Why is Beef Jerky So Expensive? [+Cheaper Alternatives]

Ah, beef jerky – that salty and savory snack that has a stronghold on the impulse buy section of most American establishments.

It’s available everywhere from sporting events to airports, a classic road trip pick, and always on a high peg at the grocery check-out line.

With something so common one would think such a snack would be a little more price accessible.

Beef jerky and dried meats are a staple food that has allowed humanity to advance in times of food scarcity.

Portions of meat from large animals that were too big to eat in one or two sittings were salted and dried to preserve for later.

Jerky has had a long and important history, and its benefits and the process to make it will be detailed in the coming article – and will explain the cost.

Beef jerky is more expensive than other snacks due in part to the amount of time that goes into the preparation process. Also, raw ingredients such as the beef and spices are also included in the cost, so jerky of better quality will have a higher price point. 

Beef jerky is a snack that appeals to a wide range of people due to its portability, the numerous options, and long-standing curing processes that are meant to maximize the flavor and desirability.

It has a long shelf life and can be nutrient dense depending on the brand.

The Cost of Beef Jerky

There are several options when it comes to beef jerky, which means there is a price point out there for everyone.

Cost will be dependent on location, brand, and quantity.

Smaller and medium sized bags from a well established brand like Jack Links or Matador will run from $5 to around $15.

These brands will be the most easy to find at grocers, gas stations, or convenience stores. Even bulk offerings from Jack Links hardly exceed $25.

Brands that are small batch such as Old Trapper or Country Archer start closer to the $15 range for 7 to 10 ounces of jerky.

These would be easier to find in places like REI, sporting goods stores, and in subscription boxes.

Indie brands and homemade small batches, such as ones that would be found at farmers markets or craft fairs, start around $25 and will reach around $40, but have no problem going past that.

When buying from these local makers, it’s important to keep in mind that the quality of ingredients will likely be higher and one purchase directly impacts the local economy.

There is also a consideration for beef alternatives such as fish or turkey based jerky or even meat-free alternatives such as soy, mushroom, or coconut.

The same general rule of thumb will apply. More established brands such as Louisville Vegan Jerky or Neptune Fish Jerky will be available at lower price points.

Eight Reasons Why Beef Jerky Is Expensive 

Beef jerky is expensive due to the cost and quality of raw ingredients and because it is a time consuming process. 

Even the most basic of jerkys requires at the minimum a meat and salt, which then has to be heated at just the right temperature for just the right amount of time.

This is before factoring in labor, packaging, and shipping, let alone cases where the flavors and processes of some jerky options are more complex.

Cost of Beef

High quality jerky will be made with high quality beef, which can be expensive. The foundation of jerky is of course the meat – so makers need to source carefully. 

Most jerky is made from a rump cut of beef, which costs anywhere from $5 to $30 per pound depending on the farm.

Yield

After the type of beef has been established by a brand, there is the issue of yield. 

For example, taking a look at mid-range options of beef jerky, most come in bags on an average  of 10 ounces.

Beef itself is anywhere from 60% to 64% water which evaporates during the drying process. So with that in mind, there is only around a 40% yield per ounce of beef. 

That 10 ounce bag of jerky was once 25 ounces of raw beef. To scale that up for simplicity, it takes 2.5 pounds of raw beef to make 1 pound of jerky.

Spices and Flavorings

Jerky is often found in a variety of flavors, from spicy to sweet to savory. Each of those flavors will require seasoning that has to be bought or imported. 

Jerky without the salts and seasonings is just raw, dry meat. What makes this meat so palatable will be the seasonings in the form of a rub.

As expected, higher quality ingredients will cost more.

Alternatively, even if the quality is low, in cases where there are a substantial amount of blended flavor enhancers, the cost would reflect this.

Salt is the most common ingredient, but other household herbs and spices include garlic and chili powders, cumin, coriander, or thyme.

Some home recipes will call for smoked paprika, brown sugar, or Worcestershire sauce.

Additional Ingredients

The ingredients of beef jerky will influence the cost through variations of the quality and amount of additional additives.

When it comes to more processed jerkys, ingredient labels will mention things like liquid smoke, MSG, sodium nitrate, among other things.

Personal opinions of how these things affect health aside, manufactured ingredients have their own monetary cost.

The drying process can’t be sped up and one batch of jerky can take a couple of days to make.

On top of that, manufacturing costs, storage, packaging, shipping, and labor will also all factor into the price of one bag of jerky.

Amount of Time

The amount of time it takes to make jerky affects the price the consumer sees. With advances in technology, the process can be sped up but making jerky the classic way still takes a couple of days.

To make jerky faster, dehydrators can be used to shorten the drying process to around seven to eight hours.

Oven methods take around twelve hours. It’s important to note that this is the time it takes just to cook, not necessarily including prep or marination, which can add another day to the process.

In times before such technology, making jerky was dependent on the weather.

The sun was used in tandem with wind and a continual fire. In 100 degree heat, it would still take up to twelve hours.

Some makers will still make jerky this way for a more authentic experience. 

Labor Costs

Making jerky is an involved process – even if a large part of it is just waiting. 

In commercial production of jerky, the preparation of the meat will take time (such as cutting away fat), adding rubs and spices to the meat, setting it up for drying, and then packing once the dehydration process is completed. 

Storage

Storage goes hand in hand with the labor cost. The facilities housing the production process need adequate room for each step.

