Ground Venison Jerky

4.89 from 34 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.
4.89 from 34 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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89 Comments

  1. I had about 4 lbs of ground venison mixed with 20% wild pork fat in the freezer from last year. I was planning on making snack sticks but came across this recipe while thumbing through Buck Buck Moose. I decided to give it a shot and since I can’t just use a recipe exactly how it’s written I had to add a few things. I had some dried figs and blueberries that I’d put up earlier in the year as well as a few lbs of pecans. I used a cup of each of the berries and a cup of the pecans. I don’t have a jerky gun so I rolled little logs of the mixture. I have to admit the end product did not look the least bit appealing. I’m pretty sure some crack got mixed in somehow because I cannot stop eating this stuff. I brought it to work and everybody who ate it was upset I hadn’t brought more. It’s the perfect mix of savory, sweet, crunchy, and chew. I’ll definitely be making this regularly.

  2. Made my own Maine version of this using moose and wild Maine blueberries, substituted maple syrup for the sugar and water…outstanding!

  3. I have made these from my deer trimmings for the last 3 hunting seasons and love them. As do all my friends. I experimented with different dried fruits (cranberries, blueberries, sour cherries) and with and without smoking the bars before dehydrating. The slam dunk winner was smoked with sour cherries (Costco montmorency cherries to be exact). Love them as a snack, pocket food while out for the day or even crumbled on baked potatoes with an aged cheese.

  4. Hey Hank, love your recipes and Books! So what about using beef tallow mixed into my already ground antelope or mule deer? Thoughts?

    1. Josh: It will work, but the resulting jerky won’t keep as long. That is rarely a problem, however, since they’re so damn tasty…

  5. hello
    is the sugar only for flavor (and thus can i leave it out)? or is it part of the curing/fermenting process?
    also, when native americans made pemmican, do you know how would they get drying temps up to 165? or did they just sun dry at lower temps for longer?
    thanks

  6. I wasn’t expecting to like this as much as I did…not big on the meat fruit combos but DANG!!!! Delicious. The only thing wrong was kids ate it all in a day :-). If you’re like me and never made a jerky like this then put it on your todo list ASAP.

  7. Hank, your “reverse engineering”of the Tanka bar recipe proved awesome! Made this yesterday on my son’s suggestion out of your Buck Buck Moose recipe book. It far exceeds the taste of the commercial jerky mixes.

  8. Hi Hank!
    First off I love all of your books!
    How would you adapt your chipotle jerky recipe for use with ground deer?

    Thanks!

      1. Good morning Hank,
        I was on the Chipotle recipe and left a couple of comments asking other readers if they had tried adapting the recipe for ground. I just came across your comments here. Have you ever adapted it yet?

  9. I’ve made this as is quite a few times and one of my favorite jerkies, but this year I have a bunch of deer and elk grind and wanted to try something a little different with a 6lb of meat batch. I used your ratios of meat, bacon, salt and cure and then instead of berries I minced a can of chipotles in adobo and added them plus the sauce. I added a shot of lime juice and a little citric acid plus some smoked pepper flakes. Minus the nutmeg and added some garlic power. Kind of like your chipotle jerky but ground, came out really good.

  10. I have a bunch of duck that I’m planning to use with this recipe. Would you recommend that I soak the duck in a brine before starting? Any other nuances about duck meat that I should consider with this recipe? It’s mostly diver ducks, FYI.

    1. Nicholas: Yes, soak the meat in a weak brine overnight in the fridge before grinding. 2 tablespoons kosher salt to 1 quart of water. It will lighten the flavor and made the resulting jerky more “meaty” than “diver ducky.”

      1. Awesome, thanks. Since it is duck, should I bump the dehydration temp up to get the meat up to 165?

  11. Tried this yesterday with ground venison left over from last year. I didn’t have any Instacure so I used Morton’s TenderQuick. Also it’s a good thing I weighed the salt, as I would have used way more if I’d gone by the conversion of two tablespoons equaling 18 grams. For the berries, I used store-bought frozen blueberries that I dried in the dehydrator the day before, and then I ground those in my coffee/spice grinder. I was a little concerned about the amount of black pepper in the recipe, but the sweetness of the sugar and berries counterbalanced it very well. Good recipe!

    1. Colby: If you have 100% ground venison, don’t add any fat. You jerky will be leaner, but it will also last longer because there is little or no fat to go rancid.

  12. I haven’t seen this question asked before. Would I get a longer shelf life if the bacon were left out? How would that impact texture and flavor?

    1. John: If you leave it out the jerky will keep longer, because fat degrades over time. But it would be less flavorful.

  13. I made a ton of deer chorizo last season. What would you think about using it in this recipe? It’s 80 deer/20 pork fat

    1. Joel: Try it. Could be good. Only thing is that it will not keep for very long because it has too much fat. But it might be good for a week or so.

  14. How does the bacon hold up in the long term? Usually you want to remove as much fat as possible for jerky to avoid spoilage.

    If I like the recipe, I will make 15 pounds or so, vacuum pack it, and freeze it.

    Thanks!

  15. If my ground venison has beef in it too, keep the recipe the same? Excited to try this for hunting this fall.