“Carne Seca” means “dried meat” in Spanish. This batch is made with elk meat, but you can use any red meat that you have readily available. I like the term Carne Seca versus jerky because this isn’t some fancy, difficult-to-make marinated meat. It’s clean and pure, tasty dried meat. It’s the most basic of recipes you’ll find.
Before refrigeration, people made dried meat in a different era to preserve it for the winter months. They’d dry the meat and rehydrate it to be cooked in recipes such as Machaca. You didn’t want (or have) teriyaki or Jamaican Jerk as you may have wanted to use the meat in a recipe that didn’t match those flavors.
My dad used to make this deliciousness and hang it on lines above the fireplace to dry. If you have the means to do this, I think it’s the best drying process you can do. If you don’t have a fireplace or are too hot, you can use a smoker, your oven, or a dehydrator. Make sure to set them on low heat settings. I sometimes use my oven, with the door cracked open, set to160˚F.
Elk Carne Seca
- Smoker, dehydrator, fireplace, or oven
- 2 pounds elk roast (or other red meat) trimmed and sliced as thin as possible, against the grain
- 1 tablespoon Mexican red chile powder
- 1/2 tablespoons fine sea salt
- 2 teaspoons fresh ground black pepper
- Juice from one lime
- Place the slices of meat in a large glass casserole. Squeeze or drizzle the juice of the lime across the slices of meat. Season with the chili, salt and pepper. Stir the mixture with your hands to ensure all of the slices are coated with the seasonings. Cover the dish and refrigerate it for at least 3 hours or up to overnight.Place a drying rack (I use my cake cooling racks) on sheets of parchment paper or aluminum foil. Lay the slices of meat across the rack. Remove the meat from the refrigerator and lay the slices on the racks. Make sure that the slices aren’t overlapping. If you’re using a dehydrator or smoker, lay the meat in their appropriate racks. If you’re able to do the line and fireplace method, make sure the line is taught and out of the way of people and pets then hand the meat on the line.Preheat your oven to 160˚F, or if it will go lower, set it to 145˚F. Do the same with your smoker. Insert the racks into your oven, dehydrator or smoker. If you’re using the oven and you cannot get the temperature below 145˚F, prop the door open a couple of inches so the meat doesn’t get too hot. We’re not cooking it; we’re drying it. You’ll need to dry the meat for about two hours then pull the racks and flip the meat. Dehydrate the slices for another two to three hours. Test the meat for crisp and dryness before removing them to cool.If you’re using a smoker you’ll set the temperature between 145˚F and 160˚F. Dry the meat for about 1-1∕2 hours, then rotate the racks. Dry the slices for another hour then test the meat for crisp and dryness before removing them to cool.If you’re using the line above the fireplace method, you’ll need to stoke the fire as you would on a cold, winter day. Don’t cook yourself out of the house! It’s best to hang the meat and get started in the afternoon. Keep the fire going at a steady temperature all night. Check the meat in the morning to see if it’s at the desired crisp and dryness. If not, continue to burn the fire until the meat is ready.Allow the jerky to cool at room temperature (you can leave the line jerky hanging and simply let the fire go out). Transfer the slices to a paper bag and store it in a cool, dark place for up to 6 weeks. You can also use air-tight seal bags. Shrink and seal them and store them in the freezer for 3 to 6 months.Take the bags of Carne Seca with you as a snack or add water to the meat to rehydrate it and then add it to your favorite recipe. I’ll share an elk machaca recipe later this fall.