Beef jerky, deer jerky, beef sticks and meat bars.
Know how to get your protein in the back country. Mmhmmm.
Beef jerky is PACKED with protein. One ounce of beef jerky (about 28 grams) generally provides about 14 grams of protein. Consider the average "high-protein bar" weighs about 80 g and only provides 20 g of protein. Beef jerky provides DOUBLE that protein-to-weight ratio. In short, beef jerky is one of the densest sources of protein.
Backpackers are all about lightweight nutrition which makes this snack a staple of the trail diet. Depending on what your nutritional needs are, beef jerky can be a great low fat and low carbohydrate snack as well.
It is believed that the consumption of dried meat dates as far back as the Neanderthals - notably eating "woolly mammoth jerky". Curing meat as a means of preservation was utilized in a variety of different methods in early civilizations. Some used salt or sugar to withdraw water moisture out of meat through the process of osmosis. Others smoked or dehydrated their meat.
Animal sources, preparation and flavorings evolved over centuries into countless varieties all over the world - Pemmican in North America, Kilishi in Nigeria, Ch'arki in South America, Biltong in South Africa and Bakkwa in China to name a few.
The fundamentals are pretty simple. Slice up some meat, marinade it and then dry it out. Note drying is not necessarily cooking. The main goal is only to eliminate moisture. The real delicacy and art of the process comes with the cut of meat, the preparation, the marinade, the spices, etc.
1. Tough or Soft: Some jerky is tough and chewy designed for a slow flavor absorbing experience. Others are soft to go down easy. Generally soft jerky has been tenderized or ground down and reformed.
2. Dry or Moist: You can go heavily spiced and crumbly or sticky to the touch and soaked in sweet syrups.
3. Type of Meat: Beef is our American favorite. Deer (venison), chicken, pork, turkey, buffalo (bison) and duck are all popular as well. Everything from kangaroo to alligator are available though.
4. Structure: Jerky strips, long and skinny sticks, rectangular bars and small bites are on the list. Take your pick.
Known for being chunky and chewy, Duke's beef jerky comes in thick strips of Angus beef. Founded by Justin "Duke" Havlick and his homemade recipes. See Duke's.
Epic started off with dried meat bars, often with dried fruit blended in (like Bison Bacon Cranberry). They have branched out into all sorts of animal products - from pork rinds to venison strips. See Epic.
Whipped up by an executive chef, Chef's Cut prioritizes flavor and spice above all else. The Sriracha is a personal favorite. Better for those who like it dry. See Chef's Cut.
Minimally processed and great tasting dried meat bars. Tanka also frequently partners and fund raises with Native American organizations. See Tanka.
Plain and simple beef jerky with three classic flavors - Teriyaki, Peppered and Original. Complete with an additional organic line. See Pemmican.
Well crafted, artisanal jerky. Love the wide variety of flavors. They've got everything from Mango Jalapeno bars to Chili Lime beef jerky. MSG and nitrite free... and marinated for 48 hours. See Krave.
All locally sourced, pure Southern California cattle. Dry, well seasoned, thick strips of beef. See True Jerky.
Thinly sliced and blackened. Great to let sit on your tongue and soak up the flavor. Tougher than most. See Mingua.
A large rival to Jack Links and found at virtually every gas station. Probably not the best in my opinion, particularly their smoked sausage sticks. Very popular though and stepping into some interesting Trail Mixes. See Oberto.
Aimed at the outdoor and hiker crowd, Field Trip makes minimally processed beef, turkey and pork jerky and sticks. No preservatives, MSG or Nitrites either. See Field Trip.
The commercial standard. Honestly, not a huge fan. Too chewy and somewhat bland. Make no mistake though. Jack Links is extremely popular. See Jack Link's.
I'm not sure why this brand has not taken off to the massive level that Oberto and Jack Links has. Dry and super tasty. Try the Ghost Pepper Buffalo if you dare. See Savage Jerky.
Three products - beef jerky, turkey jerky and 'frontier bars'. A little moister than some other jerky on the list. See Country Archer.
The best jerky on the market in my opinion. Affordable, chew-able and simple seasonings. Ingredients: Grass fed beef, pineapple juice, coconut aminos, honey, lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, paprika, ginger and black pepper. See Sticks or Jerky.
One of the tastiest jerky profiles - well seasoned, high quality filet mignon cuts, dry and easy to chew. Comes at a high price though. See Three Jerks.
The organic brand of jerky bars. Three flavors with savory ingredients - beef/ bacon/ cranberry, turkey/ sweet potato/ pumpkin seed and beef/ carrot/ apple. Free shipping is nice too. See Bricks.
By Chris Cage
Chris launched Greenbelly Meals in 2014 after thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail for 6 months. Since then, Greenbelly has been written up by everyone from Backpacker Magazine and Bicycling Magazine to Fast Company and Science Alert. He recently wrote How to Hike the Appalachian Trail and currently works from his laptop all over the globe.
650-calorie fuel in a ready-to-eat package.