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In physical terms, drying is the lowering of the water activity aw (see page 324) in meat and meat products. Water activity is the measure of free unbound water available for microbial growth. Microorganisms need certain amounts of free water for growth, and their growth is halted below defined minimum levels of moisture. Minimum levels vary from species to species of microorganisms.

Meat drying is not a clearly defined technology. Drying may be done for the single purpose of dehydrating fresh meat for extension of storage, but it may also be one of various processing steps during the manufacture of specific meat products.

Fig. 278: Dehydration of meat
Evaporation of tissue fluid out of a flat piece of meat

The manufacture of fermented meat products, such as raw hams or dry sausages (see page 115, 173), is an example, where drying is one processing component amongst several others. To have an extended shelf life, fermented products need to lose moisture during their fermentation, they are dehydrated or “dried” to a certain extend. Drying and fermentation must go hand in hand to achieve the desired flavour and shelf life. The drying of such products is mostly done in climatized chambers with exact temperature and humidity parameters. Drying under natural conditions is increasingly rare. Another example is the drying of meat preparations in ovens with temperatures in the range of 70-80°C, to become fast-dried products such as beef sticks formed of ground, salted and flavoured meat. Furthermore, for a number of indigenous meat products, moderate drying is part of the manufacturing technique with the aim of lowering the water activity (aw), thus curbing microbial growth. A good example is the Chinese Sausage. This product becomes shelf-stable through various aw-lowering measures, namely its relatively high fat content and use of certain additives including a high sugar content, in combination with drying and light smoking at temperatures of +50-60°C (see page 214). Other dried Chinese products commonly found in open markets are the flat flavoured meat pieces (Fig. 270). The meat is rubbed with a mixture of sugar, salt and spices and subsequently exposed to heat for drying. The heat is generated by charcoal fire or in hot air ovens.

Besides such more complex drying techniques, the simple dehydration or drying of lean meat under natural conditions has been practised for centuries. It is still a popular method in many developing countries, in particular where no cold chain is available. It is predominantly carried out for meat preservation, based on the experience that dehydrated meat will not spoil easily. Pieces of meat are cut to a specific uniform shape that permits the gradual and equal drying of whole batches of meat. Physically, the reduction of the moisture content is achieved by continuous migration of water from the deeper layers of the meat to its peripheral zone and the evaporation from there into the air (Fig. 278).

Continuous evaporation and weight losses during drying cause changes of the shape of the meat through shrinkage. The meat pieces become smaller, thinner and to some degree wrinkled and darker in colour. The texture also changes from soft to firm to hard.

The fact that dried meat is no longer comparable to fresh meat in terms of appearance and sensory and processing properties, has to be weighed against the significant extension of the shelf-life (see page 233). Under certain circumstances, in particular in the absence of refrigeration, these disadvantages have to be accepted particularly where the alternative might be loss of the valuable meat by spoilage. Most nutritional properties of meat, in particular the protein content, remain unchanged through drying.

Types of meat suitable for drying

Meat drying is a simple but efficient food preservation activity. Dried meat can be stored under ambient temperatures for many months. Due to the low water content, microbial spoilage of the muscle proteins can be safely prevented. However, deterioration of adhering fatty tissue through rancidity cannot be stopped. It is therefore advisable to use lean meat only. Beef and buffalo meat as well as goat and certain game meats (deer, antelopes) are best suited. The same applies to meat of livestock used in some regions for meat production, such as camels or yaks. The suitability of mutton is ranked slightly lower. Pork, even from very lean muscle parts, is less suitable, as it contains higher amounts of intermuscular and mostly invisible intramuscular (within the muscle cells) fat, which is prone to oxidation and hence turns quickly rancid.

Preparation of meat for drying

The meat is exposed to the open air and intermittent solar radiation and quickly loses substantial amounts of its tissue moisture. The drying process will be faster the shorter the distance from the centre of the meat piece to its surface. In order to accelerate the drying process in particular from the inner layers of the meat, it is therefore common practice to cut the meat in narrow strips or in flat pieces (Fig. 279, 280, 281).

