The joys of the best beef jerky hardly need repeating — salty, chewy, beefy goodness in a size anatomically perfect for snacking. The platonic ideal of a road trip bite hardly needs anyone’s praise, but more sub-par takes on jerky have muddied the waters. Excess is the primary offender, typically, whether that means too much salt, too much pepper, too much sugar or all of the above. These things obscure not only the taste of jerky, they dull its natural health positives as well — lots of protein and zinc, low in fat and carbohydrates, respectively.
Though a fool’s errand, we set out to identify — through eating, comparing, arguing and overanalyzing — a collection of beef jerkies that were actually worth picking up. From scores of brands and bags at the start, these five remain the best beef jerky you can buy today.
People’s Choice Orange Honey Teriyaki
Operating since 1929, People’s Choice out of Los Angeles makes absurdly good and cheap jerky. Thought its classic line of jerkies are great themselves, the Tasting Kitchen small-batch series takes the cake. Along with the other flavors in this line, the orange honey teriyaki variety is the antithesis to much of the garbage peddled at gas stations — it tastes like actual beef, it’s got just enough fat streaking through it and it delivers on its advertised flavors. The first bite is bright with orange zest, followed by a deep, rich soy and teriyaki flavor.
Oh Boy! Oberto Classic
Jerky snobs be damned, Oberto’s classic bag of jerky is available at nearly every place food is sold in the country, is cheap and is true to the snack’s staples. Compared to its primary gas station shelf competitor, Jack’s Links, it is lower in sodium and sugar, lacks artificial ingredients like “corn syrup solids” and tastes far, far superior. Oberto’s classic bag is nostagic — softer than most mass-produced jerkies (but not uncomfortably soft), salty and delightfully real tasting.
Wicked Cutz Original Peppered
Despite an initial negative feeling that was probably tied to the “z” on the backside of the brand name, Wicked Cutz’s jerkies are impressive. Its jerkies are much less salty than what you’d expect — both nutritionally and in taste. A serving of the Original Peppered carries only 105mg of sodium, good for only 4 percent of your daily intake. That’s a fraction of a fraction less than most on this list and elsewhere. What it lacks in salty flavor it makes up for by avoiding any form of corn syrup or filler and using beef’s natural taste as its flavor foundation. It is peppery, but not aggressively so.
Field Trip Original
Smack dab in the middle of its label and in bold, Field Trip’s first and most popular jerky gets off to a strong start: No Preservatives · No Added MSG · No Corn Syrup. The Original is smokier than most, and it’s nostalgically chewy and stays balanced with nice brown sugar notes in the background. Pack some for your next long hike. Bags are available online and in stores nationwide.
Far more moist than the others on this list, SlantShack’s bag of classic jerky is rich in Worcestershire sauce, cumin and ginger flavor. It’s less salty than your typically jerky, but still salty enough to satisfy a craving. The best part of this jerky, though, is the quality of the meat itself — all the beef used in making SlantShack’s jerky is grass-fed and untouched by supplements, antibiotics or hormones. You can taste that work in every bite.