Since Alton Brown is pretty much nerd-dom’s representative on food TV, I figured I’d have to tackle one of his recipes for MacGyver Chef. I chose a classic: Beef jerky made with a box fan.
• One box fan
• Minimum of two air conditioner or heater filters. Avoid fibreglass and anything else that seems like it might kill you, and get cotton or cellulose if you can find it
• Two medium-length bungee cords (the kind with hooks on both ends)
• A substantial amount of flank steak, sliced very thinly with the grain
• Marinade: I used soy sauce, sriracha, Worcestershire, peanut oil and honey, but any other typical beef marinade would work just fine
Notes: My filters, the Filtrete line from 3M, are made of some crazy hypoallergenic outer-space material that seemed a little fishy. The guy at the hardware store assured me they’re jerky-safe, but if you don’t like living on the edge as much as me, go for cotton/cellulose.
Step 1: We’ve got to get jerky-sized slices out of this giant chunk of meat, which isn’t especially easy. Toss the meat in the freezer for an hour or two to firm it up; it’ll be much easier to slice when it’s less flaccid. Slice with the grain, as thin as you can, and go for about an inch wide.
Step 2: Toss your pre-jerky into a bowl and glop on your marinade. Mix thoroughly, cover, and stick in the fridge for 3 hours. If you have those big gallon-sized freezer bags, congratulations, you’ve got a better-stocked kitchen than I do. Use them instead of a bowl for zero cleanup.
Step 3: Slap the pre-jerky onto one of your A/C or heater filters, spacing evenly. Put the second filter on top, sandwiching the meat, and repeat if you want multiple layers.
Step 4: Strap the sandwiched filters onto the front of the box fan with the two bungees and turn the fan to medium. Alton says leave it for 8-12 hours, but I left it longer, convinced that my slicing job wasn’t thin enough. 14 hours was just about right for me.
Results: It totally worked! I unstrapped the top filter and there, where before I had draped raw meat, was, unquestionably, jerky. The texture’s right and it tastes pretty good, although despite drenching the marinade in soy sauce I think it needed a bit more salt. But the sriracha comes through with a nice bite and the jerky as a whole is totally gnawable.
I’m still about 30 per cent sure I’m going to die after eating it, given my use of non-Alton-approved filter material. Cotton/cellulose definitely would have been better for my state of mind, if not my lifespan.
I’ll definitely use the setup again to dehydrate other meats and fruits (chili-spiced dried mango is next, for sure). I can pronounce this MacGyver Chef recipe a total success.
Taste Test is our week-long tribute to the leaps that occur when technology meets cuisine, spanning everything from the historic breakthroughs that made food tastier and safer to the Earl Grey-friendly replicators we impatiently await in the future.