For multi-day operations, there would need to be enough room to set up new batches of jerky, and not necessarily after the previous batch is ready to be processed and shipped.

Quality

Of course prices will range depending on the quality of beef, quality of ingredients, and quality of processing.

Beef jerky

How well (or not well) the company compensates its labor force is factored into the price, as well as if the jerky is mass produced or made in small batches.

One thing that can be certain about the beef jerky industry is that there are plenty of options.

How To Save Money on Beef Jerky

Saving money on beef jerky can be achieved through methods such as bulk buying, keeping an eye out for manufacturer coupons, or looking for cheaper alternatives to favorite brands. 

Buying in Bulk

Beef jerky can be purchased in large quantities at wholesale or bulk stores such as Costco or Sam’s Club.

While it is a more significant cost up front, the price per unit is smaller, saving money in the long run.

Manufacturer Coupons

Checking the manufacturers website for coupons offering free trials or steeply discounted variety sampler packs is another good way to save.

Brands want more people to try their products and incentivize this by offering a low risk option. 

There is frequently a one per household stipulation, and sometimes shipping isn’t free, but beats paying full price!

Trying Other Brands

Lastly, it’s worth exploring other brand options that are more cost-friendly. View it as an opportunity to expand the palette and try new things.

It’s possible the next favorite isn’t beef at all, but possibly chicken or even mushroom!

Is Making Beef Jerky Cheaper Than Buying It? 

Overall, making beef jerky at home can be cheaper than buying it but there is the question of convenience versus cost.

The cost of making beef jerky versus buying it will depend on access to materials and how time consuming it can be. 

When taking on a new recipe, it’s possible the pantry at home has everything that’s needed, but in contrast, sometimes everything needs to be purchased from scratch.

There are many ways to make beef jerky, so finding the recipe that requires the least amount of additional purchases will save some money.

A huge part of the expense of jerky is simply time, so if time isn’t an issue, making jerky at home can be rewarding.

Another plus is that there is absolute control over what goes into one’s homemade jerky. Home batches can also yield more than a package bought from the store.

Is Jerky Worth the Price?

Jerky is worth the price when considering how much work goes into even small portions and how nutrient dense jerky can be.

Beef jerky in a bowl

The convenience of pre-packaged jerky alone could make the price worth it for some, considering the time and resources it takes to make jerky at home.

When it comes to health, jerky that is made in small batches with little to no artificial preservatives can offer some nutritional value.

Beef jerky is considered high in protein and has zinc, B12, folate, as well as other important vitamins and minerals included.

The downside is the high sodium content, so proper portioning is important.

Jerky Is Expensive for Small Amounts

When it comes down to it, jerky feels like it is expensive for so little in part because of how easy it is to eat and the small portion sizes.

People describe jerky as having an addictive quality, and it’s not uncommon to read stories of people downing 10 ounce bags in one sitting.

Most brands recommend only a single ounce of jerky as the suggested serving size.

Many other common snacks, such as chips or soda, are a more automated process that don’t  take nearly as long for prep time to receive the end product.

Cheaper Alternatives to Beef Jerky

There are some alternatives to beef jerky that can be considered if the main concern is cost.

Beef Jerky$5 – $15 per serving
Fruit Jerky$1 – $2 per serving
Seaweed Sheets$3 – $5 per serving
Alternative Jerky$4 – $18 per serving
Meat Sticks and Bars$1 – $5 per serving
Eggs$0.50 – $3 per serving

1.Fruit Jerky

Fully acknowledging that the flavor profiles are very different, fruit jerky would be geared more towards preserving mouth feel and sensation.

It also would be a potentially healthier alternative. Some fruit jerkys, barks, and leathers can feel very fleshy and take some teeth work to pull off a chunk.

2.Seaweed Sheets

Like the fruit jerky, this isn’t a 1:1 to beef jerky but it does appeal to the saltiness of beef jerky.

Also, drying seaweed and kelp is a similar process to making jerky, and something many early coastal communities took part in.

Luckily it’s very cheap and very healthy. It can even be made at home!

3.Alternative Jerkys

Part of the cost of beef jerky is due to the price of raw meat. Choosing a cheaper alternative such as chicken, turkey, or salmon would be one way to cut costs.

Similarly, foregoing meat entirely and opting for plant-based options like soy, mushrooms, or coconut will also turn up cheap alternatives.

Most of these alternatives will have options geared towards emulating beef in flavor and texture. 

4.Meat Sticks and Bars

If the end goal is just a portable protein snack, meat sticks like Slim Jim’s are just as frequently encountered as beef jerky.

Even beef jerky brands will offer alternatives such as meat bars. While nutrition is similar, the form and price will vary in these alternatives.

5.Eggs

While eggs are not as portable, and not meat at all, eggs are nutrient dense, are easily available, and can be prepared in multiple forms.

Eggs can be bought in bulk at grocery stores and prepared at home but are also commonly available at convenience stores and gas stations. 

Wrap Up

Beef jerky is an adored and widely available snack, found in basically any shop that sells food.

Despite its widespread popularity, it can be pricey, and repeated purchases can add up.

The preparation process, cost of raw ingredients, and other business operations all contribute to the price tag.

Luckily, it is available in a wide range of flavors and qualities, all with different associated costs. This is good news, as that means there’s a price point for everyone.

If you’re finding there’s still too much spending on jerky, there are a plethora of alternatives that can suit even the strictest budget.

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