I was looking for a healthy, protein-based treat for Hutch, my Toy Manchester Terrier, who can only eat chicken, white fish or dairy treats. I have tried some chicken-based snacks, including chicken jerky, but they were both expensive and very dry. I decided that I wanted to make my own jerky treats for my dogs.
When I starting looking for some healthy ideas, I found my best resources and information after I posted an inquiry on the K9Nutrition Facebook page. The outpouring of suggestions, recipes and personal experiences was overwhelming and incredibly helpful! So, with the holiday season here, this month’s newsletter is to share the information I learned on how to make your own jerky treats for your dog and provide pictures to illustrate how easy the process is!
The first thing to consider when making jerky is deciding if you want to buy a dehydrator or use your oven. There is no wrong choice. There are pros and cons to both methods, so you will need to decide what is best for you. The most common reason for using the oven was to not have to buy another small appliance. The most common reason for buying a dehydrator was so you didn’t have to tie up your oven for hours and because different ovens can vary on the temperature and time needed to dehydrate the meat for good jerky. The process does require consistent low heat for up to four to six hours to dehydrate the meat properly.
I decided to buy a small dehydrator and attempt to make my own fresh chicken and beef jerky! My decision to buy a dehydrator was for easy clean-up and to keep my oven free for regular meal-time use. Also because if this worked well, I anticipated using it frequently for making healthy snacks for my dogs. While either method works well, I will describe the process using a dehydrator.
I bought a Nesco dehydrator for about $50. There are several different brands available ranging in price from about $30 to a couple of hundred dollars. I believe for most dog owners, the smaller dehydrators work just fine. The Nesco dehydrator I purchased has seven trays to hold food for dehydration. The number of trays make it easy to prepare multiple jerky choices at one time for variety (beef, chicken, pork or venison).
The next consideration is to choose what type of meat you will use. Chicken is probably the easiest to start with and I suggest using skinless chicken breast meat. Using lower fat meat creates less mess while it dehydrates and provides ‘dryer’, and less oily jerky. When using beef, I use the less expensive cuts, such as skirt steak or lower end roasts. Venison also works very well because it is a very lean meat.
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One of the best suggestions from the K9Nutrition list was to use meat that is semi-frozen because it is easier to cut without shredding the meat and easier to get consistency in the strips. I use a good, sharp knife because it also helps to get clean cuts of meat. I cut the strips from one-eighth inch to one-quarter inch wide for my Toy Manchester Terrier and Brussels Griffons and cut the strips wider for my Rottweilers. The thicker pieces generally need more time in the dehydrator.
Once you have the meat cut and prepared, you can place them on the trays and put the trays in the dehydrator. You can place the strips closely together, but you do want to leave space around them for good air flow.
The finished treats are easy to store in zip-lock freezer bags. Most will stay good in the refrigerator for a few weeks, but you can also safely freeze them and thaw them as you need them. I have used the jerky as meals for my dogs when traveling. I recently took a 14-day trip overseas with a dog and was able to use the jerky for meals as well. Some people choose to add seasonings, but I opted not to, and all of my dogs love them!
It is very satisfying to be able to make such a healthy and delicious treat for your dogs! Your homemade jerky will make great holiday gifts for all your dog friends and they work very well for training treats! I hope these instructions and illustrations inspire you to start making your own dog’s healthy treats. It is so easy and you just can’t give a healthier treat to your dog.