Your Next Go-To Snack: 11 Cheap, Delicious Kinds of Jerky

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Jerky is a chewy, meaty, protein-rich snack that's tempting at the checkout in grocery stores and minimarts and nearly justification enough for a road trip. National Jerky Day, celebrated June 12, is just one more excuse to pick some up. Jerky has become so popular in the past decade that new versions, from beef and meat alternatives to increasingly exotic flavors, are popping up nationwide. Fancy, artisanal varieties are widely available with price tags on par with fine dining, ounce for ounce. But there are still plenty of classic, delicious, and inexpensive jerkies to sample. (Prices may vary by location.)
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This widely available favorite is the standard for many jerky lovers (the brand originated National Jerky Day in 2012). The chewy and tender pieces come in original beefy flavor as well as specialties such as spicy sriracha, teriyaki, sweet and hot, peppered, and barbecue. Jack Link’s packages of 2.85 ounces cost just under $7 a bag.
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Another big name on the jerky scene, Oberto all-natural beef jerky costs $6 for a 3.25-ounce bag when bought in packs of eight. In addition to original flavor, the nine-product line includes treats such as bacon jerky and even jalapeño bacon jerky.
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This modern company features no preservatives, no nitrates, and no added MSG in its line of all-natural jerkies. The range of flavors includes all the go-to varieties at $5 for 2.2 ounces of low-fat, high-protein snacking. Perky Jerky is also gluten-free (not all jerky is).
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Along with the typical flavors, this national brand includes novelty flavors such as chili lime for something a little different. Matador boasts of its products’ extra tender texture for those who prefer a soft chew to a leathery bite. Its 3-ounce bags cost $7.
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This irreverent product line’s slogan makes reference to punching “gas station jerky in the face,” and it comes with a legend that includes Paul Bunyan. But perhaps a more interesting thing about Blue Ox is that it has five kinds of meat: beef, buffalo, elk, turkey, and venison. Flavors include cherry maple, peppercorn, and honey barbecue, and bags start at 4 ounces for a little more than $7. Blue Ox also sells 2.5 pounds for $60.
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Duke’s focuses on small batches made with minimal ingredients. Its jerky has a medium chew that is a comfortable middle ground for most jerky lovers, and there are 11 flavors, including a honey bourbon and “chile ’n lime.” Bags are 3 to 5 ounces for $7 and sometimes on sale for $5.
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This colorful and relatively new jerky company -- thought up by a runner training for the 2009 New York City Marathon -- sets itself apart by adding chef-inspired flavors such as basil citrus, pineapple orange, and sweet chipotle. These enhanced and unique combinations are big with foodies who need a snack on the run. Krave prices them at $7 for 3.25 ounces.
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This vegan jerky made of soy, seitan, and mushrooms comes in flavors that will be familiar to eaters of meat jerky, including hickory-smoked and hot-and-spicy versions. When bought in packs of 24, they cost as little as 95 cents for a 1-ounce strip. But where Primal Strips may have an advantage over meat is in texture: Many reviewers say it’s generally a gentler chew, though there’s variation from one flavor to the next.
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Founded in 2012 after a recipe for a vegan Cantonese-style barbecue went wrong, Louisville Vegan Jerky has five flavors typically costing $7 for a 2.5-ounce bag: bourbon-smoked black pepper, bourbon-smoked chipotle, sriracha maple, sesame teriyaki, and maple bacon. It’s all soy protein, but the company says, “Fake has never tasted so real.”
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Making jerky at home allows customization. Jerky lovers can fine-tune the chewiness or dryness and experiment with new flavors. While dehydrators can be expensive, well-reviewed machines can be found for $30 to $40, and it’s possible to make jerky just using an oven following simple directions posted on Allrecipes.
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If there’s meatless jerky available at the store, who’s to say it can’t be made at home? The healthy-living site HellaWella has compiled nine meatless jerky recipes that include versions made from shiitake mushrooms, eggplant, pumpkin, chia, coconut, cauliflower, and, of course, soy and tofu.