JERKY BOYS

Among the number of specialty food niches one could survey at the International Fancy Food Show at the Javits Center this year I was particularly struck by the expanding varieties of packaged dried meat products – and this was only in the North Pavilion annexed to the main building of the Javits. Certainly I have noted more and more different brands of various beef and other jerkys on offer in the supermarkets, delis and specialty food shops around the city, but the International Fancy Food show, as always, featured varieties I had no prior knowledge of. After sampling a number of these over the time since the show, I can offer an account (by no means exhaustive) of notable products in this area.

Steamboat Springs Sweetwood Cattle Company [www.sweetwood.com], “inspired by over 100 years of ranching in the Rocky Mountain West,” produces a “whole muscle cut” jerky equally chewy, moist and tender, and sliced in thick, irregularly shaped chunks rather than sheets or slabs, as many other firms do. The matte black pouches are emblazoned outside with flag iconography – the ‘C’ of Colorado’s flag is part of the company logo, and the US flag is printed on the bottom – and within they feature a number of “natural style” and “old fashioned” differently-seasoned variations. The naturally wood smoked meat is evenly flavored; the Peppered version delivered a satisfyingly spicy kick, while the Teriyaki flavor was even more moist in quality, with the spiciness balanced by the sweet/sour aspect of the soy sauce marinade.

Perky Jerky [www.perkyjerky.com] makes dried meat from both beef and turkey, and their style is fairly uniform in cut, coming in rectangular flat slices. Both the beef and turkey varieties come in four flavor options: Original, Sweet & Spicy, Hot & Bothered, and Teriyaki. Of the flavors, I found the Sweet & Spicy variety to have a nice blend of sweet and savory; the beef is marinated overnight in a sweet jalapeno mixture, with elements of brown sugar, cayenne red peppers, lemon juice, granulated garlic, black pepper and guarana.

Several New York-based firms have established an impressive foothold in the sphere of dried beef and meat products. One such local outfit has a line of products more similar in chewy texture to what most people may remember from the dried beef they were first exposed to. Field Trip All Natural Beef Jerkys [www.fieldtripjerky.com], which boast on the front of their packages that they contain no preservatives, have no nitrates or added MSG and are low in fat, are distinguished primarily by their good blend of seasonings – they come in Honey Spice No.11, Original No. 3 and Teriyaki No. 23 flavors.

Also boasting a chewiness of traditional jerkys are those produced by Slantshack Jerky [www.slatshackjerky.com], a Jersey City-based company that uses only Vermont Highland Cattle in their products. Their jerkys aren’t as thinly-sliced as other styles, and have a great variety in natural seasoning; their varieties are Original (with a gingery bite), Dried + True (with garlic and gingery seasoning), Jerk McGurk’s Wild Rubdown (a great barbeque version that’s “a little sweet, a little salt, a little spice”), Bronx Pale Ale (flavored with beer), Vermont Maple Glaze + Garlic (with maple syrup), and Spicy Redrub (“a slow-building savory heat – a 6 on the heat scale”).

Staking out a taste territory unique in its simplicity is Jonty Jacobs [www.jontyjacobs.com] line of South African style dried beef. A Brooklyn-based firm, Jonty Jacobs wasn’t at Javits this year, instead concentrating on opening their first retail store on Christopher Street in the West Village. While the store boasts a line of different, largely imported products and condiments, the main attractions are the two primary versions of dried beef they produce, Droëwors – a lightly spicy beef sausage in lamb casings (think Slim Jims with an earthiness and attitude) – and Biltong, small thinly-sliced strips of dried beef, enhanced not only by the spice blend applied in their curing but also by the generous fat left on the pieces of steer.

One of the leading innovators in the realm of dried meat snacks, both in terms of packaging and the seasoning and tenderness of their meats is Krave [www.kravejerky.com]. Their products depart from the overly-chewiness of traditional jerkys, and are generally cut into pieces quite a bit larger than other jerkys, while still maintaining a nice moist texture. Their Chili Lime beef jerky, seasoned with garlic chili sauce, lime juice powder, celery juice powder and a medley of spices, has a wonderful balance between sweet, spicy hot and savory. The Black Cherry Barbecue Seasoned Pork Jerky was lightly sweet – with seasonings including tomato paste, honey, cherries, seas salt, red wine vinegar, natural black cherry syrup, molasses and other spices – and very moist and tender. I also sampled their Basil Citrus Turkey Jerky, likewise seasoned with a complex of flavors – cane syrup, apple juice, lemon juice, honey, lemon pepper, garlic powder and onion powder are among them – and offering a far less dry presentation of turkey breast meat than one normally encounters, whether at the annual Thanksgiving Day table or elsewhere.

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