How Long Does Beef Jerky Last? Unearthing All the Jerky Secrets

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Beef jerky is one of the most popular snacks in North America. Everyone loves beef jerky, especially campers, hikers, and trekkers. Anyone who has traveled long distances will appreciate jerky as a source of protein that is prepackaged, easy to carry, and won’t spoil.

And while we know that beef jerky has a long shelf life, how long is beef jerky good for exactly? Does beef jerky go bad at all? This article will answer these questions, and go into details on how you can make homemade beef jerky last for longer.

If you want to find out this information and much more, keep reading!

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What is Beef Jerky?

Beef Jerky

Beef jerky is made from lean cuts of meat that have been dried and then preserved with salt and spices. While it might sound like a pretty modern snack, jerky has been around for centuries. Many people think the Inca tribes invented jerky by drying strips of buffalo meat to preserve them.

Nowadays, beef jerky can be found in almost any convenience or grocery store. It is pretty expensive but is popular because it doesn’t go bad. 

Because it is small, lightweight, and packaged like a candy bar, storing beef jerky is extremely easy. Climbers, hikers, and people going on outdoor adventures can easily stash some packets in their backpacks without using up much space.

Because beef jerky is made from lean meat, it contains less fat and more protein. It also has lots of vitamin B12 as well as minerals and supplements like iron, zinc, selenium, and niacin. However, it also contains lots of artificial preservatives, salt, and MSG.

Jerky also tends to contain lots of sugar. While this makes it a rather unhealthy snack, it also works as a quick and convenient source of energy for trekkers and campers. 

The best thing about beef jerky is that it is pre-cooked and doesn’t need any extra preparation. It also doesn’t need to be refrigerated after the packaging is opened!

Types of Beef Jerky

Beef jerky is super versatile and comes in many different flavors and kinds of preservation. Flavors are altered by changing the marinade ingredients, or their amounts.

  • The classic original flavor is made by marinating the beef strips in soy sauce, sugar, salt, garlic and onion powder, and other spices.
  • Spicy beef jerky is made by adding extra spices like pepper flakes or chili powder in the marinade.
  • Teriyaki beef jerky is made by swapping the soy sauce for teriyaki sauce.

Certain brands of jerky are made with thinner or thicker strips of meat. Others omit the use of MSG. Some brands even use natural preservatives like celery juice, like uncured meat, instead of nitrates.

Jerky can also be made from meats like venison, buffalo, and turkey. More unusual kinds of jerky include wild boar jerky, tuna jerky, and even alligator jerky! Altogether, there are over 100 kinds of jerky out there.

How Long Does Beef Jerky Last?

storing beef jerky

Beef jerky shelf life is pretty long, which makes it so convenient. This long shelf life is made possible by the fact that jerky is made from dried meat. Store-bought beef jerky lasts for 2 years when vacuum sealed and kept in a dark place.

Even when the beef jerky is added to other ingredients and cooked with them, it lasts for this period. In fact, the other ingredients will go bad first.

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Why does it last for so long?

  • Jerky contains very little fat, which tends to go bad more quickly.
  • The meat is dried completely. There is very little water in the meat, and as bacteria tend to grow in moist places, the jerky is a hostile environment for them.
  • The salt acts as a preservative and keeps the meat dry as well.
  • Various seasonings act like preservatives as well. Capsaicin, present in pepper, also slows down the growth of bacteria.

So while beef jerky has a much longer shelf life, it won’t last indefinitely. If you find a 2-year-old pack of beef jerky in the bottom of a drawer, throwing it out is a good idea. In short, beef jerky lasts for 2 years before going bad.

Identifying expired beef jerky is pretty easy. The jerky may look darker or slightly discolored. It can also feel drier and somewhat leathery. 

Furthermore, it will also smell off. Even if your jerky isn’t very old, if it seems funky, don’t eat it.

Can I Make Beef Jerky Last Longer?

In ideal conditions, beef jerky can last even longer than 2 years. When stored in the freezer, beef jerky can last almost indefinitely. Pack the vacuum-sealed, wrapped jerky into a freezer bag, making sure the bag is airtight, and place the bag in the freezer.

This is particularly helpful if you are buying beef jerky in advance and want to store it safely. If you live in a very hot climate and are worried about your jerky going bad, you can store it in the fridge or freezer.

As long as you keep your jerky in a dark cool place, away from sunlight and air, you won’t have to worry about it going bad soon.

Storing Homemade Beef Jerky

Homemade Beef Jerky

Store-bought beef jerky lasts for so long because of all the salt and artificial preservatives present in them. How long does homemade jerky last?

Because it doesn’t contain a large number of nitrate-based preservatives, homemade beef jerky lasts for a much shorter time. When prepared correctly, and stored in airtight packaging away from sunlight, beef jerky will last for 1-2 months in the fridge.

When kept in a pantry, the jerky will go bad after one week. However, if you store your homemade beef jerky in the freezer, it will last for up to a year.

The time frames mentioned above will only work when the jerky is stored correctly. It needs to be kept in airtight conditions, if not vacuum sealed. 

The jerky also has to be kept away from sunlight and damp conditions. Knowing how to store beef jerky is half the battle when trying to keep your jerky safe and edible.

Frequently Asked Questions

Below you’ll find answers to questions we get asked the most about beef jerky.

01. How Can I Tell if Beef Jerky Has Gone Bad?

When beef jerky goes bad, it will look different and change color. The texture will also seem drier and will give off a weird smell.

02. Is Beef Jerky Bad for Me?

While jerky is safe to eat occasionally, or when you are on a trip outdoors. However, since it contains so much salt and so many preservatives, it isn’t safe to eat frequently.

03. Can Beef Jerky be Stored in the Fridge?

Beef jerky can go bad after it is left in the fridge for 2-3 years.

04. How Long Can I Store Beef Jerky in the Refrigerator?

While you don’t have to store jerky in the fridge, you can store it in the fridge for 2 years.

05. What Will Happen If I Eat Old Beef Jerky?

Eating old or expired jerky will give you an upset stomach, nausea, and even food poisoning.

06. Can I Get Food Poisoning from Beef Jerky?

Yes, eating beef jerky that has gone bad can cause severe food poisoning.

07. Why is Beef Jerky So Pricey?

The lean cuts of meat used to make jerky are pretty expensive. Also, the process of drying the meat and preserving it takes a lot of time and energy, which makes it more expensive.

08. What Will Happen If I Don’t Refrigerate Beef Jerky?

Store-bought beef jerky doesn’t have to be refrigerated. However, homemade jerky will go bad faster if it isn’t refrigerated.

Concluding Thoughts

Packing some beef jerky when going on a trip is a pretty commonplace occurrence. This useful and yummy snack is a lifesaver, especially as it is hard to take protein sources on longer trips, as they tend to go bad often. If you ever wondered: how long does beef jerky last? Now you know the answer. So next time you find an old bit of jerky stashed away in the pantry, you can figure out whether it is safe to eat, or needs to be tossed out.

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