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 meat was 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.
When EPIC first began, its founders Katie Forrest and Taylor Collins were vegetarians. They were experiencing gastrointestinal and inflammatory health issues due to the high fat, low carbs, soy, and other highly processed proteins. They then went vegan, only making matters worse. And being raw foodists didn’t improve anything. They finally began looking at the foods eaten by our ancestors and following what’s now known as the paleo diet, focusing on animal fats, grass fed protein, and leafy vegetables. Within a few months, they were stronger, faster, and leaner than they had ever been before. It was easy for them to cook healthy meals at home, but they couldn’t find any pre-packaged nutrient dense animal products in the supermarkets. They needed these for when they traveled, exercised, or worked. Their plan was to create the 100% grass fed meat, fruit, and nut bar. Katie and Taylor called their product EPIC, because the bars were about animals being pasture raised in humane conditions, regenerating our bodies, and healing the land. The EPIC line began expanding into many other products, including traditional jerkys made of beef, pork, and chicken.
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.
In 1988, seven Wisconsin farmers in the Coulee region were fed up with industrial chemical farming taking over the American agriculture system. They created a cooperative of family farms known as CROPP (Coulee Region Organic Produce Pool). The coop later became Organic Valley, specializing in organic dairy. In 1996, they moved into the meat industry, creating a label which would eventually be called Organic Prairie. They were the first in the industry to ban animal by-products from a cow’s diet. They also were instrumental in forming the standards for organic meat certification. In 2015, Organic Prairie introduced the Mighty Bar, a bar made of 100% grass fed beef. A year later, they delved into beef jerky and then beef sticks the following year, making Mighty Organic the label for all of these products.
The New Primal
After graduating college and being concerned about the junk food in the vending machine at work, health conscious omnivore Jason Burke started making his own beef jerky to keep in his desk drawer. His jerky used grass fed beef, simple spices, and a dehydrator in his kitchen. His co-workers soon saw and smelled his wonderful creations. He concocted a variety of flavors which resulted in multiple orders from people. This planted the seeds for The New Primal to debut in 2012. The New Primal has since expanded into other types of snacks made with all kinds of humanely raised animals and even ventured into the condiments world to appeal to vegetarians.
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.
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.