My life has become a cliche. I should clarify: My refrigerator has become a cliche. I can’t keep it filled, thanks to the rapidly growing tween boys who inhabit my house. They seem to open the fridge as soon as they close it. I can’t feed them enough.
I don’t mind the shopping. I clearly enjoy the cooking. But where I struggle, along with a lot of other parents, is how to provide enough portable, healthful food for them when they are on the go for hours before dinner. An apple with a smear of peanut butter used to be a sizable snack to get them through homework and sports. Ha. No longer.
It takes no effort to have chips, pretzels and other processed foods waiting in the cabinets or the car — but I prefer that my kids eat real food.
Especially my oldest, who genuinely likes his meat; he’s a different species when he doesn’t get enough protein (a species that could go extinct with no complaint from me). To keep him going, I need to provide portable protein that he and his brother can grab as they run in from school and run out to baseball practice.
I recently discovered a solution: beef jerky. Not the brightly packaged junk food sold in gas stations mini-marts. A Slim Jim is not a food, it’s a sodium- and MSG-laced chemical creation that smelled up our car on my childhood road trips.
I am talking about the latest generation of beef jerky. There are countless new brands made from high-quality meats, whole-food marinades and real spices. Three we have tried are Three Jerks, Primal Pacs and Krave.
I figured if these brands could make beef jerky with so few ingredients, why couldn’t I? So I got ambitious this weekend and made my own. Turns out it was not so ambitious; in fact, it was absurdly easy. The best part: My boys can’t get enough. They have come home from school every day asking for it.
This jerky is crumb-free, which is great for my car. It travels well in a baseball bag: stable at room temperature for hours and able to remain in one piece despite sharing space with a metal bat. It lasts for two weeks in a sealed container in the fridge, and thankfully it keeps the low-blood-sugar, protein-craving monster at bay.
My boys still open the fridge as often as before, but at least they are finding something protein-rich, chemical-free and filling. I’m ready to become part of a new kind of cliche — a household where boys eat beef jerky.
Here’s how I made beef jerky in three simple steps:
1. I sliced a flank steak into very narrow strips: ¼ inch is ideal. Any lean cut of beef will do; it is easier to cut thinly when the meat is partially frozen.
2. I marinated the slices overnight, although a few hours would suffice. Any marinade will work; use whichever steak marinade your family enjoys. I mixed up the one for bulgogi that includes tamari (gluten-free soy sauce), sesame oil, rice wine, garlic and onions.
3. The next morning, I sprinkled salt and pepper over the drained beef slices and placed them on a rack over a cookie sheet in a 200-degree oven. I let them dehydrate there for four hours. The jerky didn’t require any attention; I could go about my morning and ignore it completely. As I said, absurdly easy.
First published in the Washington Post on Thursday, March 26, 2015.