The Best Jerky for Every Appetite
The gas station varieties are just the start.
Jerky has been a consistent staple for long-haul travelers and those desperately trying to appease the destructive power of Macho Man Randy Savage. But in recent years, jerky has transcended its status as a quick-fix gas station snack, with dozens of worthy offerings dominating shelves at groceries, health-food stores, and artisan food markets. Plus, it can still be found in gas stations.
There's so, so much more jerky vying for your attention these days. So which ones are best? We dove into the dried-meat aisle to find the best jerky for every taste.
Say you love jerky but don’t want to eat beef. Maybe it’s a health thing. Maybe it’s a flavor thing. Maybe you just really hate turkeys. Whatever your reasons, we’re not going to judge. Perky Jerky delivers the jerky experience across the regular spectrum of flavors and textures, only they make it out of turkey. And recently, they've trained their crosshairs on Wilbur as well: there's a line of pork jerky in unexpected flavors like coconut curry and five-spice. As a bonus, it’s a huge brand so its prices are a little lower than the boutique options. A solid B+ every time. And yes, they do beef, too.
Blue Ox is the local craft brewery of jerkies: a Florida-based regional brand done good with national distribution and a growing rep among carnivores from coast to coast. It’s a thicker jerky, but soft. You‘ll be chewing it immediately, but finish before the tougher jerkies begin to soften. Blue Ox also comes in wild and bewildering variety. Six flavors (like garlic and cracked pepper) and five meats (including elk and buffalo), plus veggie options, for a total of 42 different jerky varieties for your smoked-meat pleasure.
Despite its roots in Oregon, there's nothing particularly weird about Tillamook, the purveyor of fine cheeses and ice cream. Instead, everything is classically made with standard fan favorite flavors. Want traditional meat leather? Go for the beef jerky, in flavors like teriyaki, old fashioned, and black pepper. More of a meat stick type? They have those too, with pops of jalapeño for those seeking heat or classic pepperoni. You won’t find anything out of your comfort zone here, but you’ll find nothing to disappoint.
Chef's Cut could have coasted along on the strength of its extremely flavorful beef jerky, which boasts a tenderness that is hard to match. And it could have been fine introducing another meat, like turkey, chicken, or pork. Instead, it added all of them to its rooster of soft, enticing meat snacks, rocking flavors like Korean Barbecue Chicken, Maple Bacon, and Teriyaki Beef. And when that wasn't enough, they added cheese and meat boxes and sticks. Then incredible protein bars like Spicy Tomato Pork. Chef's Cut has gone mad with power as it's risen in prominence. This is a very, very good thing.
Omaha Steaks has become the carnivorous equivalent of the milk man, bringing its famous steaks right to America’s doorstep for over 101 years. The hearty, chewy hunks of beef are, as expected, on point. But it’s the beef sticks that really shine: They look like cartoon drawings of old-school sausages and manage to have a little snap on the casing, followed by a tender, juicy explosion of flavor inside. It’s an old-school offering from an old-school company, best paired with a big-ass signature filet.
Thrive is an organically sourced, ethically produced, fancy-ingredient jerky brand that makes a big deal about being the responsible citizen in the room. For many, this is the exact opposite of the entire point of eating beef jerky. On the other hand, the stuff is freaking delicious. It hits the “sweet spot” of jerky leather vs. steak texture balance, and goes just all out on the flavor options.
Savage Jerky Co. has plenty to offer across the spice spectrum, including chill beef strips in flavors like teriyaki, bacon jerky in a variety of Buffalo wings-inspired seasonings, and citrusy Mojo varieties. But it also has a mean streak. It starts with spicy Sriracha flavors, which could take a person without a big spice threshold to their knees. Then the ghost pepper comes in. Then, the coup de grâce: a jerky spiced up with Carolina Reapers, also known as the hottest pepper known to man, also known as "that pepper that has sent people to the hospital." Eat at your own risk, and be sure to have a bottle of milk handy. These aren’t for the weak of mind, spirit, or esophagus.
Fish paste mixed with taro, flavored with soy, teriyaki, sesame, and/or spices, then laid out in sheets and cut into strips, then dried. Sure, it’s not for everybody. But the folks it’s for cannot get enough of this favored Japanese delicacy. If you love jerky, but haven’t tried this version, you owe it to yourself to at least say you have.
Krave gets points for sneaking glorious pork into the mainstream jerky conversation, along with the brand's ranks of also-delicious beef and turkey. All varieties are tasty unto themselves, but Krave isn't content to just make standard jerky, as evidenced by a bevy of unexpected flavors like the southwest hatch chile, an umami forward sesame ginger number, and the layered black cherry BBQ pork. For plant-based folks, there are vegan options too made from peas and fava beans.
Neptune is a fine purveyor of omega-3 rich whitefish jerky. For the uninitiated, smoked and dried whitefish is a delicacy associated with roadside stands and country stores in rural lake towns. One For Neptune’s version is essentially the kind you might find in a small vacation town that prides itself in art walks and craft beer—this is artisan stuff, taking the template of a traditional fish strip and hitting it with flavors like smoked sea salt and juniper, Cajun spice, and honey lemon ginger, a flavor more associated with tea shops than jerky. And that’s kind of the beauty: It’s at once familiar and wholly unexpected. And it's sustainable as it gets: You can even go online and track where the fish in each packet came from.
Fatman’s jerky is thin and leathery, but in a good way. It’s one of those jerkies you start eating by moistening and softening in your mouth for a minute before you chew, which means the flavors really come out before you even begin to really eat it. Eighteen “gourmet” flavors give you exactly the long-lasting flavor profile you’re hoping for, from classics like teriyaki and “original” to face-blastingly spicy.
Pan's is something of a revelation in the vegan jerky market, taking the simple, meaty shiitake mushroom and converting it into jerky strips that pack tons of flavor, thanks to a combination of the 'shroom itself and explosive flavors like Zesty Thai, a pitmaster-approved Applewood BBQ, and a simple Salt & Pepper that lets the fungus do the talking.
With over a dozen quality competitors in meat subscription boxes, we name SumoJerky as the top because they are the most aggressive about variety. At just under $30 a month, they keep sending you new kinds of jerky to try. For example: a recent box included hickory, pepper teriyaki, grass-fed Angus, super-garlic, and two brands of old-school plain jerky—all from different manufacturers. They won't all be your favorite, but they’re good about quality and you’ll find multiple keepers.