Your run of the mill beef jerky from a highway rest stop or convenience store certainly would never win any food awards and you’ve probably been steering clear of it for years. But that’s the old story. There’s a new brand of beef jerky on the block that has attracted the attention of food critics, beef lovers, health conscious snackers and many of us who have returned to the beef jerky fold. Our June Makers of the Month, Robert Stout & Chris Woehrle of Kings County Jerky Co., are pioneers of the 21st century craft jerky movement, one that focuses on top notch ingredients and craftsmanship that your great, great grandparents would recognize.
Kings County and Co. takes the ‘mystery’ out of the meat, using only grass-fed, top round beef, never nitrates, corn syrup or preservatives. Their jerky is an all-natural, healthy, high protein treat worthy of kings and paupers alike.
We spent some time recently with Chris Woehrle to learn more about beef jerky and the history of his company. Chris also shared with us his excellent recipe for making Kings County Beef Jerky right at home. We can’t wait to try the recipe. But if you don’t want to be a “jerk about it,” you can easily pick up some bags in our pantry.
Kings County Beef Jerky in Cracked Pepper and Korean Barbeque flavors in our Manhattan Fruitier pantry.
MF: How did you guys get into the business of making beef jerky?
Chris Woehrle: We were eager amateur cooks and food lovers intent on starting our own food business. We wanted to do something unique, and realized that beef jerky (a favorite road trip snack of ours) was ripe for reinvention. By replacing feedlot beef and artificial ingredients with grass-fed beef and all natural spices, we realized we’d be doing something new. After a few months of perfecting our recipes, we entered a competition for new food brands, where we won the Audience Choice award. The judging panel of food business luminaries told us we had an excellent product that was worth pursuing. The next day we started the search for a kitchen space and never looked back!
Why is it called “jerky”?
From a health standpoint, what are the benefits of eating beef jerky?
Jerky is in fact a very healthy snack, particularly the way we make it. Grass-fed beef has a number of health benefits like omega-3s that grain-fed beef does not. It is also much leaner. We hand trim the beef of any visible fat, and use a light touch with salt and sugar, so our jerky has much lower sodium and sugar content than most other jerkies. It’s an excellent lean protein, low fat, low carb snack.
What is the cut of meat that starts the process?
We use the leanest cut of beef, which is the top round. It’s mostly lean muscle with very limited fat content.
Do you cut across the grain or with the grain?
We cut with the grain to give the jerky its characteristic chew. Cutting against the grain causes it to be crumbly.
Where does your beef originate? Can you share with us a little bit about the farm and cattle?
We used to source our beef from a single family farm, but as we grew, they simply did not have the capacity to supply us. We now use a broker who sources 100% grass-fed beef from a number of different farms. Our number one requirement is that the beef be 100% grass-fed and naturally raised, free from hormones or antibiotics.
How many pounds of beef does it take to make a pound of jerky?
It takes a little over 2 lbs. of meat to make 1 lb. of jerky
What’s your process for creating new flavors?
I get inspired by a number of things: cookbooks, restaurant meals, spice shops. I experiment with marinades in our kitchen and test small batches of beef in our tabletop dehydrator.
Do you brine or marinate your jerky?
We use wet marinades for all of our jerky. We use tamari (a wheat free soy sauce) in our marinades, so we don’t add any salt.
What is your drying process? Air? kilns?
It is dried with a combination of low heat and fan-driven air.
Have you considered using wild game for your jerky like venison, elk, buffalo, kangaroo, etc?
USDA regulations prohibit the use of wild game for commercial jerky, so all animals must come from a farm, which limits what meat we can use.
Can you describe why there was a sea change in our view of jerky — it went from the thing you’d avoid at a gas station to one of the best artisanal snacks made in the country right now. Why do you think that is?
I like to think we contributed to that. We were the first to use a unique combination of 100% grass-fed beef, global flavors, and an attention to packaging and branding that hadn’t been seen before. Our small batch, handcrafted approach treated jerky like a charcuterie product instead of a mass manufactured junk food.
You’ve had some impressive reviews in the press and on your website and ours. Have you gotten any feedback from ‘old-timers’ who were making jerky before you guys made it cool?
We hear from guys who’ve been making jerky for a while and they’ve all been enthusiastic and complimentary about what we’re doing.
Any advice for budding jerky makers?
It’s a rewarding hobby and very easy to do at home. Definitely invest in a decent tabletop hydrator like the ones by Excalibur (www.excaliburdehydrator.com). Start with my recipe for homemade jerky and then play around with your own spice blends…
Making jerky for commercial sale is a different story – it’s a very challenging and expensive process because meat production is so highly regulated. Make sure you do the research on what exactly it takes before embarking on any kind of business venture!
Do you see your company, your product, being on nation-wide grocery shelves, or are you wanting to stay high-end and selective with your consumer base? How far do you want to take Kings County Jerky?
Because our high quality ingredients are expensive, we have a higher price point than the mass-market jerky at grocery stores. The only way we can compete in the mass-market is by lowering our price, which means using cheaper ingredients or shrinking our margins to a dangerously low point. There is a big enough market among specialty food stores and online customers that I think we can take Kings County a long way without relying on nation-wide grocery stores.
What’s your most popular flavor, and why do you think that is?
Our most popular flavor is our Cracked Pepper, which is our spin on traditional jerky. People seem to gravitate to the familiar, classic flavor profile. That being said, our Korean BBQ flavor is a very close second in popularity – I’d consider that one our signature flavor.
The Barstool Snacker from Manhattan Fruitier features Kings County Beef Jerky, The Redhead Bacon Peanut Brittle, Uncle Jerry’s Pretzels and Tin Mustard from Brooklyn.