Dial the clock back to 1983, when one of the all time great cinematic achievements made its way onto screens across the United States. That movie, of course, was Trading Places. My favorite scene (if I was forced to choose) was the one in which Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy), Louis Winthorpe III (Dan Akroyd), Ophelia (Jamie Lee Curtis -- looking great I might add) and Coleman (Denholm Elliott) are all dressed in disguise on the New Years Eve train, attempting to recover the orange juice crop report from the dreaded Clarence Beaks (the amazing Paul Gleason).
Billy Ray/Eboko: "Beef Jerky?"
Coleman/Priest: "No son, it gives me wind, something terrible."
These lines were indelibly etched in my mind for the next quarter of a century. Beef jerky causes uncontrollable flatulence. How could they make such a thing up, even in a movie? It must be true. For 25 years, I couldn't look at a Slim Jim without grimacing.
Two years ago, I gave myself a long hard look in the mirror. I asked the wrenching question that I had been avoiding for so many years. Was I a food bigot? Was I willing to assume cheap, tawdry stereotypes foisted on my simple mind by Hollywood? Was I a food profiler? I looked deep in my soul, tears streaming down my cheeks, and I accepted the truth. I had given jerky a bum rap, and dammit, it deserved better.
My moral failings aside, one might reasonably ask the question: who cares? Fair enough. Here is why beef jerky matters: very few calories and many grams of protein. This translates into snacking and satiety glory. One serving of jerky typically has 70 calories, 14 g of protein in a 1.1 oz serving. In addition, they take a while to eat because they are hard and chewy. These characteristics alone warranted a second look.
A couple of points about genus Jerkius. I do not consider Slim Jim's to be beef jerky because they aren't. They are beef sticks, and I still find this to be a concerning concept/descriptor (sounds like they come from a processed meat extruder, which they probably do). Further, they have 150 calories, 13 grams of fat and only 6 grams of protein. Not an awesome deal. On the other hand, consider Oberto Beef Jerky: 70 calories, 2 grams of fat, 15 grams of protein. That's what I'm talking about. [Nutritional caveat: I know that beef jerky has too much sodium. I just choose to ignore this fact. If it makes you feel any better, I never use table salt.]
It was time to give the jerky an open minded try. I got some Trader Joe's buffalo and turky jerky, and gave them a shot. Conclusion: they tasted FANTASTIC and my G-I system remained in tact and non-offensive. Another stereotype crushed!
Recently, I have tried to expand my purview of jerky to include some more artisanal/gourmet varieties. Here are four that I've tried recently (I found these from a NY Times review from two years ago)...
Assessment: very tasty, great name, but a bit too tough. There is a fine line between a piece of leather and a fine slice of beef jerky. This variety was a bit too tough for my personal preference. Others may prefer this style, particularly as it really does take a little longer to eat.
Assessment: these sticks rock. Really tasty and chewy/tender, not tough. At 60 calories per serving, I can see these as a staple.
Assessment: unfreakinglybelievably great jerky. Amazingly tasty and totally tender. This stuff is almost too good. It's also completely natural and unpreserved, so remember not to leave it on a shelf for four or five months.
4) Alaska's Best Salmon jerky, sold by Trapper's Creek in, where else, Alaska. The Trapper's Creek guy found me via Twitter and put me to the challenge. I was a little nervous about this one as dried fish doesn't seem quite as intuitive as dried beef. I dug deep, manned up, and placed my order of dried fish (variety pack please!).
Assessment: Not bad! Same kind of nutritional profile as the beef (70 cal, 2 g fat, 13 g protein). If you like smoked salmon, you will probably like salmon jerky. I did. My only minor complaint is that they are a little oily, though not too fishy, which was more of an issue for finger tip clean-up. I'm not sure if this will be my go-to dried chunk-of-meat, but it adds a nice bit of variety.
So there you have it. For all of you adventurous Weight Watchers-friendly food lovers, give the above a shot and let me know what you think.
Please do share your own jerky thoughts (again, I'm referring to the food, not behavior) and any other similarly weird food loves.