Recommended shapes for meat pieces to be dried are:

Fig. 279: Cutting of meat in lengthy strips (approx. 1-2 cm width)

Fig. 280: Special cutting technique to obtain long meat strips for suspension

Fig. 281: Cutting of meat in flat pieces in preparation for drying

In large thick meat pieces, the moisture content in the centre would remain high for too long and, given the high ambient temperatures, could easily lead to microbial spoilage, as microorganisms still would find good conditions for growth. Hence flat meat pieces should always be used for successful drying. Spoilage through chemical reactions can occur when fat turns rancid. Adhering visible fatty tissues need therefore to be carefully trimmed off from the lean meat in order not to limit the shelf life of dried meat.

Meat drying techniques

For the traditional drying of meat, the natural conditions sunshine and air circulation are used. Two drying techniques can be distinguished with both using prevailing natural conditions but differing in the impact of the solar energy. These techniques are called sun drying and solar drying and are described hereunder.

Sun drying

The basic traditional drying method is called sun drying, characterized by direct solar radiation and natural air circulation on the product. Meat pieces are cut into strips or flat leaf-shaped pieces as described above. They are then suspended in the open air or spread on drying trays made of fibre or wire mesh with a wooden or metallic frame (Fig. 282 - 285). For sun drying, in particular for the suspension method, the meat is sometimes dipped in salt solution (approx. 14% common salt). This helps to limit microbial growth on the meat surfaces and protects to some extend against insects.

The sun drying method is known to have certain disadvantages, such as exposure to contamination from sources such as dirt, wind, rain, insects, rodents and birds. Quality deficiencies, such as changes in colour, off-flavours, foreign contaminating substances such as dirt and sand and even high surface microbial contamination may occur. Heavy microbial contamination can affect the meat after rehydration, when sufficient moisture for renewed bacterial growth is available, as this will lead to product deterioration and even possible food poisoning.

Fig. 282: Set-up for simple sun drying

Fig. 283: Suspending meat strips on strings (a-d) or hooks (e-g)

Fig. 284: Sun drying by suspension practised in a rural setting.

Fig. 285: Sun drying by exposing flat meat pieces on drying trays

The sun drying method can be done at the domestic or farm level for quick and uncomplicated preservation for example of surplus meat which cannot be consumed immediately or stored properly. Possible contamination can be limited at the small-scale level, as these operations are easy to manage and supervise. For relatively small pieces of meat the drying process can be completed in the course of one day by starting in the morning. If the drying cannot be finished in the lapse of 8-10 hours, which is usually the case with meat pieces of a thickness >1 cm, the meat should be stored overnight in a safe and dry place and exposed the following morning again to the sun.

Solar drying

For larger-scale or commercial meat drying operations in rural settings, improved approaches have been developed using solar drying. In contrast to sun drying, where the meat is exposed directly to the sun, the solar drying method uses indirect solar radiation. The principle of the solar drying technique is to collect solar energy by heating-up the air volume in solar collectors and conduct the hot air from the collector to an attached enclosure, the meat drying chamber (Fig. 286, 287). Here the products to be dried are laid out.

In this closed system, consisting of a solar collector and a meat drying chamber, without direct exposure of the meat to the environment, meat drying is more hygienic as there is no secondary contamination of the products through rain, dust, insects, rodents or birds. The products are dried by hot air only. There is no direct impact of solar radiation (sunshine) on the product. The solar energy produces hot air in the solar collectors. Increasing the temperature in a given volume of air decreases the relative air humidity and increases the water absorption capacity of the air. A steady stream of hot air into the drying chamber circulating through and over the meat pieces results in continuous and efficient dehydration.

Construction of solar dryers

Solar dryers are composed of two essential parts, the solar collector and the drying chamber. Both are simple constructions and can be built everywhere using locally available materials such as timber, brick, metal plates and transparent plastic sheets. Two examples of solar dryer design – tunnel dryer and multi-collector dryer - are provided hereunder.

In the tunnel dryer, the shape of the solar collector is tunnel-like to provide enough surface area for the absorption of the solar radiation. For the capacity of the drying chamber of 50-100 kg of goods the length of the collector should be 10-15 meters (see Fig. 286, 287 and table 13).

