Jerky was initially introduced by the South American (Peru) indigenous tribe called the Quechua (part of the ancient Inca Empire) in 1550. The merchandise (Ch’arki), was boned and defatted meat (deer, elk, or buffalo) cut into pieces and garnished with salt. This meat has been rolled up in the animal’s hide for 10-12 hours and then sun dried or smoked over flames.
In South America, the Native Americans ate sun-dried venison and buffalo called tassajo, which was made with strips of meat dipped in maize flour, sun and wind dried, then tightly rolled up into balls.
Folklore has it that African tribesmen would put strips of venison under the saddles of the horses to tenderize and spice up the meat! Seasoning became a blend of vinegar, salt, sugar, coriander and other spices.
As the Spanish arrived, the name evolved to charqui. During ocean exploration and colonization, the Spanish sailors carried the pacific islands with goats. What couldn’t be eaten would then be cut into strips and hung in their boats to air dry. When the Spanish Conquistadors invaded the Americas, they were amazed to observe the natives of North America drying meat as well. Soon, the natives embraced the Spanish term, Charqui, only adding their emphasis; the word”jerky” first was.
North American Pioneers would first dry meat by hanging it on the outside of the covered wagon sun drying (2-3 times ). Another method was to build a scaffold over a slow flame and smoke the strips. While the heat and smoke would complete the process in half a day, the smoking method required a stopover; it was not long before awareness for disease and germs became prevalent and smoking became the norm.
Today jerky is made of thin strips of virtually any meat or from chopped or ground and shaped meat. Manufacturers spice and dehydrate the merchandise; some introduce smoke or using liquid smoke for flavoring.