydrators tell you the recommended temperature and time for jerky, but there are a few averages for you.
For most dehydrators, some ballpark numbers are:
- 125-130 degrees F – 10-12 hours
- 135-140 degrees F – 8-10 hours
- 145-150 degrees F – 6-8 hours
- 155-160 degrees F – 4-6 hours
Dehydrators are the best because they are specifically made to circulate the air evenly around the meat on the trays. This means you do not need to flip the meat to make sure that it dries evenly.
When dealing with these trays, we recommend that you do not overfill the trays too much. It is really tempting to fit as much on the trays as possible. Trust us when we say that doing this makes the drying take longer.
In the Oven
You likely think that an oven is the same as a dehydrator, but these are actually very different. This is in part because ovens can not be set as low as dehydrators can. This is also because cookie sheets don’t let air circulate underneath the meat as dehydrator trays do.
Because of this, you must flip the meat every two hours to let both sides dry properly. Set the oven racks to allow both cookie sheets to have as much space as possible. Most ovens have a minimum temperature of 200 to 250 degrees F, and this is what you should set it on.
Though the oven temperature is higher than that of a dehydrator, it does take longer than you might think. An oven at 200 degrees F takes around 6 hours to dry deer meat. During this time, you flip the meat twice.
The Dehydrating Process
The dehydration process for making deer meat jerky starts the day before you actually start to dry it. First, precook your venison to 160 degrees F. This is to kill any bad bacteria to make preparing jerky safe. Then you start cutting the meat as soon as it is cool enough to handle.
When you are cutting the deer meat, try to keep all the pieces between ¼” and ½” thick. Also, remove the fat wherever possible since this does not dry well. Once cut, you can let it marinate overnight in the seasonings of your choice for flavor if you want to.
The next morning, set in on the trays you are using to dehydrate it and start the heat. Once done, let it cool completely before packing it away. If you don’t, you end up with steam inside the bag, creating moisture there and making your jerky go bad.
Important Things to Consider for Deer Meat Jerky
We know that getting a range of time is not helpful sometimes. So, let us help show you how to find that exact number that you can set your timer for. There are two main things that are affecting your drying time:
- The amount of heat you are applying, and
- How thick you cut your deer meat.
The hotter you set the temperature, the faster the meat will dry out. However, you cannot set it too high, or the outside of the meat will get dry long before the inside. Then, by the time the inside is ready, the outside will be hard, brittle, or burnt. Trust us when we share that this does not taste good.
Therefore, don’t turn the temperature up too high to try to speed things up. The more time you can give it at a lower temperature, the more likely your deer jerky will turn out. This is because the pieces of meat will be able to dry more evenly.
That brings us to the second part, which is the thickness of the meat. Obviously, thicker meat takes longer to dry in the center. Meanwhile, thinly cut meat dries faster. Having pieces that are thick on one end and thin on the other is very frustrating. We see the thin parts getting tough so that the thick parts are fully dry. It is better to cut everything thinly than to have thick pieces.
Tips for Dehydrating Deer Meat
First, cutting meat might seem simple, but it always takes longer than you think it will. If you do not plan on marinating your deer meat overnight, you must get an early start. If you start late in the morning, you must stay up late to take it out of the dehydrator.
While it is better to dry your deer jerky during the day, we know that getting an early start isn’t always the easiest thing to do. This is another reason why marinating your deer meat is a great option since it splits the work in half.
The second tip that we have for you is to tell when the jerky is ready. The method we use is often called a ‘bend test.’ If the meat looks dark brown, almost black, take a piece out and bend it. There are three different possible things that might happen.
If it bends easily and without any sound or sign of resistance, it is not done yet. If it breaks rather than bending, it is overdone. Finally, if the piece of jerky bends but crackles some, it is just right.
As you can see, the question about how long does it take to dehydrate deer jerky is not a simple one. But this does not mean that saving up your deer meat like this is hard to do. If anything, you now see that it is easy enough for anyone to do.
We find that deer jerky is perfect for taking on camping trips. Not only do we eat it as jerky on long trails, but we also love discovering new ways to cook with it.
Deer jerky is also much healthier than many types of meats, and it does not have any chemicals preserving it. Even without those, it will stay good for 1 to 2 months, especially if you put it in Ziploc bags. Frozen deer jerky will keep for half of a year.