Why is Beef Jerky So Expensive?

by Charlie
Dried Peppered Beef Jerky

Have you ever looked at the price of beef jerky in the store and wondered how it can cost so much? A lot of meats are expensive, but beef jerky often seems to carry a pretty high price for what it is.

Why is beef jerky so expensive? Beef jerky is expensive for a couple of reasons – one being that beef is inherently expensive because it takes a lot of time, energy, and money to produce this meat. Beef jerky is a very concentrated version, so it takes a lot of meat to make it, and considerable amounts of energy are involved in the drying process too.

The combination of these factors creates an expensive product.

Why is Beef Jerky Expensive?

Beef jerky costs a lot because meat is expensive, and a lot of meat goes into making one piece of beef jerky. Because the water is removed, the meat shrinks and loses a lot of weight, so manufacturers need to use a lot of beef to make only a little jerky.

In general, it takes about 2.5–3 lb of meat to make 1 lb of jerky, and it needs to be lean meat, which is often pretty pricey. The manufacturers therefore have to charge a lot more by weight, because the weight is so much lower due to the reduced water content.

Even without this reduction, beef can be pretty pricey. It takes months to rear a cow, and farmers need space, food, labor, specialist equipment, and medical supplies to get the cow from birth to cattle market. All of these things have a cost and this cost makes up the final price of the meat.

That means that just buying a piece of normal beef from the supermarket can be expensive, and as soon as you start turning it into jerky, it gets really pricey.

What Else Makes Beef Jerky Expensive?

A few other things feed into the cost of beef jerky, and it’s worth recognizing these additional factors. The first is that beef jerky takes a long time to make and requires a lot of labor, which drives up the costs. The fact that the beef is lean can make it more expensive, and the manufacturers may also need to rent USDA-approved spaces for making the jerky.

All of these things drive up the prices. Beef jerky often takes a couple of days from beginning to end, even for small batches, which means that manufacturers have to account for long drying times when they price the product. This decreases how much jerky one production facility can create.

It also introduces labor costs, because making beef jerky is surprisingly labor-intensive. If the meat is just dried, it may not need as much work, but this results in tougher, lower quality jerky. If the meat is smoked while drying, employees need to be much more hands on. This results in a much better but much more expensive end product.

Next, beef jerky is often made with rump meat, which is expensive even in its uncooked form. When you account for the loss of volume in water weight, it’s no surprise that the dried version costs so much; the manufacturers need to charge almost three times more per gram in order to make the same amount of money.

If the manufacturer needs to rent a USDA-approved space for making the jerky, this will further drive up the price, as these spaces can be expensive and – because of the slow drying times – create a relatively low turnover for the overall footprint.

Finally, a lot of beef jerky has additives in it, and these also come at a cost. Preservatives and fillers help the meat to keep well and ensure you can enjoy it for much longer, but they all have an expense. Not all beef jerky contains these; some higher quality ones will be free from them, but then tend to cost more because they are high quality.

Can You Get Cheap Beef Jerky?

You should be cautious about buying cheap beef jerky, because this will not be a high quality product, unless it has been discounted from a high price point for some reason. However, you can buy the low end beef jerky brands for considerably less money.

These tend to be chewier because they will have been air dried rather than smoked, and they are often made with low quality meat. They may not taste as good, and they might have preservatives and fillers in them that make them less appealing.

However, in terms of the price point, they will be more attractive, even if they are still a fairly expensive food.

Can You Make Your Own Beef Jerky?

One solution to the high cost of beef jerky is to make your own at home. The meat will still be expensive, but not nearly as expensive as buying ready-made jerky from the store. You can make beef jerky in the oven or using a dehydrator, but make sure you are following a reputable recipe site, as under-cooked beef is not safe to eat.

If you want to make your own beef jerky, buy some beef from the store and cut it into slices. Marinate the slices overnight and then put them on a baking sheet in a low oven for around 3 or 4 hours, until the meat is completely dry.

Test whether you are satisfied with the texture by allowing it to cool and then trying a piece. It should be chewy and have a leather-like appearance, but still ought to be tender enough to enjoy. You can keep beef jerky at room temperature for about a week before it will go bad, as long as it has dried properly.

Final Thoughts

Beef jerky is expensive for a whole host of reasons, and the cost of the meat, the manual labor, the processing facility, and the other ingredients all feed into the final cost of the product. It certainly isn’t a cheap snack, but you can have a go at making it yourself at home if you like, or choose other kinds of jerky to enjoy.

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