beef jerky in air fryer

Beef Jerky in an Air Fryer? The Right Cuts of Beef and Tips for Homemade Jerky

Last Updated on May 19, 2020

Have you ever made beef jerky at home? This savory (and sometimes a little sweet) snack is so easy to make at home, especially if you have an air fryer.

These handy countertop convection ovens cut cooking time drastically, and, better yet, yield delicious results. Below, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about making beef jerky in an air fryer, including the best cuts of meat to use, flavor profiles, and tips for the best results.

So, skip the pricey pouches from the store and make your next batch of beef jerky in the air fryer. Here’s how.

What is Beef Jerky?

Jerky was invented as a means to preserve food, because, once trimmed of its fat and dehydrated, it can last for months without refrigeration. Technically, you need only lean meat, salt, and a low-temperature dehydrating method to make jerky. Salt inhibits bacterial growth while the jerky dehydrates.

Of course, most of us don’t eat jerky as a means of survival, though it’s a great way to stock up on shelf-stable protein. No, we eat it because it’s delicious and satiating. And while we usually buy it in pouches at the store (or even have it delivered to our home), it’s really not that hard to make at home. Especially if you have an air fryer.

Keep reading for a breakdown on how best to make jerky at home, in your air fryer.

Which Cut Is Best For Beef Jerky?

Theoretically, you could make beef jerky from any cut of beef. But there are a few ideal cuts that yield the best texture and flavor for your air fryer beef jerky.

When it comes to beef jerky, the leaner, the better. A well-marbled steak may be great for dinner, but it’s not ideal for jerky. This is because too much fat leads to faster-spoiling jerky. When you cook it in your air fryer, it may also lead to an unpleasant texture.

Here are some of the best, lean cuts for making beef jerky:

  • Eye Round Roast: The eye round roast (or eye of round roast) is a boneless cut that hails from a lean and active muscle. That means it’s packed with flavor, not excess fat.
  • Bottom Round Roast: Did someone say roast beef? It’s synonymous with bottom round roast – a lean cut from the round primal. It’s also ideal for homemade beef jerky.
  • Flank Steak: The flank steak is a large, flat cut taken from the extremely flavorful flank primal. It’s whole and generally not divided into smaller portions. Trimmed of its fat, this cut works well for jerky, though it’s usually a bit pricier than the other cuts mentioned here.

How to Flavor Air Fryer Jerky

When it comes to flavoring beef jerky, the possibilities are really endless. The key is a good, long marinade with the specific ingredients of whichever flavor profile you choose. Here are some ingredients to consider.

  • Classic: For that characteristic salty and satisfying jerky, ingredients like Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, garlic, and even liquid smoke are common.
  • Teriyaki: Use soy sauce, ginger, rice vinegar, chili sauce/paste, and a little bit of sugar.
  • Spicy: Try adding red pepper flakes, chili powder, or sriracha to your seasoning blend. Or, use fresh peppers like jalapeno or habanero.
  • Sweet and sour: Sweeteners like honey, brown sugar, and maple syrup add a hint of sweet to jerky, while something acidic, like rice vinegar or lime juice, adds the perfect amount of sour.

How to Make Beef Jerky in an Air Fryer

1. Slice your beef extra-thin. As discussed, opt for a lean cut of beef, and be sure to trim it of any remaining fat. Then, slice your beef into ¼ inch thick slices. We have a few tips below for achieving such thin slices at home.

2. Prepare your marinade. Whichever flavor blend you choose, you should marinate jerky for at least 8 hours or even overnight. This tenderizes the meat, making for deliciously chewy jerky.

3. Cook your beef jerky. There are two different methods for cooking jerky in an air fryer. You can cut a few skewers to fit in your air fryer, and then skewer the beef, letting in cook without touching the surface.

Or, you can place the beef directly into the air fryer. Depending on the size of your air fryer, you may need to use a rack, or cook in batches. You don’t want the jerky to overlap. Cook for 1 to 2 hours at 180 degrees.

Tips for Making Beef Jerky in the Air Fryer

1. Use a sharp knife. You want to cut your beef into ¼ inch thick strips. This is difficult to do without a good, sharp knife.

2. Freeze your beef slightly. Again, getting those ultra-thin slices of meat can be tricky when the meat is at room temperature. Partially freeze your beef for 45 minutes to an hour, and it’ll be easier to slice.

3. Slice against the grain. Just like with most cuts of beef, you’ll want to slice your jerky against the grain. This ensures the most tender bites.

4. Trim any visible fat. We’ve already discussed why you’ll want to opt for a lean cut of beef for your beef jerky endeavors. You’ll want to trim the fat from any cut of beef you use, both because fat will lead your jerky to spoil faster and leave an unpleasant texture overall.

5. Don’t overlap your slices of beef. Each piece of thinly sliced beef needs ample space to dehydrate, so don’t overlap your pieces, or they’ll be left with undercooked spots. If you have a small air fryer, use the skewer technique, or use a rack so that you can cook more in one go.

Courtney Hamilton is a writer and editor with over seven years' experience in journalism, blogging, communications, and other media. She has written for publications like PaleoHacks, PaleoPlan, The Center for American Progress, OC Weekly, and more. 
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