From its origins as a survivalist staple to its modern status as mass-produced gas station shlock, beef jerky might not necessarily come to mind when you think of quality food. Jerky, however, has undergone a similar culinary transformation as other foods with similar histories. It’s joined the likes of coffee, pickles, and sausages as culinary artisans have gone back to craft roots, embracing traditional, small-batch production methods while reclaiming and re-imagining beef jerky at large.
We’ve put together a list of the best craft jerky in the city so you can get yourself a piece of the beefy snack revolution.
South African cuisine is another international food tradition that has a version of jerky, and South African-born chef Monique Daniels brings Biltong (from the Dutch bil, meaning “rump”, and tong, meaning “strip”) to American jerky fans. Biltong differs slightly from traditional jerky in that it’s thicker, cured in vinegar, and is generally not sweet. This gives it a unique meaty flavor and tender texture, which Daniels protects by not using any chemicals or preservatives in her curing process. Jonty Jacobs also offers Droewors, dried versions of the traditional coriander-spiced boerwars sausage (think Slim Jims, but way better).
Joshua T. Case’s jerky joint was originally named for the slant-roofed shanty where it started, and since then it’s grown into one of the forerunners of NYC craft jerky. Slantshack uses sustainable beef raised on Northeastern family farms (such as their main partner, Vermont Highland Cattle Company), and offers 20 different marinades, spices, and sauces. You can choose one individually or you mix and match for your own custom jerky flavor, which makes room for the traditionalists and the experimentalists alike.
Like many other craft food makers, craft jerky makers have a strong connection to local culture, especially in NYC. Gordon Lingley and company at New Jerk City pay homage to the unique flavors of the city with a series of jerkys inspired by New York neighborhoods and boroughs. The first of the series is Brooklyn, a tangy but subtly sweet jerky made with Brooklyn Brewery Brown Ale.
King’s County Jerky has been a darling of Smorgasburg and the Brooklyn Flea for some time, and it’s easy to see why. Using 100% grass-fed, non-confined, and antibiotic/hormone-free beef, the King’s County team stress the artisanal methodologies of jerky-making by doing all the spice grinding, toasting, and meat slicing by hand. They offer jerky in three flavors: Cracked Pepper, Korean BBQ, and Sichuan Ginger.
Brooklyn bartender Bam Romero started experimenting with beef jerky and giving it out at Tony’s Public House in Park Slope, where it was a massive and immediate hit. Since then, he’s spent 14 years perfecting his recipes and cooking techniques. Bam makes two flavors: the Original (his secretly-guarded sweet and spicy combo of spices, fresh peppers, and sugars), and the Kill Me, a spicy jerky made with ten different types of pepper.
In America, jerky is usually considered an American food, but jerky-style dried meats have long traditions in many other global cuisines. Ping’s Dried Beef is a Mulberry Street institution, offering classic, old-school Chinese beef jerky that’s uniquely chewy and savory. Though it may cost slightly more than the surrounding Chinese jerky joints, it’s worth the (relatively minimal) splurge.
If you’re looking to explore further into Chinese jerky traditions, check out Ling Kee Beef Jerky. They offer another interpretation on the old-school recipe,serving thick, tender squares of moist jerky instead of long chewy strips. In addition to beef jerky, Ling Kee also sells pork, chicken, and chicken and shrimp varieties.
So, there you have it: the official Joonbug Jerky appreciation list. Now go forth and get your jerky on!