Beef jerky is a popular and convenient snack food.

Its name comes from the Quechua word “ch’arki,” which means dried, salted meat.

Beef jerky is made from lean cuts of beef that are marinated with various sauces, spices, and other additives. It then undergoes various processing methods, such as curing, smoking, and drying, before its packaged for sale (1).

Because jerky is considered a snack food, many people wonder whether it’s a healthy or unhealthy option.

This article reviews whether beef jerky is good for you.

Nutrition and potential benefits

Generally speaking, beef jerky is a healthy and nutritious snack.

One ounce (28 grams) of beef jerky contains the following nutrients (2):

  • Calories: 116
  • Protein: 9.4 grams
  • Fat: 7.3 grams
  • Carbs: 3.1 grams
  • Fiber: 0.5 grams
  • Zinc: 21% of the Daily Value (DV)
  • Vitamin B12: 12 % of the DV
  • Phosphorus: 9% of the DV
  • Folate: 9% of the DV
  • Iron: 8% of the DV
  • Copper: 7% of the DV
  • Choline: 6% of the DV
  • Selenium: 5% of the DV
  • Potassium: 4% of the DV
  • Thiamine: 4% of the DV
  • Magnesium: 3% of the DV
  • Riboflavin: 3% of the DV
  • Niacin: 3% of the DV

It also provides small amounts of manganese, molybdenum, and pantothenic acid.

Given that it’s high in protein and low in carbs, it has a healthier nutritional composition than many other snack foods and is suitable for various diets, such as low carb and paleo diets.

It’s also high in various minerals, including zinc and iron, which are important for many functions, including immune and energy level support (3, 4).

What’s more, beef jerky has a long shelf life and is very portable, which makes it a great option for travel, backpacking, and other situations in which you have limited access to fresh food and need a protein hit.

Summary

Beef jerky is a good source of protein and high in many vitamins and minerals, including zinc, iron, vitamin B12, phosphorus, and folate. It also has a long shelf life and is portable, making it a great on-the-go option.

Downsides of beef jerky

Though beef jerky is a nutritious snack, it should be consumed in moderation.

It’s very high in sodium, with a 1-ounce (28-gram) serving providing roughly 22% of your daily sodium allowance, which is set at 2,300 mg per day (5).

Excessive sodium intake may harm several aspects of your health, including heart health, blood pressure, and stroke risk (2, 6).

That also makes it unsuitable for certain diets that restrict sodium intake (7).

Furthermore, beef jerky is highly processed. Numerous studies have shown a connection between diets high in processed and cured red meats like beef jerky and a higher risk of cancers, such as gastrointestinal cancers (8).

In addition, a recent study found that dried, cured meats like beef jerky may be contaminated with toxic substances called mycotoxins, which are produced by fungi that grow on meat. Research has linked mycotoxins to cancer (9).

In short, though beef jerky is a healthy snack, its best consumed in moderation. Most of your diet should come from whole, unprocessed foods.

Summary

Though beef jerky is healthy, avoid eating too much of it, as it’s high in sodium and may come with the same health risks that are linked to eating processed meats.

How to make beef jerky at home

It’s not difficult to make your own beef jerky at home.

Doing so is also a good way to control all the ingredients, especially sodium.

To make beef jerky at home, simply use a lean cut of beef, such as top round, eye of round, bottom round, sirloin tip, or flank steak, and slice the beef into thin slices.

After slicing, marinade the meat in herbs, spices, and sauces of your choice. Afterward, pat the jerky strips dry to remove any excess marinade and place them in a meat dehydrator at 155–165°F (68–74°C) for approximately 4–5 hours — depending on the meat’s thickness.

If you don’t have a dehydrator, you can achieve similar results using an oven at a low temperature — approximately 140–170°F (60–75°C) for 4–5 hours.

What’s more, it’s a good idea to let the beef jerky dehydrate further at room temperature for an additional 24 hours before you package it. It may be best to freeze jerky if you are not going to eat it within 1 week or so.

Summary

Beef jerky is simple to make at home and allows you to control all the ingredients, particularly sodium.

The bottom line

Beef jerky is a great snack food that’s high in protein and a good source of various minerals, including zinc and iron.

However, store-bought varieties are high in sodium and may be associated with other risks, so it’s best consumed in moderation as part of a varied diet.

That said, making your own jerky is simple and can help control its sodium content.