Jerky was initially introduced by the South American (Peru) native 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 rubbed with salt. This meat was 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 created with strips of beef dipped in maize flour, sun and wind dried, and then tightly rolled up into chunks. North American Cree Indians mixed berries and suet (fat) with pounded cooked meat and pressed into concentrated small cakes to make pemmican.
Folklore has it that African tribesmen would place strips of venison under the saddles of the horses to tenderize and spice the meat! Seasoning became a blend of vinegar, sugar, salt, coriander and other spices.
The Indians and early settlers dried meat primarily from deer, elk or buffalo using salt, whatever spices they had and sun drying. As the Spanish arrived, the name evolved into charqui. During ocean exploration and colonization, the Spanish sailors carried the pacific islands with goats. What could not be eaten could then be cut into strips and hung in their ships 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 adopted the Spanish word, Charqui, only adding their emphasis; the word”jerky” first was.
North American Pioneers would dry meat by hanging it on the outside of their 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 finish the process in half a day, the smoking method required a stopover; it wasn’t long before awareness for disease and germs became prevalent and smoking became the norm.
Today jerky is made from thin strips of just about any meat or from ground or chopped and formed meat. Manufacturers spice and dehydrate the product; some introduce smoke or using liquid smoke for flavoring.