In the first of our expert series, we talk to Will Yates, jerky-expert and founder of Billy Franks, on his one-man campaign to introduce the British to proper jerky.
When I was seven months old, my parents moved to America. I lived in Chicago, then New York, and then Texas. They know how to do jerky there – big jars of it on the counters of 7-Elevens. Since I moved back to the UK, I’ve never found anything that compares – just translucent packs of jelly.
Last October, I took the matter into my own hands, and decided to make my own. I started taking it into work. I’m a web designer in a nice office where people bring in jams and cakes, but the jerky went down really well. A few people asked if they could buy some extra packs, and it all started from there – now I’ve set up an online shop for Billy Franks jerky, and it’s being stocked in more and more bars and cafés round London.
They know how to do jerky in the US – big jars of it on the counters of 7-Elevens.
My middle name is Francis – after my granddad. When I was younger, my mum used to call me Billy Frank when I’d been naughty, and I hated it. But I figured that it was quite a solid name for a company with a good American twang.
I started out with a cheap dehydrator. I was setting alarms to wake up in the middle of the night, and nipping home in my lunch break to switch it on and off. After a few months I upgraded to an Excalibur which has an inbuilt timer. It means I get a bit more sleep, and it dries the meat more evenly than the old machine.
The best cut of meat is beef roll blade. It is reasonably priced, and very lean, so I can prepare 1kg in about ten minutes. Some people say you should freeze the meat before slicing it, but it’s just an extra step in the process. I remove any fat or tendons, and then slice it along the grain into pieces which are about 6cm by 6cm, and around 1cm thick.
I made some turkey jerky for a Sikh friend. It is drier than the beef, but it has a great flavour. I did a lamb and mint version which was good, but it wasn’t that cost effective – lamb is such a fatty meat, and I ended up having to trim off too much. I also tried venison, but the jerky had a livery consistency I didn’t like. I got good feedback from people who tried it, but I’m not going to spend the little bit of free time I get making something that I don’t really love.
Making the wet marinade is the best part – it’s all about experimenting and developing new recipes. I use five different types of mustard in my ‘roast beef and mustard’ to get the flavour just right. I’m also quite pleased with my ‘teriyaki beef’ jerky, and the hot varieties which use The Rib Man’s naga jolokia and scotch bonnet sauces. The jerky’s a bit like Willy Wonka’s chewing gum – you can taste a whole meal in one little dried strip of meat.
It’s like Willy Wonka’s chewing gum – you can taste a whole meal in one little dried strip of meat.
Soak the meat in the marinade for at least five hours. There isn’t really a maximum time, I often leave it overnight. Then put it in a dehydrator at 68°C degrees for 6-8 hours. If I’m using fewer trays the air circulates more easily so it takes less time to dehydrate . You can also make jerky in an oven if it’s turned down to the lowest setting. The aim isn’t to cook the meat, but just dry it out.
When the meat is ready, I cut the pieces into smaller, bite-sized chunks and seal it in a vacuum bag. To start with, the cut-edges are red, but after a couple of days, they turn a darker colour, more like the surface of the meat – and that’s the best time to eat it.