After successfully harvesting my first deer last fall, one of the first things I did was flip open a copy of “Buck, Buck, Moose” by Hank Shaw and get to studying. There were so many things to try, but I’ve always been a fan of venison jerky, so that was top of my list.

I tried the venison jerky from Shaw’s book, which is inspired by a Tanka Bar. The recipe calls for the addition of dried fruit to the bar, which gives an interesting, sweet balance to the typically savory snack. Straight up, his recipe is delicious. If you haven’t tried it as a deer hunter, you should

After a few iterations, though, I found myself wanting to up the Scoville scale. I’m drawn to spicy jerky, and I thought I could kick it up a notch. I decided to add roasted jalapenos and dried chipotle powder to up the smokiness and spiciness. I chose to fire roast the jalapenos before adding them to the meat, but this step is optional. I happen to like fire-roasted jalapenos better in recipes because they help give a smoky flavor to the dish. I also add a bit more bacon to my version because, well, bacon. Finally, I’ve only used dried cranberries, which have turned out really well, but any dried fruit could work.

Ultimately, it turned out good with a nice blend of spiciness that was still savory and sweet from the fruit. It’s not overly spicy, so if you like really hot jerky, you could double or even triple the jalapenos. 

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 3-5 Hours depending on dehydrator
 

Ingredients
 

ingredients for venison jerky
There aren't many fancy ingredients in this recipe, making it easy for anyone. (Photo: Seth Rodgers/Guns.com)


2 pounds of ground venison
1/3 pound of bacon
2 jalapeno peppers
2 teaspoons of chipotle powder
1 tablespoon of smoked paprika
1 cup of dried cranberries 
2 tablespoons of salt
1/2 teaspoon of Insta Cure No. 1
2 teaspoons of ground black pepper 
1 tablespoon of onion powder 
1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg
3 tablespoons of sugar
1/4 cup of water
 

Prep


Begin by fire roasting your peppers over the open flame of a burner. Alternatively, you can also use a cast-iron skillet. While the jalapenos darken, mix the dry ingredients together. Cover the peppers and cool them for 10-15 minutes in a Tupperware container. Next, remove the skin by washing under warm water. Then remove the seeds. Dice the jalapenos into fine cubes that are a quarter-inch or smaller. Set these aside for now. 
 

grilling jalapenos
These jalapenos are ready to be covered and let cool. You don't necessarily have to char the jalapenos, but I think it gives the recipe a smokier flavor. (Photo: Seth Rodgers/Guns.com)

Next, dice the bacon into quarter-inch or smaller pieces. Now mix the bacon, venison, jalapenos, and cranberries together and grind them through a very cold 8mm or smaller grinding plate. The first time I made this, I didn’t grind it, and the bacon could be a bit rubbery. Grinding it still gives that added salt and fat, but it loses some of the texture problems without the grind. You don’t have to grind it, but you should if you have the ability.

Once everything has been run through the grinder, mix the dry ingredients into the meat mixture. When everything is thoroughly mixed together, seal it in a vacuum-sealed bag. If you don’t have a vacuum sealer, then use Saran Wrap and a bowl. Just make sure to push the wrap all the way down and press it against the meat. Let it rest for 24-48 hours in a refrigerated space. 

Next, stuff your jerky gun with the meat mixture and dispense it onto smoking mats. I like to use silicon smoking mats because nothing will stick to them, but anything with ventilation should work. 
 

Dehydrate


In my experience, dehydrating can take anywhere between 3-5 hours. Shaw says this can last up to 8 hours depending on your dehydrator, but I’ve only gotten into the 4+ hour territory with my setup. I’m blessed to have an oven that has a dehydrating feature on it. This helps because I would have to split 2 pounds into smaller batches in the countertop dehydrator I have. I have a lack of smoking mats, so I end up putting some in the countertop dehydrator anyway. It always takes longer in that than it does in the oven.

Whatever your dehydrating preference, you’ll want to set the unit for 150 degrees and check on it after a few hours. You’ll want the meat to be a little tough but slightly chewy and not crispy at all. 
 

Serve & Store


Let the jerky rest for 20-30 minutes after it’s out of the dehydrator for best effect. Keep it in the refrigerator as the fat content in this jerky can cause it to spoil faster than traditional jerky. Shaw says this will keep up to a month in the refrigerator, but I’m lucky if I can make it last a week around the house. 

Overall, I found this to be an easy recipe to make and tweak to my own taste buds. It has never disappointed, and I look forward to making it for years to come.
 

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