Ground Venison Jerky

4.87 from 30 votes
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Hank Shaw holding a piece of ground venison jerky
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

Ground venison jerky is a thing. I actually had to learn this from my fellow deer hunters, who love the stuff. I was, initially, skeptical.

Jerky, real jerky, is made from slabs of meat, not coagulated ground-up meat. I saw no reason to go beyond my chipotle venison jerky, which has been called the One Ring of venison jerkies; you’ll need to be a Lord of the Rings fan to get that joke.

But hey, it’s popular, I thought. I should really do one. Then I remembered: I don’t bend to peer pressure. Screw ’em.

Until I ate a Tanka Bar.

The Tanka Bar is a pemmican-like bison bar made by the Oglala Sioux in South Dakota that’s available in some stores, and definitely online. One day I bought one at a truck stop in North Dakota while I was on the road, and it immediately changed my mind about ground deer jerky. Chewy, rich, with bits of dried berries and a hard-to-pin-down spice mix.

This recipe is a hat tip to the Tanka Bar. I think I’ve reverse engineered it pretty well, and I am proud of this recipe, which first appeared in my 2016 book Buck, Buck, Moose.

You can use any red meat here, or even dark meat off a wild turkey. I bet it’d be fantastic with prairie grouse, too, if you happen to have quite a lot of them.

I prefer dried berries here, but you can leave them out if you hate them. Any dried berry will do: craisins would be the easiest to get (other than regular raisins, that is), but I prefer dried wild berries like blueberries, huckleberries, mulberries, lingonberries and such.

You do need a special piece of equipment to really do this right, however. You need a jerky gun. It’s basically a caulking gun modified for food use. Several companies make them, but the one I use.

You also need a bit of curing salt to make this correctly. I use Instacure No. 1, which is also called Prague Powder No. 1. If you leave it out, it’ll be fine, but you won’t have ground deer jerky that tastes like a Tanka bar.

Holding a piece of ground deer jerky.
4.87 from 30 votes

Pemmican-style Ground Meat Jerky

I like to grind the meat and fat for this right before making the jerky, but any ground venison will do. You will want at least a little fat in the grind, however, because otherwise the jerky will be pretty crumbly and dry. If you don’t use bacon, you will want to increase the salt to 25 grams. And if you have smoked salt, you will want to use it.
Course: Cured Meat
Cuisine: American
Servings: 6
Author: Hank Shaw
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 4 hours
Total Time: 4 hours 20 minutes

Ingredients 

  • 1 ¾ pounds venison
  • ¼ pound bacon
  • 1 cup dried cranberries or other berries
  • 18 grams salt, about 1 tablespoon
  • 3 grams Instacure No. 1, about ½ teaspoon
  • 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon ground mace or nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon of paprika, smoked if possible
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons sugar
  • ¼ cup water

Instructions 

  • Grind the venison, bacon and dried cranberries through the fine die of your grinder. If you are using pre-ground venison, chop the dried cranberries well and add them to the ground meat. Put the meat and cranberries in a large bowl and add all the remaining ingredients. Mix well with your (very clean) hands until everything comes together and starts to stick to itself.
  • If you have a vacuum sealer, seal the mixture and set in the fridge for 24 to 48 hours. If you don’t, pack the meat mixture into a lidded container and press some plastic wrap directly onto the surface and let it sit that way.
  • The next day, separate the mixture into two or three chunks, depending on how big your jerky gun is. Pack it in and squeeze out lengths of jerky onto your dehydrator trays. Make sure they are separated from each other. Dehydrate at 150°F until the meat is mostly dry, but still chewy. If you don't have a dehydrator, you can smoke-dry it in your smoker, or in an oven set to "warm," with the door slightly ajar. In both of these cases, you want to keep the temperature as close to 150°F as you can. 
  • This sort of jerky doesn’t keep as long as traditional jerky because of the fat content. But it will keep for several weeks in the fridge, and it freezes well.

Notes

NOTE: Time does not include curing time. 

Nutrition

Calories: 325kcal | Carbohydrates: 23g | Protein: 33g | Fat: 11g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Cholesterol: 125mg | Sodium: 1358mg | Potassium: 513mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 17g | Vitamin A: 575IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 19mg | Iron: 5mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

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About Hank Shaw

Hey there. Welcome to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, the internet’s largest source of recipes and know-how for wild foods. I am a chef, author, and yes, hunter, angler, gardener, forager and cook. Follow me on Instagram and on Facebook.

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81 Comments

  1. This is my 3rd time making this recipe, I love it SO much! Just delicious and pleasant to chew!! Question, What’s a minimum time for dehydrating where it’s still safe? I have dried mine for about 8 hours each time. While the fat keeps it somewhat moist, I’d like to understand the moisture level better. Thank you!

  2. Try this with beaver meat, and you’ll never want to go back! One reason to become friends with a trapper or to learn trapping yourself. The tender sweetness of beaver takes the jerky flavor up past the threshold for addiction. My roommates are afraid of my experiments with wild game, rejecting in turn rabbit, squirrel, and even the thought of raccoon (though I haven’t figured out how to cook that last with sufficient skill that I’ve actually asked them to try it). But one bite of beaver jerky turned them into converts.

  3. My kids (10×2 & 14) and I can’t get enough of this recipe! My wife, whom is not a huge fan of jerky in general really enjoys it as well. Couldn’t wait for rifle season to stock back up on ground whitetail so I could make a bunch of this again! You nailed this one on the head Hank. Well done, and thank you.
    Oh, and a note about the Instacure: I have been using a similar amount of Morton’s TenderQuick in lieu of the Instacure and salt, and I feel that it turned out very well. I finally got some Instacure the last time I made it, and I would be hard pressed to notice a difference… Perhaps it was less pink, but that’s trivial to me personally.

  4. Hey Hank! Thanks for another great-looking recipe! I’m trying to make this as local as possible. What do you think about using honey (1-2T instead of 3T sugar), dried aronia berries in lieu of cranberries, ground spicebush berries in liey of nutmeg and eliminating the Instacure No 1?

  5. Is the smoked salt recommended only if not using bacon? Should I use smoked salt and bacon, or is that too much smoke?

  6. We were extremely skeptical about using ground meat for jerky, and upon reading Hank’s thoughts on the matter we decided heck we will give it a try. Picked up a jerky gun and got busy. The results were absolutely amazing, this is now our go to recipe. We have also tried it with dried apricots instead of the cranberries and it was good but cranberry is still our preference.

  7. Added toasted walnuts in place of half the craisins, added a nice dimension. I did mine in a smoker at 150 with the door open over hickory. Doing the next batch with apple… for science.