Fig. 286: Tunnel dryer. Lower cost option

Fig. 287: Tunnel dryer. Higher cost option

Table 13: Materials for two tunnel dryers (example)


Type 1 (Fig. 286, 291)

Lower cost construction

Type 2 (Fig. 287, 293)

Higher cost construction

Tunnel (= collector) length

11.5 m 15 m
Tunnel widt 1.5 m 1.85 m

Tunnel surface area

17 m2

28 m2

Drying chamber volume (internal)

1.6 m3

1.6 m3

Collector bottom

Aluminium roofing sheet painted with ordinary

black oil paint

Polyurethane (PU) panel coated with metal, painted with black absorber paint

Collector cover

Transparent high density

polyethylene sheet

Transparent UV- stabilised polyethylene sheet

Supporting pillars for tunnel and drying chamber

Wood Concrete

Plane of the collector

Slightly sloped (2°)

Horizontal (level)

Number of fans/blowers

(Power source: solar panel)

2 3

Approximate material and construction cost (incl. solar panels)

US $ 1,000 US$ 5,000

The multi-collector dryer uses a collector surface of approximately the same area as the tunnel dryer, but subdivided into three individual collectors (Fig. 288, 289). The three collectors are positioned in a way that one collector points to the morning sun, another to the mid-day sun and the last to the afternoon sun. Hence the solar radiation is utilized in an optimal way. Moreover, the angled positioning of the collectors enables the easy conduct of the hot air, which has the tendency to raise up, into the raised drying chamber.

Fig. 288: Multi-collector dryer

Fig. 289: Multi-collector dryer

The top parts and preferably also the side parts of solar collectors must be permeable for solar radiation. These parts need to be of transparent material (uv-resistant plastic foil or glass). The bottom part should be of metal plate, possibly corrugated to increase the surface, and black in colour for optimum absorption of solar heat. It is recommended to insulate the bottom part of the collector underneath. A sophisticated approach would be to use a black metal coated polyurethane panel, but a similar effect can be achieved by insulating the bottom plate with low cost insulation material such as styrofoam (Fig. 290, 291).

Fig. 290: Simple construction of low-cost solar collector. Bottom part made of black painted corrugated steel plate. Wooden rafter as support for the transparent plastic film to cover the collector

Fig. 291: Completed simple solar collector, covered with transparent UV resistant plastic sheet

Fig. 292: Functional simple solar tunnel dryer. Front part of solar collector with air inlet and two electrical fans for reinforcement of air stream. Photovoltaic panel on top of the front part to drive the fans. Collector with corrugated bottom metal sheet and transparent foil cover. Length of solar collector 11.5m. Drying chamber located at the end of the solar collector. (Type 1 in table 13).

Fig. 293: Higher-cost construction of tunnel dryer. Roof-shaped solar collector, top part made of metal frames and bottom part made of metal-coated polyurethane panel. Length 15m. (Type 2 in table 13).

The major part of the thermal energy absorbed is inside the collector, as it is permeable for solar radiation, and the heated air remains trapped inside the system. The only outlet for the hot air is the opening leading to the drying chamber (Fig. 295), where the hot air is continuously moved by natural convection only. This movement can also be supported by fans (see Fig. 286 / 287 front part, Fig. 292). In order to keep the air stream going continuously, there must be an air inlet protected by wire mesh at the front side of the collector part of the dryer.

An important feature of solar drying devices is the size of the solar collectors. Depending on the quantity of goods to be dried, collectors must have the capacity to provide sufficient quantities of hot air to the drying chamber. Collectors which are too small in proportion to the amount of meat to be dried will result in failed attempts and spoiled meat.

In case of the tunnel dryer, the collector can be built horizontally or with a slight slope towards the higher positioned drying chamber for easy convection of the heated air from the collector to the chamber. For horizontal tunnel dryers, the air movement can be supported by electric fans attached to the front part of the dryer (Fig. 292). In rural areas, where no electricity is available, good results can be achieved by using photo-voltaic panels to drive the fans. But in most cases, fans may not be necessary at all, as by natural convection, enough hot air moves into the drying chamber.

