History of Jerky

Jerky Was Called Ch’arki

Did you know that jerky was made by a South American tribe called the Quechua?  They were taking the meat from llamas and alpaca, cutting off the fat, cutting it into strips, rubbing salt in it and sun drying or smoking the meat.  They found it to be useful in preserving the meat to eat later.  Until then, any meat had to be consumed immediately to stop it from spoiling.  It’s estimated that the Quechua were making jerky – or as they called Ch’arki –  as early as the 1500’s.   Spanish explorers discovered this Incan tribe and quickly adopted the art of drying the meat, as it was useful for travel.

Pemmican meat drying

Drying meat for Pemmican in the 1880’s. Found on cdm15330.contentdm.oclc.org

As they traveled into North America, they found the Cree Indians were also drying meat, buffalo, elk and deer, that they called Pemmican.  Pemmican was jerky pounded into smaller pieces and mixed with other food – whatever was available, like cranberries, etc.  (The original trail mix perhaps?),

People soon learned that mixing the meat with different spices could make different flavors and quickly jerky became a staple food for pioneers, trappers, cowboys, and more. Jerky reached its height of popularity during the expansion into North America, where traders and explorers prized it as an essential source of nutrition as they traveled to new areas with limited accessibility to fresh foods along the way. Jerky also allowed them to use all the meat from a hunt, making it last longer.  Jerky was made then from almost any meat.

Now we use many ways to preserve our meat, refrigeration, freezing, and preservatives, but jerky remains a favorite snack.  The long shelf life makes it great for camping and road trips or even family preparedness.  It’s a healthy snack, great for athletes, as it is low fat, low carbohydrates and high in protein.


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