The History of Texas Jerky

The salt. The smokiness. The flavor. Protein-packed jerky has long been a favorite snack among Texans. While it may be the staple road trip snack around the state, and a firm favorite school snack, jerky doesn’t actually originate in Texas. Far from it.

Jerky has a long history, and the future looks bright for this delicious snack!

What is Jerky?

Jerky is traditionally made from beef cut into thin strips that are then dried and dehydrated, removing all the liquid. Drying out the meat prevents it from spoiling, and it’s also salted to help keep away bacteria. Meat would be heavily salted and hung up, and as it dried, the fats, blood, and all other liquids would drip off. As meat is about 75% water, this caused it to shrink up to 2/3 its regular size. But even though the physical amount of jerky you got out of a piece of meat was small, it was packed with protein.

In its most basic form, jerky is salted meat, but you can now find jerky in almost any flavor. In Texas, you’d be hard-pressed to find any gas station that doesn’t have a stock of jerky on its shelves.

But, jerky doesn’t have to be made of meat. There are so many delicious vegan jerky options available made from plant-based ingredients like mushrooms, watermelon, eggplant, coconut, and soy! The one thing jerky has in common is that it is dehydrated and usually has a smoky taste. Jerky makes an easy and versatile snack as there is no prep required, and it won’t go bad. 

The history of Texas jerky

Jerky itself dates back thousands of years. Before there were refrigerators, drying meat was the only way to preserve it. It was an essential source of sustenance to get people through unfertile times of years and especially important during the wintertime. 

Though the concept of jerky itself has been around forever, the name “jerky” originally comes from South America (heck, even the Egyptians were making jerky). The Quechua people, indigenous to Peru, Columbia, Chile, Bolivia, and Ecuador, called the dried meat “ch’arki.” Back then, they’d make jerky from elk, deer, and buffalo. When it finally made its way to the United States, the concept stayed the same, but people started to make it with different bases. 

In the United States, jerky has been primarily made with beef. It was an efficient protein source for soldiers who would be on the move for long periods. When food supplies were low, jerky would always provide the protein needed to keep people going.

Jerky has since gone from being a food essential for survival to a tasty snack for road trips, camping, and hiking. The ease, flavor, and chewiness of jerky makes it one of Texas’s favorite treats.

How jerky has changed 

The only flavor of traditional jerky was salt and meat. People weren’t so much concerned with the flavor profile of their food and more concerned with actually eating. But as food became more accessible year-round, people started experimenting with jerky by adding different herbs and spices to the mix. The flavoring of jerky took it to a whole new level and enabled different jerky manufacturers to stand apart from others. 

Roadside stands started popping up with people selling different types of jerky. This strategy was very effective because who doesn’t want some jerky to snack on during a long drive? Habanero, honey, BBQ, sweet cherry; you name the flavor, you could find it. 

Jerky soon could be found stocked on the shelves of grocery stores, convenience stores, gas stations, department stores, and more. But the jerky market is continuing to change and develop. 

As consumers change, manufacturers and brands must also change and adapt. The far more healthy and ethical snack options have risen substantially over the last few years. While jerky is delicious, the traditional meat jerky industry isn’t without its faults. Beef farming isn’t great for the environment, and although jerky has a high protein count, it also has tons of salt and not many other nutrients. 

Thus began the search for an alternative way to produce delicious jerky, and boy, there have been some winners. Jerky started being produced using fruits like apples, pears, and coconut and vegetables like carrots and eggplant. Although there was some original skepticism around altering this classic southern treat recipe, it has gained massive traction in the last few years. Now, meat-eaters and vegans alike enjoy digging into vegan jerky options

The future of jerky in Texas

The future is bright for the jerky industry in Texas. There are plant-based jerky options, like It’s Jerky Y’all, that are nearly indistinguishable from traditional beef jerky. Using non-GMO soy as the base, plant-based beef jerky can take on just about any flavor that you want it to.Prickly Pear Chipotle beef? Sure! Teriyaki? Absolutely!

Walk into any vegan market, and you’ll be in plant-based, jerky heaven. As more of the population transitions to more conscious consumerism, the jerky industry will undoubtedly continue to change and adapt. We can likely expect more unique flavors and innovative options available to satisfy anyone’s palates.

Choosing plant-based jerky takes some pressure off the meat industry, especially here in Texas where we have more cattle than any other state. Shopping local is also super important to support the local economy and it is becoming increasingly easier to find local, plant-based jerky in Texas that rivals the meaty snacks you can find at 7/11.

Jerky: a Texas favorite

Jerky is a $3 billion industry and is very popular throughout Texas. From the time the first Texan took a bite until today, jerky is a Texas favorite. The versatility and flavor of this salty snack means that the foundation of jerky isn’t going away any time soon. That said, the jerky industry looks different today than it used to, and it will continue to change going forward. Plant-based jerky is here to stay, and since you don’t have to sacrifice that smoky, meaty flavor, it’s a great option to take on your next adventure.