Fig. 294: Drying chamber (made of wood) connected to solar collector (arrow) of tunnel dryer. Trays with meat to be dried positioned in the chamber

The drying chamber (Fig. 294) is a closed wooden or metal-sheet construction, which has an air inlet from the collector side (Fig. 295) and a door which can be used for loading/unloading. At the rear in the upper section of the chamber, there must be an opening, which serves as the air outlet for the hot air conducted into the chamber. The opening must be protected by wire mesh to avoid the access of insects, rodents and birds. Inside the drying chamber there are on several levels of horizontal drying trays consisting of frames with wire mesh to hold the meat pieces to be dried. Alternatively, for drying of vertically suspended meat pieces, hanging sticks may be used (Fig. 282).

Fig. 295: Air inlet (arrow) from the solar collector (tunnel type) into the drying chamber

Fig. 296: Drying chamber of multi-collector dryer. Front and side walls of the chamber are transparent to collect additional solar energy. Air inlet from collector to chamber

Parameters of solar drying of fresh meat

The processes which take place during meat drying are mainly physical. The aim is the reduction of the moisture content of the meat in warm and relatively dry air in order to achieve low aw-values (see page 324), where microbial growth is stopped and the meat can be stored over several weeks or months without refrigeration.

In addition to the physical changes in the meat during drying, there are also certain biochemical reactions with a strong impact on the sensory characteristics of the product. In many developing countries, meat used for drying is usually derived from unchilled carcasses, and rapid meat ripening processes occur during the first stage of drying, as the meat temperature continues to remain relatively high. For this reason the specific flavour of dried meat is different to that of fresh meat. Slight oxidation of remaining meat fats also contributes to the typical flavour of dried meat.

In contrast to the open air sun drying, solar drying takes place in closed systems. Here a specific micro-climate is created, with higher temperature and lower relative humidity than in the outside surrounding air, and also with a reinforced air circulation through convection and tentatively with additional fans. These conditions favour the fast evaporation of a substantial part of the meat moisture. Furthermore, even under partly or fully clouded skies, there is still a certain amount of solar energy absorbed by the solar collectors, which keeps the air humidity low in the system, so that the drying process takes place. In contrast, during open air drying or “sun drying”, the drying process will be slowed or stop in cloudy weather conditions.

According to tests carried out in the drying chambers of tunnel driers, the micro-climatic conditions to be achieved in closed drying systems can be summarized as follows (Fig. 297): Maximum temperatures are generally in the range of +50-55°C during day-time with the strongest solar radiation (usually at noon). During the other periods of the day the temperatures gradually decline in relation to the solar impact to reach minimum values of approx. +30°C in the morning and evening hours. In environments with high natural air humidity, the corresponding air humidity pattern inside the dryers are in the range of 60% during the lower temperature phase and 20% during the high temperature phase. In dry semi-arid or arid climates, the humidity values in the dryers will certainly be lower. The speed of the air stream circulating into the drying chamber is also related to the intensity of the solar radiation. Air speeds in the range of 0,4 m/sec during lower and up to 0,8 to 1 m/sec during high solar impact are the norm. Air speed may be as low as zero if there is no solar radiation, but additional electric fans would allow for continued intensified air circulation. However, in most cases it is possible to operate closed drying systems without electrical fans.

Fig. 297: Temperature, rel. humidity and air speed during one day's drying period from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm.

Drying techniques using solar dryers

Meat drying in solar dryers is usually carried out on trays. This method allows a higher load capacity in the drying chamber and is less labour intensive than drying by suspending the individual meat pieces. Drying of other food like fruits or vegetables in solar dryers is also done on trays. Trays should be built in a way that they can be piled on top of each other with sufficient space for air circulation. They are usually made of wire or fibre mesh for good air penetration and stabilized by a frame (see Fig. 294, 295).

The simplest technique is to continue the drying of the flat meat pieces until they reach a hard solid texture. The necessary total drying time is approx. 48 hours including night time. The effective drying periods last for approx. 8 hours a day during the main solar impact. Closed solar drying systems which are protected against external influences have the advantage of leaving the meat in the dryer during the night.

