In an effort to clean out our freezers for the upcoming gardening, chicken and turkey “season”, I have been making a lot of jerky lately. After all the canning of chicken, making of soup for the pantry and broth galore, I needed to do something else with it. So, chicken jerky came to be in our home. It is a great way to use up extra chicken, preserve it for hiking or road trips,
My kids love it, my hubby loves it, and the dog loves it as much as she can. Well, when no one is looking anyway. For snacking, nothing beats it in our house! It is protein-packed, savory, and satisfying. If you want to try some delicious homemade chicken jerky for yourself, I will tell you all about it below.
What Cut of Chicken Should You Use?
You can really use any cut of chicken meat you want for this jerky recipe as long as you slice it thinly enough. Aim for strips that are at most ¼ inche thick. However, breasts are far and away the best cut to use for simplicity, taste, and consistency.
But if you want to debone wings or legs, like I have in this recipe, you’ll find the results are still totally delicious. It’s just a matter of how much work you want to put into prepping the chicken prior to dehydration.
- Prep Time: 30 min.
- Total Time: 24-30 hrs.
Prepping the Chicken
When I’m cutting up a whole chicken, I usually use the breasts and thighs for jerky. I de-bone the thighs so I can use them like the breasts when I can. Both work just fine in the recipe for me, but it’s mainly leg meat that I’m using here.
To prep the thigh meat, what you will need to do is cut very carefully down the leg and then slice it in half. Then, cut the main part of the meat off the bone. You will want to be using a very sharp knife for this, as it will minimize your risk of injury from slipping.
The leg meat has a lot of tendons, and you will want to make sure to take as much off as you can before slicing into strips and pieces. They don’t have to be regularly shaped for this recipe, but do make sure they are the same thickness and overall size to ensure consistent drying: you want them less than ¼ inch (6 mm) thick, but no thicker!
This can easily be done with a sharp knife, and just cutting it as close to the meat as possible. Once you have your meat cut off the bones, stick the bones in some water and make some broth or discard.
Pre-Freeze for Uniform Slicing (Optional)
One pro tip I learned a while back that will certainly help you is to pre-freeze your meat prior to doing it…
All you need to do is pop your cuts into the freezer for 30 minutes to an hour to let them firm up. This keeps them from being all squishy and wriggly when you’re cutting them and allows you to make perfectly uniform, even slices with a good sharp knife.
It really does make all the difference. Now, you don’t have to do this, but understand that if you have some pieces that are a little thicker and others a little thinner, you’ll end up with a few bits of jerky that aren’t fully dehydrated when the rest are done.
This means you’ll have to pause the dehydrator, pick the ones that are done out, and keep processing the rest, or else you risk spoiling the whole batch and maybe even getting sick!
Next, you will want to soak the chicken in a marinade overnight. I used my father’s beef jerky recipe, tweaking it some for chicken.
What you need:
- 1 cup olive oil
- ½ cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 Tbsp. garlic powder
- 1 Tbsp. onion salt
- ¼ tsp. curing salt
- 1 tsp. black pepper
- 3 Tbsp. soy sauce
Simply add all the ingredients in a large bowl, and toss the chicken strips in. Stir to coat all the pieces, and allow to marinate in the refrigerator for 12-15 hours.
Once the pieces have marinated simply remove them, discard the marinade and place them on your dehydrator trays or racks as appropriate for your model.
Dehydrating Your Jerky
Make sure that none of the pieces are overlapping, and give them a little space between each other; crowding and layering will interfere with drying and promote spoilage!
Dehydrate on medium-high (165°F) for around 12 hours, or consult the manual for your dehydrator. DO NOT sample jerky until it’s fully dried: bacteria, viruses and other germs may not be all killed. This is a great time to add beef jerky that the kids won’t touch, by the way.
After about 10 hours, check the pieces for the first time and test them. When they look dry, pull one piece out and bend it by holding either end; they should feel rubbery and break or split cleanly when you bend them. You don’t want the jerky to snap like a cracker or twig; it is safe, but won’t be as good!
Also, perform the rip test on a larger piece of jerky… Grab one end and try to tear it in half down the middle, lengthwise. It should be tough, but peel apart readily. Look closely for the presence of thin, white strands or fibers; if you see them, you know that your jerky is dry enough.
If you do the rip test and don’t see any white fibers, it isn’t ready! Put it back in the dehydrator and keep processing.
By doing these tests, you know that nearly all the water is all out! If you leave them too moist, they will mold and spoil very quickly, and you will risk food poisoning. Not good!
Consider a Quick Bake After Dehydrating
Compared to dehydrating beef for making jerky, chicken, turkey, and other kinds of poultry are a little riskier. If it retains a little too much moisture or the inner part of the meat didn’t reach that critical 165° F / 75° C temperature, the stage can be set for food poisoning.
It’s nothing to worry about, and it shouldn’t scare you away from making chicken jerky, but you need to be careful, especially if you’re dehydrator doesn’t have precise temperature control.
The trick is to give your jerky a quick extra bake after it’s finished. Once the pieces look right and are out of the dehydrator, preheat the oven to 300° F / 150° C, and then pop the pieces in on a baking sheet for 10 to 12 minutes. Then take them out and let them cool as normal.
This won’t affect the quality of the finished jerky, but it will ensure that all of those germs are toast. I highly recommend this step.
Do I Have to Use Curing Salt?
I strongly recommend that you do. I know some jerky aficionados don’t want to use curing salt in their marinade, and for beef, venison and red meat that’s fine. For chicken, turkey, and other birds, you really should.
It’s good to have multiple steps to ensure proper preservation and the elimination of harmful germs when making any kind of jerky from poultry.
The presence of sodium nitrite in the curing salt will further help to remove germs during marination and protect the finished jerky.
When finished, set the racks aside and let the jerky pieces cool down to room temp completely. Store them in a clean, airtight container for up to 4 months. Honestly, though, I haven’t had a batch last longer than a week…it’s that good!
Heather’s homesteading journey started in 2006, with baby steps: first, she got a few raised beds, some chickens, and rabbits. Over the years, she amassed a wealth of homesteading knowledge, knowledge that you can find in the articles of this blog.
Learn more about Heather and the rest of the writers on this page.