I’ve always liked beef jerky, but I’ve also pondered just why I like beef jerky on many occasions.
Here’s what I mean: On those occasions when my body craves red meat (it isn’t often) and I cook myself a steak, I always cook it rare to medium rare. If I order a steak in a restaurant, I order it medium rare, without fail. Ditto with a burger. Yet, beef jerky is just meat that is so overcooked that it is nearly unchewable.
So why do I like it? I like the flavor of the meat, of course, but people who make jerky also add spices and flavorings to make the experience more enjoyable, even as you gnash your teeth trying to rip this leathery substance apart and wear out your jaw muscles trying to chew it.
All of this is why I was pleased recently when I came across Pap’s Genuine Beef Jerky. The secret to Pap’s is that it’s cut extra thin, which helps make it far, far easier to chew. And when you pull it apart, you don’t see the stringy stuff left behind so often in jerky — and it somehow maintains enough moisture not to be what amounts to a meat cracker.
Founded in Junction City, Kentucky (about 80 miles south of Louisville), Pap’s bills itself as using 100 percent meat with no fillers like “corn solids, soy flour or mechanically separated chicken,” whatever that is. And the website boasts that Pap’s jerky is “so tender it chews down like a steak.” To top it off, Pap’s has the mother of all slogans in, “Kind of like tofu, if tofu had four legs and went ‘moo.’”
Typically, if I buy jerky, I buy it from Rusty the Jerky Guy. You know Rusty if you go out at all — he makes his way around The Highlands, Crescent Hill and other neighborhoods, peddling jerky in plastic bags from a basket. Nice guy, and makes good jerky out of his home. But Rusty’s jerky will give your mouth a workout. As tasty as it is, it’s often a bit dry, and a challenge to chew. You have to want it.
And if you’ve ever bought gas station jerky — come on, admit it — you know that stuff is either so tender that it’s clearly fake (see also: mechanically separated chicken?), or it’s so dry and hard that it’s like chewing on someone’s work boot. Where’s the middle ground?
I happened to have some thick-cut Mingua-brand jerky on hand, some of Rusty’s jerky left over from a semi-recent night of too many beers, and also two versions of Pap’s, so I decided to do an informal tasting. I started with the Mingua, which is made in Paris, Kentucky. The flavor is hot, and the package notes that “smoke flavor is added.”
I plucked a big piece from the package, and, while it’s relatively thin compared to most jerky, when I took a bite, it pulled apart with a slight “riiiip” sound and left those aforementioned white stringy things everywhere. Was it tasty? Absolutely. Not terribly spicy, but a pleasant enough flavor. Not bad. But plenty chewy.
Then, I went to the Rusty’s jerky, which was apparently a medium hot that I mistook for something hotter (I should have held out for the kind bearing the cartoon of the animal with a flaming butt on the package). Again, a pleasant, mild flavor, but thick, difficult to chew, and plenty of white stringies (although not quite as much as the Mingua).
Then I grabbed a piece of the Pap’s, hot flavor, and while I can’t say the overall flavor was necessarily far above the competition, it was slightly spicier and much easier to chew, with no stringy things to speak of. And I know that part of the allure of jerky is the chewiness, and I’m not saying that isn’t present at all — it just isn’t a chore to bite through and smash up with your molars. Honestly, some jerky just makes my mouth muscles sore.
I also bought a package of the Pap’s mild version, and got the same result, minus the spice. In fact, I almost liked mild better than hot — rare for me — just because the beef flavor shines through so readily, with just a hint of soy sauce. It’s quite good.
Anyway, you can find Pap’s jerky and other products at Papsbeefsticks.com, and you can also get it at Great Flood Brewing Co., and probably other locations. Keep your eyes peeled for hot, mild, Pitmaster’s BBQ, and Blazin’ Cajun flavors.