The main dehydration effect takes place in the first phase of the meat drying, hereafter dehydration decreases continuously. Depending on the type of meat (high or low water binding capacity) and the size of the meat pieces (larger or smaller, flat or strips), arrives after one day’s meat in the solar dryer reduces to 45-35% of its original weight and after two days at 30-20%. This corresponds to a remaining moisture contents in the meat of 40-45% after one day and 12-18% after two days respectively (Fig. 298, 299). The water activity of such fully dried meat lays in the range of 0.5-0.6 and is low enough to inhibit bacterial growth (for microbial growth aw 0.75 or above is required).

Fig. 298: Flat meat pieces positioned on a tray for drying

Fig. 299: Flat meat pieces completely dried (usually after 48 hours)

Quality of the finished product

Drying of fresh untreated meat of the shape described (strips or flat) takes at least two days, in many cases three to four days. After this period the dried meat is ready for consumption and can be packaged, stored and/or transported. At this stage the product should meet the following quality criteria (Fig. 299):

The appearance of the dried meat should be as uniform as possible. The absence of large wrinkles and notches indicates the desired steady and uniform dehydration of meat.

The colour of the surface, as well as of the cross-cut should be uniform and dark red. A darker peripheral layer and bright red colour in the centre indicates excessively fast drying. Because of the remaining higher water content in the centre, these meat parts may still be susceptible to microbiological growth.

The texture of properly dried meat must be hard, similar to frozen meat. A softer texture can be recognized by pressing the meat between your fingers. These pieces should be kept for one more day in the dryer for finishing.

Taste and flavour are very important criteria for the acceptance of dried meat by the consumer. Dried meat should possess a mild salty taste which is characteristic for naturally dried meat with no added spices. Off-odours must not occur. However, a slightly rancid flavour, which occurs because of chemical changes during drying and storage, is commonly found in dried meat and is acceptable. Dried meat with a high fat content should not be stored for a long period but used as soon as possible in order to avoid intensive rancidity.

Preparation of dried meat for consumption

Fig. 300: Dried meat as supplement to a meal of rice and vegetables

After completion of the drying process, the dry meat is normally packaged, preferably in moisture-proof plastic bags to avoid absorption of moisture during storage. For consumption, the dried meat needs to be rehydrated by submerging it in water or it can be directly added to meals (Fig. 300).

Fig. 301: Dried meat sticks before and after pounding

Instead of rehydrating entire pieces the dried meat can be chopped into smaller pieces or even used as dry flakes or similar particles. The traditional way to reduce the size of the meat pieces is to pound it with a wooden stick in a wooden bowl (Fig. 301). The resulting coarse dry powder is commonly used for food preparations such as soups, meals with gravy, etc.

The comminution of dried meat can also be included during the drying process in order to transfer such meat into easier-to-use food. One useful method is the semi-drying of meat pieces for only 12 hours in the tunnel dryer so that the meat pieces become semi-rigid. Although they still have a relatively high moisture content, this does not render them shelf-stable. In a second phase, these semi-rigid meat pieces are passed through a grinder (5-6 mm plate) and the minced particles exposed for another day to solar drying (Fig. 302). The resulting dry minced pellet-like meat particles can easily be packaged in plastic bags and stored without the risk of absorbing moisture. Rehydration of these pellets is easy - just add water (1:1 – 3:1, rehydration time 30-60 min) (Fig. 303). In the rehydrated form, the meat can be used for the fabrication of hamburger patties, meat balls etc. In dry form, it can be added to soups or meals as desired.

Fig. 302: Ground meat from semi-dried meat pieces laid out again for one days drying

Fig. 303: Rehydration of dried ground meat pellets for further processing

Meat drying combined with additional treatments

This group comprises a variety of treatments with very different resulting products:

a) Acceleration of meat drying by intensive salting


This technique was used for large-scale preservation of beef in Latin America, when and where a functioning cold chain was not yet fully developed. The product manufactured is called charque (Fig. 304).

For this product, beef from fore and hindquarter is cut into large pieces of about 5 kg, and approximately 5 cm thick. The pieces are submerged in tanks in a saturated salt solution for one hour and then drained on slats or racks.

