Why is it called “Jerky”?

Good question! The word ‘jerky’ may seem like a strange term for a meat based food, but we promise that this is as scary as it gets. Jerky in its most simple form, is meat that has been preserved with salt and has had all moisture drawn out of it. Doesn’t sound so scary now, does it?

There are a few folk lore theories as to why jerky has the name it does. Some jerky fanatics believe the name derives from the jerking action your head makes when biting off a particularly tough piece. Although this sounds plausible, historians agree that jerky is ancient. What we do know is that jerky originates from a South American Native tribe called Quechua, who had derived from the Inca Empire. The word “jerky” comes from this tribe and originates from the word “charqui”, meaning to burn meat (Wild West isn’t burnt, we promise). Native Americans would preserve meat such as game, bison, cattle, deer, elk and fish by marinating it in a brine made out of acidic fruits and then hanging it up to dry beside the fire smoke or in the sun. They would do this before travelling or during the winter months when hunting was difficult and food was scarce. Jerky was especially popular in the month of February, as Native American’s described February as the “Month of Starvation” due to the impact of winter on harvesting. These meat preservation techniques were then picked up by colonists.

Even cowboys jumped on the bandwagon and began carrying salted beef and jerky in their pockets for when meals weren’t readily available. The protein would keep them fuelled on days spent on the range and when hunting cattle. Folk lboots-cowboy-denim-51130ore claims that cowboys (or cow hunters as they were known as at the time) would keep raw beef under their saddle and the friction from the saddle and the heat of the sun would cook it. It’s even said that the sweat from the cowboys would help flavour the meat (delicious). We’re not really sure how accurate this is and we can’t imagine what sweaty, saddle cooked jerky would taste like. Probably not very nice.

Jerky has been a popular delicacy across North and South America since ancient times, but in most recent years it has made its way over to the UK. Nowadays, the process of making jerky has changed slightly but Wild West jerky follows a very simple method. We use the silverside cut of beef that has been sliced then hand mixed in a marinade of herbs and spices. Our team then lays each slice out by hand onto baking trays before the beef is slowly cooked and smoked in an oven at a low temperature. It’s still high in protein and low in fat, just as it would have been back in the States.

Read some of our other blogs:

Are jerky & biltong Paleo? 

Common myths about jerky and biltong. 

What is the difference between jerky & biltong?

We caught up with Rachael Burford.

Share this page