The Chemistry of Jerky


For my Chemistry of... project I chose to do the chemistry of jerky. This is for two main reasons one being that as far back as I can remember whenever we went on a trip we always had jerky. The other is because like most americans I love meat, and what better choice of it than jerky. So I decided to do some research into how it was made and what it was composed of, but mainly to figure out what role chemistry has in the making of jerky.

    • Composition of ...Sugar (C12H22O11 )
    • Salt (NaCl)
    • Lipids
    • Protons
    • Electrons
    • Neutrons
    • Iron (Fe)
    • Phosphorus (P)
    • Potassium (K)
    • Sodium (Na)
    • Zinc (Zn)
    • Magnesium (Mg)
    • Selenium (Se)
  • Fluoride (F2)

Main Chemicals, Compounds, Components

The two main components are: Salt and Temperature

Salt: Salt is a mineral composed of sodium chloride mainly also know as table salt. It’s purpose in jerky is to inhibit the growth of bacteria on the meat. This is done by simply dehydrating the meat or by osmosis. Through inserting the salt into the meat which in turn draws out water molecules reducing product water activity. Which in turn takes away one of the main components of bacterial growth. Salt’s chemical formula is NaCl, and it is a naturally occurring ingredient in jerky.

Temperature: Temperature is an important component in the making of jerky, but the temperature needs to be hot to take out most of the moisture. If jerky is made in a oven it needs to be heated to 160℉. If a dehydrator is used it needs to be at a temperature of 140℉. It is necessary to not go to too high of temperatures because you don’t want to start cooking it you just want to dry it, but you have to be careful so it doesn't reach a point where it is brittle.

Chemistry's Role

The reason jerky was made was to stop food from spoiling before people could eat it. The main reason is due to bacteria, and mold growing on it causing spoilage of the meat. The reason bacteria can grow on it is because fresh meat provides moisture and food for them to grow, and prosper in and on it. The drying process by using high temperatures in ovens( or dehydrators takes away the environment needed to thrive. This is due to the removal of water from the meat. With the addition of salt the amount of moisture is even decreased by more. Leaving less wet environments for bacteria to grow. It also helps to add the finishing touches needed to preserve the meat for when it is needed be it a snack or a meal.

Background Research

Jerky is a high source of protein with not a lot of fat content, and it originated as far back as the Cro-Magnon era when humans saw other animals keeping meat in trees or caves. The first type of drying technique that was used was just wind and the temperature. Next Native Americans dryed it by cutting thin strips out of buffalo meat, and hanging them over a cooking fire. Due to the modernization of technology now big name companies use either a large oven, or a food dehydrator to dry out there jerky. They use salt and other spices to season it, but also salt and sugar have a more important role in jerky.


Salt added to help drying

Helps prevent bacteria from growing on meat

Low temperature drying method all that’s needed

Smoked with low heat usually lower than 70℃/160℉

It was an essential source of nutrition for natives and pioneers

Cured in salt to prevent spoilage

stirpped of fat

Quechua in Peru introduced boning, curing, smoking, and preserving meat

90% of water is eliminated

jerky is safer than cured ham, and other meat sandwiches when going on a trip and put into a backpack

Sun dried or smoked over a fire

helped develop pemmican

Nutrition facts about jerky

what is in jerky

What is jerky

Why it’s important to dehydrate foods to stop spoiling

Tells about how temperature is important in life

Explains what dehydration is and why it’s used

Tells when salt was extracted and used

Explains why sugar is added to jerky

Explain chemically what salt does

About the Author

Sam Saur is a Junior at Senior High. He is a student athlete who plays football, and does track. He's kept his grades at a 3.5 average during his first two years at Senior, and he hopes to keep his grades at a 3.5 for his last two years of high school. He dosen’t really know what he wants to study in college in a couple years. He is involved in Senior Advocates, Student Summits, and is a member of Young Life.