In 2012, the Wisconsin Beef Council declared June 12 as National Jerky Day. Meat snacks, which jerky is included under, are the fourth highest selling product in the salty snack sector. Jerky is more popular than pretzels and popcorn. While jerky in concept is a real food, so many of the jerky products available to consumers use factory farmed meats and are loaded with rancid oils, sugars, and GMO ingredients.
As a kid, I have fond memories of eating beef jerky. There was something inexplicably satisfying about eating this hard to chew thin strip of meat. And they had a nice flavor with their spices and seasonings. They made for a great snack when I’d go on vacation with my family and hike in the state parks. But the ones I ate were unfortunately among the unhealthy kinds.
I’ve had the pleasure of learning about many new beef jerky companies using 100% grass fed meats at the conventions I’ve attended over the years. It’s delightful to hear that many of them founded their brands for the reason that they also saw only unhealthy jerky in stores. This trend only continues to grow. And this grass fed jerky is no longer only found at the natural foods stores. As I was driving up to the Bay Area last year, I found venison jerky at a convenience store off right off the I-5 going through the Central Valley of California.
Jerky with real meat and real ingredients can also be considered a traditional food. In fact, it’s one of the oldest ways of preparing meat. As jerky is dehydrated meat, the concept of dried meat likely goes back to the earliest humans in existence. Fresh meats were subject to decay and insect infestation, so people began drying it to help it last longer. There’s evidence that jerky was produced in ancient Egypt.
The first jerky in the New World can be traced back to the native tribe called the Quechua in ancient Inca Empire. They would hang deer, elk, and buffalo meat in the sun to dry or smoke it over fires into a product known as Ch’arki.
There are a number of other early versions of dried meats being consumed by different cultures. In South Africa, Biltong was a common sun dried meat. The Native Americans made sun dried venison and buffalo known as tassajo. The Cree Indian tribe pounded meat with fat and berries to get what’s known as pemmican. And when the Spanish sailors began colonizing the Americas, they started calling the dried meats Charqui. The natives with their accents then began pronouncing it as jerky.
Similar to how earlier cultures and civilizations used all kind of wild animals for their jerky and dried meats, many of these new grass fed meats are also using more gamey animals such as bison, venison, and elk. With all the grass fed options out there now, it’s a treat that I can eat beef jerky again.
In alphabetical order, here are the 10 best brands of grass fed jerky:
Country Archer dates back to 1977 when artisan butcher Celestino “Charlie” Mirarchi began making jerky. He was so busy making jerky, that he couldn’t find time to sell it. While a best keep secret for a while, his jerky was eventually discovered when Eugene and Susan Kang stopped by a roadside stand on their way to the Grand Canyon. The three then went into business together and began getting Country Archer into specialty grocers and eventually selling it all over the U.S. Eugene and Susan never believed in taking shortcuts and always continued to use grass-fed beef, cage-free turkey, and quality pork like Charlie did.
Field Trip Snacks
In 2010, three friends in a New York City apartment agreed they needed to change the meat snack world after tasting craft jerky on a ski trip in Vermont. This led to them forming Field Trip. Founders Tom Donigan, Matt Levey, and Scott Fiesinger all felt it was important not only to come up with protein-rich snacks which are healthy, but also ones which were high quality and tasted great. They started with jerky and currently have a diverse group of flavors with their beef jerky plus cracked pepper turkey jerky and buffalo style chicken bites. Field Trip has since expanded into other types of meat snacks, such as meat sticks and pork rinds.
Homegrown Meats sources its 100% grass fed and grass finished beef from ranchers dedicated to the humane treatment of animals and sustainable farming practices. One of their partners is the Homegrown Cattle Company, a sixth generation cattle ranch located in Palomar Mountain in southern California and owned by the Mendenhall Family. Homegrown’s jerky is free of any natural flavoring, artificial sweeteners, colors, or preservatives. They have a paleo flavor, which uses honey for a sweetener.