For the following dry-salting, the flat meat pieces are piled on a sloping concrete slab under a roof. Alternate layers of salt and meat are put up to reach a height of about 1 m. The pile is then covered with wooden planks and pressed with heavy weights. After eight hours the pile is restacked so that the top meat goes to the bottom of the pile. The restacking process with fresh layers of salt is repeated daily for five days.

Fig. 304: Production of charque: Large flat pieces of beef, in the periods between daily exposure to the sun on racks (to be seen in the background), are piled on a concrete slab and covered with impermeable cloth

After five days, the salted meat is ready for the actual drying. Before initiating drying, the meat pieces are washed to remove excess salt adhering to the surface. The meat is then exposed to the air and sun on wooden racks which are oriented north-south, thus permitting an even solar coverage. The meat pieces are exposed to the sun daily for four to eight hours over a period of four to five days. After each period of exposure the pieces are collected, stacked in piles on concrete slabs and covered with an impermeable cloth to protect them against rain and wind and to contain the previously absorbed heat.

When sufficiently dry, the meat pieces are either marketed without packaging or simply wrapped in jute sacks. Plastic sacks are not suitable, because the product still contains some of its original moisture content, and this moisture must be allowed to drain freely from the product during storage. Due to its low moisture and high salt content (5% and more), charque keeps for months under ambient temperature conditions and is resistant to infestation by insects and mould growth. The salt must be reduced by immersing the meat pieces in water in order to make it palatable for consumption.

b) Pre-treated dried meats for snacks

A number of value-added meat products can be summarized under this group. Drying is part of the taste and flavour enhancement.


Biltong (Fig. 305) is a well-known salted, dried meat originating from Southern Africa made from beef or antelope meat. Most muscle meat from the carcass may be used but the largest are the most suitable. The meat is cut into long strips (1 to 2 cm thick) and dry-salted. Salt and pepper are the principal ingredients used, although other ingredients such as sugar, coriander, anise, garlic or other spices are included in some mixtures to improve flavour and taste. In most cases nitrate or nitrite is added to achieve a red colour and the typical flavour of cured meat. The addition of 0.1 percent potassium sorbate to the raw meat is permitted in South Africa as a preservative. The salt/spice mixture is rubbed into the meat by hand and the salted strips are then transferred to a suitable container for further curing.

Fig. 305: Biltong. Small slices cut from entire dried piece

Biltong is cured for several hours, but not longer than 12 hours, otherwise it would become too salty. The meat pieces are then dipped into a mixture of hot water and vinegar (approximately 10:1). This is primarily done to prevent mould growth, but it also adds flavour to the product. The biltong is now ready for sun or solar drying for one day. Then the strips are moved into the shade for the rest of the drying period. The biltong is ready when the inside is soft, moist and red in colour, with a hard brown outer layer.

Biltong is sold in sticks or slices. The usual shelf-life is several months without refrigeration and packaging. In airtight packages the product can be stored for more than one year. Biltong is not heated during processing or before its consumption. It is eaten raw and considered a delicacy.


Pastirma (Fig. 306) is salted and dried beef from mature animals. In some areas of the Middle East camel meat or mutton is also used. The complete production process for pastirma requires several weeks. The meat is mostly taken from the hindquarters and is cut into 50 to 60 cm long strips with a diameter of not more than 5 cm. The strips are rubbed and covered with salt and nitrate. The dosage of the nitrate in relation to the meat is 0.02 percent, which means 2 g of nitrate for 10 kg of meat. Several incisions are made in the meat to facilitate salt penetration.

The salted meat strips are arranged in piles about 1 m high, repeatedly repiled and kept for two days. Thereafter the meat strips are washed and air-dried for two to three days in summer and for 15 to 20 days in winter. After drying the strips are piled up again to a height of 30 cm and pressed with heavy weights (approximately 1 tonne) for 12 hours. After another drying period of two to three days the meat pieces are again pressed for 12 hours. Finally the meat is again air-dried for 5 to 10 days.

