While sausage is an admirable pursuit, my family is passionate about jerky. For jerky lovers, the good news is that a large percentage of the meat on all wild game falls into the class of ground delight. The challenge is preparing jerky without making it a career project.
Jerky is a great way to prepare meat for snacks as well as excellent trail food, but it can be time consuming, and up until now, taxing on the muscles of the hand and forearm. I recently ran Cabela's new Jerky Power Blaster through the paces, while field-testing the commercial grade grinder and dehydrator. Filling that huge dehydrator took a lot of meat, but it went quickly, driven by 4.8-volt ni-cad batteries that do all the work.
The Power Blaster is easy to operate. Using the provided plastic stomper and funnel you can fill the tube with a pound and a half of mixture and select one of several options for jerky patterns. I tried the single strip and double-strip dispenser nozzles as well as the round tube for making sticks. I preferred the single strip and round tube because they were easier to control and lay out the meat evenly, but with practice the double flat nozzle does lay out the meat much faster.
If you've ever done any caulking, you know that pressure causes the material to continue squirting out once you get to the end. With the Power Blaster's two-phase trigger the job is much easier. To begin a row of jerky you pull the trigger back all the way, and lay down a strip. A trigger lock is provided, if you want to ease the wear on your trigger finger. Once you get to the end, you simply release the trigger halfway to reverse the motor and back off slightly on the pressure. The meat will stop squirting out and you can pinch it off and start another row. When you've emptied the tube, a micro switch shuts off the motor and it's time to reload.
With 20 pounds of meat that needed to be processed, I was thankful for the Power Blaster's large capacity. One tube covers about one tray in Cabela's Commercial Dehydrator
, if laid closely in even rows. The adjustable speed control will determine how fast you can lay out the jerky. It took me a couple of tubes before I was bold enough to increase the speed control. By the time I was mid-way through my batch I was really laying down the jerky, and I only made it to half throttle.
The two 4.8-volt ni-cad rechargeable batteries take about three hours to top off. I recommend that you charge your batteries fully before starting, and always charge the batteries before storing the unit. Manufacturer's recommendations project 30 pounds of meat can be processed in 40 minutes. Two fully charged batteries handled my 20-pound project handily in about an hour, but I spent a lot of time trying different techniques and fiddling with different nozzles rather than simply laying out jerky. Now that I have used the Blaster enough to know what I need to be doing, I improved on the time dramatically in my second batch.
One bit of advice to consider before you start, decide which type of jerky you want to prepare before you get started. It takes about 50% more time to dehydrate thick round sticks, compared to thin flat strips. You could do a mixed batch, but you will definitely need to remove the thin strips first or they will become far too dry before the thick pieces are done. It would be easier just to do two different runs in the dehydrator, but that might also depend on which unit you're using. I found that the round sticks take about twice as much meat, so you may want to base your choice of style on the amount of meat you have to work with. A second five-pound batch of jerky made exclusively into round sticks only produced two trays of jerky.
No matter which type of jerky you make, make sure that you heat the meat thoroughly in the middle to maintain a 160-degree internal temperature for one hour, to kill bacteria. You can make jerky using your own seasoning mixture; however, prepared seasonings are available that simplify the process. Cabela's has an excellent line of jerky seasonings that includes cure mix. These seasonings come in 4.5-ounce packages, enough for 20 pounds of meat. For my test I used Teriyaki and Sweet & Hot, but you can also choose Cracked Pepper, Hickory, Original, Mesquite and Hot
Removing bacteria is also an important issue for the cleanup procedure. Two different sizes of cleaning brushes are included, and an important part of every project. The cleanup process is quick and easy with these brushes. Use hot soapy water and make sure you get into all of the threads and small cracks. The end of the plunger is one of the most important things to clean. A small retaining screw needs to be removed, and you must pay close attention to how the three plates go together for reassembly. Two nibs keep the plates from turning and must be aligned properly so that they will fit into the tube without binding. If you hear the motor slowing and straining abnormally, you've got the plunger installed improperly. Check it to make sure that it is installed evenly and aligned straight on the shaft.
Compared to hand squeezing a manual jerky squirter, the Power Blaster is a pleasure to use and makes producing jerky a much simpler and faster job. If you enjoy eating jerky, and the pleasure of making your own blend, you'll love Cabela's Power Blaster. It can drastically reduce the time between raw meat and delicious, tangy, mouth-watering taste of dried jerky.