Lorissa Link’s first job was on a farm close to her hometown in southern Minnesota. From that job, she gained an appreciation for real food and the hard work it takes to put it on the table. After entering motherhood, she came to a realization that so many kids’ snacks were missing the real food ingredients which she grew up with. The products were instead packed with preservatives, MSG, and nitrates. She decided to launch Lorissa’s Kitchen to fill this void. Her products include strips made of 100% grass fed beef, all natural chicken, all natural turkey. All of the animals used to make them are also free of added growth hormones.
Paleo Ranch prides itself not only by sourcing 100% grass fed cows roaming freely outdoors, but also by donating 10% of its profits to a wide number of charities. Paleo Ranch’s cattle never spend time in feedlots or are administered antibiotics, growth hormones or steroids. All of their jerky is sweetened with only honey. In addition to their beef jerky flavors, they also have several flavors of bacon jerky.
Pearson Ranch is a family-owned farm which has been around since 1959 in the southwestern mountains of New Mexico, where they raise elk, bison, and cattle. In 2000, Pearson Ranch entered into the meat snack business and in 2011, the snacks became their main focus. In 2014, they added venison and wild boar to their jerky offerings. All of their products are free of nitrites, MSG, and gluten. Pearson Ranch was founded by Ken Pearson, the great uncle of its CEO Marvin Cromwell. Marvin’s son Matt came aboard the business full time in 2011 and is now Vice President of Sales for the company, continuing the farm’s tradition of being family run.
Ashley and Glen Kohn’s family is among the 85 million which suffer from food allergies. As they were label watching for allergy concerns, they had trouble finding healthy snacks which fit their criteria. Being the self-taught home cook that Glen is, he and his wife decided to make their own jerky. It was important for them to have a jerky which is not only paleo and healthy, but also tastes delicious. PREVAIL is 100% free of soy, gluten, dairy, wheat, eggs, peanuts, fish, and tree nuts. The flavors for their 100% grass fed and finished beef jerky are original, spicy, lemongrass, and umami. Additionally, PREVAIL partners with food pantries, such as the Food Equality Initiative, to provide allergy friendly food to the people who need it the most. They partner as well with a local Chicago charity which helps children get involved in projects to give back to their community.
Ricky Hirsch started Think Jerky as he was shocked to find out that most of the jerky products on the market were filled with sugar. He had the goal to make a jerky which was both healthy and tasty. To make it healthy, he used only sustainably-raised 100% grass fed beef and free range turkey without any added hormones or antibiotics plus ingredients which are non-GMO, gluten free, and paleo friendly. Only fruits or honey are used to sweeten the jerky. And to accomplish the tasty part of it, he enlisted award winning chefs to all come up with different flavors. The current chefs with Think Jerky flavors are Doug Sohn, Gale Gand, Laurent Gras, and Matt Troost.
Matt Meier worked for 20 years in conventional food marketing before he returned home to the farm he grew up on. In 2003, he founded Thousand Hills with the mission of nourishing the soil, the plants, cattle, and people by holistically grazing cattle for their entire lives. His home farm in Clearwater, MN is one of the 13 Savory Institute hubs in North America as the ranch is a leader in holistic and regenerative grazing practices. Thousand Hills now sources cattle from other family farms which they’ve hand picked for their similar deep commitment to regenerate land and having nutrient rich beef as a result. The farms range from the midwest, northeast, and west regions of the United States. Already 600,000 acres of land has seen positive benefits. Beef jerky is part of a diverse amount of products which can be found from Thousand Hills, including steaks, roasts, ground beef, and sausages.
U.S. Wellness is one of the most successful online retailers in sustainable food. The business began in 2000 with working family farms in northeast Missouri and Illinois who been raising animals on the land for generations. Since then, they’ve partnered with a few other small family farms across the U.S. and their friends’ farm in Tasmania to provide all of their 100% grass fed and finished beef. U.S. Wellness gives their cattle a 30 – 45 day resting period between grazing to make the plants in the pasture more dense and grow back new native plants. U.S. Wellness has meatballs made from 100% grass fed beef and seasoned with adobo as well as ones made from their heirloom pork. Beef jerky is among their large varieties of beef, lamb, bison, pork, seafood, poultry, dairy, and even non-meat products such as nuts and chocolate. U.S. Wellness’ main model is the Internet, but they also have a select number of physical retailers across the U.S. which carry some of their products.