How to Make Jerky Treats for Dogs
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This method for making homemade dog jerky treats comes to us from guest author, Devon Dams O’Connor, a writer from upstate New York who is also an inspiring cook, gardener, and community-builder.
I’m on a constant quest to make things for less than the cost of the item or its ingredients (excluding, always, the value of my time). Sauerkraut is high on that list: what costs $9 a jar in the store probably costs 50 cents to make. Kombucha is up there, too. Also: Doggy treats. The jerky kind.
Walking down the pet store dog treat aisle a few years back I thought to myself, probably out loud, “I can’t believe what they want for these treats!” Dried meat pup snacks costs around $16 to $32 per pound, depending on the brand (and many still contain added preservatives). Surely, we could do better.
My first batch of homemade dog jerky treats evicted about 20 wild duck breasts from my chest freezer, thankfully. My sister’s in-laws are avid duck hunters and take A LOT of birds every season, so I end up with bags of them. Wild duck breasts are nothing like farmed ones – they’re small, super dark, very lean, and really gamey tasting. For people food, they’re not my thing, but for doggie consumption? All natural, tasty jerky fodder. And you can’t get much cheaper than free.
What kind of meat do dogs like?
Well, all of it. There was even kangaroo jerky at the pet store. In truth, you can use any lean, inexpensive meat for homemade jerky dog treats depending on what’s available to you. I buy beef and pork by the half animal and the organs come with, so I’ve also made these treats with liver, heart, and tongue. My butcher sells packages that contain a pig heart and tongue for just a few bucks. If your family hunts, maybe you’ve had a banner season with lots of extra deer, turkey, squirrel, or goose meat on hand. I’ve even used pork chops that hid in the back of the freezer for years and were pretty freezer burnt. My dog did not care.
The method for making dog jerky is the same as making people jerky, only much easier because there’s no seasoning or marinating.
While homemade jerky is extremely easy to make in a simple home dehydrator (check out our recommendations for dehydrators here), you can also use half-sheet cookie trays and wire racks in your oven.
Not only does homemade jerky cut down on expense and chemicals, it also has a magical benefit: the power of listening, even in stubborn dogs. Fiona the young hound, with her selective hearing, will stop sniffing the perimeter of the property and come when called if she hears the jerky jar opening. That’s something you just can’t buy.
How to Make Dog Jerky Treats
- OR Your oven plus two 2 cookie sheets and 2 wire racks
- Sharp Knife
- 2 lb Lean Meat Trimmed of significant fat
- Cut the meat into uniformly thin slices about 1/4 thick or less. The pieces can be large or small as long as the thickness remains consistent. The overall size should be slightly larger than the size of the treat you'd like to end up with, since they'll shrink as they dry out. Smaller pieces are great for training and long, thing strips will keep little dogs busy for a minute. If you're using a tougher cut of meat, try to slice against the grain so the dried treat isn't stringy. Slicing the meat thin is a little easier if it's just barely frozen, especially for soft cuts like liver.
- Arrange the slices, flattened, onto the racks of either your dehydrator or wire racks. Avoid overlapping the pieces and leave about a half inch of space around them to let the air circulate.
- Set the trays in your dehydrator, or the wire racks with cookie sheets underneath in a preheated oven set at its lowest temperature (200 degrees is great). From here it’s a bit of check-and-see. Drying times will vary depending on how much meat, the cut, the kind of dehydrator, and the accuracy of your oven. Rotate the racks every two hours or so and start checking for “doneness” after about three hours.
- If your dog is older or has some issues with her teeth, you may want to take the treats out of the dehydrator when there’s still a little give to them; maybe 4 hours in. Softer jerky will also smell “meatier” and can be cut into tiny pieces, making them ideal training rewards for puppies. Or, let the meat strips continue to dry go until they feel hard to the touch, about 8-9 hours.
- Let the jerky cool completely, and then store the treats in an airtight container. If you’ve opted for the softer variety or have used a fattier cut of meat like tongue, the treats aren’t fully shelf stable and are best stored in the freezer; just pull out a handful as needed to store in a mason jar on the counter for no more than a few days. If they’re the fully dried kind of doggie jerky, they’ll last in an air-tight container on a shelf for several weeks.