Fig. 306: Pastirma. Air drying of large flat pieces of beef (above). Finished product (below)

After the salting and drying process, the entire surface of the meat is covered with a 3 to 5 mm thick layer of a paste called cemen. Cemen consists of 35% freshly ground garlic, 20% helba (i.e. ground trefoil seed), 6% hot red paprika, 2% ground mustard seds, and 37% water. Helba is used as a binder of the paste; the other ingredients are spices. Garlic is the most important ingredient as it has antimycotic properties. The meat strips covered with cemen are stored in piles for one day, and thereafter dried for 5 to 12 days in a room with good air ventilation. Now the pastirma is ready for sale. The final product has an average water activity (aw) of 0.88. The aw-value should not fall below 0.85 or the meat will be too dry. The average salt content is 4.5 and should not exceed 6.0 percent. The product stays mould-free for months at ambient temperature even in summer. Similar to Biltong, Pastirma is consumed raw.


Jerky (Fig. 307) used to be the “iron food ration” in North America. Jerky is dehydrated lean meat, which contains salt and spices. There is no common processing technology but many different approaches from household level to industrial level to produce jerky.

The lean meat usually derives from beef, but buffalo (bison), deer, antelope or turkey meat may also be used. The meat is cut into strips not more than 0.5 cm thick, 1-2 cm wide and 15-20 cm long. Differences in manufacturing jerky start with the cutting technique. Some people prefer cutting the meat across the grain, others parallel to the muscle fibres. All fat and other adhering white tissues should be removed. In modern processing, slightly frozen but still relatively soft meat may be used to facilitate the cutting process.

The “pioneer” jerky was seasoned only with salt and black pepper and then sun-dried. For faster and more advanced processing several seasoning and drying methods are now popular.

Curing Preparation

- Marinade method

One typical marinade is prepared from salt, soy sauce, black pepper and fresh garlic or additionally chilli and onion powder. The meat is immersed and possibly massaged in the marinade and kept there for 12 hours.

- Dry curing

A dry curing mix using salt, sugar and if curing colour is desired sodium nitrite is applied. The meat is rubbed ‘two or more times during’ a curing period of 3-5 days.

- Quick-cook method

The fresh meat strips are either immersed in boiling water for 1-2 minutes (until they get superficially white) and afterward seasoned. Alternatively boiling salt water (which may also contain some sugar) can be used and the meat strips, after removal and dripping of the superficial water, are seasoned (e.g. pepper, chilli, oregano, marjoram, basil, thyme).


After curing and seasoning the jerky needs to be dried. Also here various drying methods are possible:

Fig. 307: Jerky. Prepared as a snack


After undergoing any of the described seasoning and drying procedures, jerky can be packaged and stored and is ready for consumption. It is consumed as a snack.

c) Processed dried products combined with heat treatment

This kind of products is particularly popular in East, Central and West Africa. In a first step flat meat pieces are pre-dried through sun or solar drying. The meat is only semi-dried and then soaked in specific coating mixtures (Fig. 308), before it is exposed to heat treatment (see page 241). The heat treatment applied can be considered as the completion of the drying process. Complete drying under natural conditions would not be possible, particularly in humid climates1 prevailing in some of the countries. In the producing countries the manufacture of these dried and heat treated products follows the same general pattern, although different regional product names and ingredients are used.

1) Under these conditions more or less intensive smoking of fresh meat is also practiced as an emergency measure for meat preservation in order to achieve rapid dehydration and antimicrobial effect through smoke substances, but usually not with very favourable sensory results.

In detail the manufacture is carried out as follows: The production is usually initiated by sun or solar dying of thin slices of meat, primarily beef and goat. The first stage of the drying process takes up to six hours. The semi-dry meat slices are then soaked in mixtures or marinades that may contain water, salt, oils, flours, groundnut paste, garlic, onions and spices such as pepper and ginger. By immersing them into the mixture for several days, the semi-dry meat slices absorb up to three times their weight. After soaking, the wet products are either directly heat treated, or again exposed to drying and afterwards heat treated.

The heat treatment is usually done by roasting the meat over a glowing fire for approximately five minutes. After roasting, the moisture content of the products ranges around 10-15%, which makes them shelf-stable for a long period of time.

Common names for such products are Odka (Somalia), Qwanta (Ethiopia), Kilishi (Nigeria).

Fig. 308: Soaking semi-dry meat slices in the mix

Fig. 309: Finished product after roasting.

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