Looking for a way to deliciously extend celebration of the good ol’ USA? You’re in luck! I’m taking a break from normally-scheduled programming to bring you some extra-special (belated) holiday-edition Beef content: The 1st Annual Swamp Fox Jerky-Off.
“Umm, what’s a Swamp Fox? Aaaaand a jerky-off? And what day is it? And what is a human, really?”
All valid questions. Have a seat; here’s some background:
- Swamp Fox is many things – it’s at once a place, a person and a state of mind – but mainly a retreat off the grid where family and friends gather at least every year around the July 4th holiday to celebrate Niece and Nephew birthdays and blow off some steam by air guitaring like goddamn maniacs around a fire pit. There’s also a pool. Oh and a low-country boil and a chicken fry. And really good tomatoes. And a brunch place nearby that makes crispy eggs which is fried eggs that are dredged in breadcrumbs and then fried again. And also spiders.
- A jerky-off is exactly what it sounds like and even more exactly what you think it is why would you even need to ask.
Monday Tuesday WednesdayFriday, as of this writing.
- Humans? Just bags of meat with a few sparks sending us flapping through the universe like this (NSFW, possibly):
[Yes, I did dislocate my shoulder stretching a joke beyond reason just so I could embed this video. Nailed it. -Ed.]
Satisfied? Shall we proceed? Let us proceed.
Because we like to mix it up! And because sometimes a pool and low-country boil and chicken fry and really good tomatoes and crispy eggs and spiders and fire pit sing-alongs and bouncy houses and river swimming and plain old quality time with loved ones just isn’t enough. And because we’ve already had a condiment competition and what else is there, really?
The rules were simple, which is not to say we didn’t play fast and loose with them regardless:
About a half-dozen participants submitted 15 jerkies, with a dozen or so tasters providing their feedback to the Jerky Officer (aka “Jerky Official”, aka “Wife”, aka “Mrs. Monopoly“). Daughter tried to get in the act, but shortly after this photo was taken decided jerky was better for throwin’ and spittin’ than for eatin’ (not always wrong!).
Contestants brought various flavors of various meats including elk, bison and ostrich, ranging from sweet to spicy to greased through the paper bag. But three overachievers (this multi-talented blog operator and hyphen-overuser included) decided to make their own, with each overachieving further by submitting multiple entries ranging from oven-dried flank steak to dehydrated tofu (we’re vegan-friendly).
Making jerky is surprisingly simple; I learned the basic techniques and used a recipe from Jerkyholic for both of my entries, only varying the type of beef (flank steak and top round). I used the low-heat oven method since it’s all I got and was pretty happy with the finished product.
It took some planning: you need to freeze the meat a bit before cutting, and cut the before marinating, and marinate for at least 12 hours before cooking, then cook for at least a couple of hours, so you’re not whipping up any jerky while trying to avoid the sex scene in Top Gun because your mom decided to start crocheting in the TV room.
A three-way tie for first (!) with some very close runners up. Tofu and eggplant didn’t fare well (sorry CB), nor did bison, but a pretty solid showing from all involved.
I’ll tell you what, though – eating that much jerky is no small feat. I have to admit I only made it about half way through the bags before salt and spice claimed my palate and sent me to the seltzer well.
In any case, I’m delighted to report that two of the three finalists were homemade jerkies*: my teeny-tiny chili-lime top round (below, center) and family-friend JW’s coffee-rubbed, smoked beef (below, right). We placed the top three finishers into a final, unblind (hell yeah!), sudden death matchup to determine the champion.
JW’s coffee-rubbed smoker!
Some surreptitious eavesdropping during the final judging had me thinking Kingsport Farmer’s Market would take the crown, but tasters almost unanimously praised JW’s delicious – and easier to eat than most – combo of earthy, smoky, tender and sweet (also the name of my forthcoming autobiography). It was also possibly the blackest jerky in the bunch, which is rad.
A worthy champion and would have been my choice were I not an indisputably self-biased participant.
Here’s the Beef (and Non-Beef) Recipes
Lots of coffee and smoke! Full recipe is forthcoming. Check back for an update soon.
Beef 1st Runner-Up
Chili Lime Top Round – Top round is good because it’s really cheap (about $5 for a little over a pound on sale) and I personally had a hard time finding flank steak at the supermarket. I had used flank for my first batch and actually thought it was the better of my two jerkies, but the people disagreed. I marinated this one for 20 hours, then dried it for about two using the toothpick/oven rack method.
Beef 2nd Runner-Up
*This entry was technically was homemade, if the lady from Kingsport, TN farmer’s market is to be believed. The submitter doesn’t remember her business name so I’m unable (and unwilling) to independently verify her recipe or reliability as a source. Either way, she makes it out of London broil (which could actually be top round – or even flank – depending who’s labeling it).
For the Vegan-Inclined
- Tofu – From the jerky-off-er: “Ingredients were awesome but the tofu needed a LOT more time to marinate. Texture was pretty good.” Made in the oven.
- Balsamic Maple Smoked Salt Eggplant – Best performance of the three vegan submissions. Made in a food dehydrator which was “promptly cleaned and returned after one use.” Well played!
P.S. – If you enjoy eating jerky and want to save your jerky-off leftovers for snacking throughout the day, keep your dog (or your friend’s dog) in check.