Food & Drink

The Best Jerky for Every Appetite

The gas station varieties are just the start.

Jerky has long been a 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.

Perky Jerky

Best for: Beef-haters, bird-lovers, people in line at Home Depot, or budget jerky fans
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 (those weird-necked, flightless bastards). 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. [Buy it here]

Blue Ox

Best for: People who like softer jerky or people who value variety in dried meats
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 people who are missing the point, for a total of 42 different jerky options for your smoked-meat pleasure. [Buy it here]

Tillamook Country Smokers
Tillamook Country Smokers

Tillamook Country Smokers

Best for: Snackers with short attention spans or traditionalists
Despite its roots in Oregon, there's nothing particularly weird about Tillamook, the purveyor of fine cheeses and ice cream. They don’t even have some wild-ass flavor option (which is weird, since they make the stuff an hour from Portland). Instead, they deliver four flavors in four options and do all four very well. Want traditional meat leather? Go for the beef jerky. More of a steak nugget fan? Their steak cuts are the platonic ideal of that jerky choice. Two styles of jerky sticks round out the options, with all four making the grade for flavor, texture, and moistness. You won’t find anything out of your comfort zone here, but you’ll find nothing to disappoint. [Buy it here]

Chef's Cut Real Jerky bags
Courtesy of Chef's Cut Real Jerky Co.

Chef's Cut Real Jerky

Best for: Folks who pop a chunk of beef jerky in their mouth and think, "You know, this is delicious, but I wish that more of the animal kingdom was marinated, dried, and packaged into something delicious"
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, addictive 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. [Buy it here]

Omaha Steak Snacks
Courtesy of Omaha Steaks

Omaha Steaks Snacks

Best for: Mail-order meat traditionalists
Omaha Steaks has become the carnivorous equivalent of the milk man, bringing its famous steaks right to America’s doorstep for 101 years, but it wasn’t until this spring that they jumped into the jerky game. The hearty, chewy hunks of beef come in four flavors -- original, peppercorn, teriyaki, and jalapeño -- and they’re, 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. [Buy it here]

Arrogant Bastard Jerky
Andy Kryza/Thrillist

Arrogant Bastard 100% Grass-Fed Beef Jerky

Best for: Carnivorous beer nerds or people who want to be edgy by using curse words
Stone is one of the most innovative and influential craft breweries on the planet, period, and its forays into the food space have included mustards, sauces, and even nut butters infused with its most famous beers. Now their not-beer offerings  includes Arrogant Bastard jerky, which takes the brewery’s most famous beer and uses it as a prime ingredient for peppery, citric, chewy, grass-fed jerky strips, which still have a hint of beer to them, but not enough that it makes it redundant to pair a bag with actual beer. Jerky, after all, is the ultimate drinking food. They also make a version using the Tangerine Express IPA, if you like things a tad fruitier. But the Bastard is king. [Buy it here]

Kirkland Steak Strips

Best for: People on a paleo diet who snack relentlessly or people who wish to substitute their chips with protein
Look, sometimes you just want a big-ass bag of meat. Maybe you're on some fad diet. Maybe you're a doomsday prepper who doesn't care for dehydrated vegetables. Or maybe you just eat a shit ton of jerky and realized that you're spending hundreds of dollars on the stuff and decided to go bulk. The solution in all three scenarios is Costco, specifically this giant bag of thick, chewy, salty meat. Is it the best jerky? No. But it's better than most of its gas station brethren and is super thick. You'll actually believe that these could have at one point been steak, had they not been dehydrated. And when you're sitting in a shelter wondering whether the radiation has reduced enough to emerge (or just, you know, find yourself on a road trip), sometimes that's all you need. [Buy it here]

Thrive
Thrive

Thrive

Best for: Whole Foods shoppers, people with gourmet palates, or health-conscious snackers
On the one hand, 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 damn 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. [Buy it here]

Bawnmore

Bawnmore

Best for: Folks who are extremely proud of their Irish heritage or people who prefer jerky that gives their jaws a workout
Bawnmore wears its Irish heritage proudly, boasting all-natural, grass-fed Irish beef as a badge of honor. The meat's high quality, but that's not what makes this particular protein blast so unique. Bawnmore is unlike any other jerky we tasted. It's salted with intensity and purpose, offering a saline blast that's almost overwhelming, but then melts away to make room for the meat. It's also about as tough as Conor McGregor on a bender, making for a chew that goes on much longer than most other jerkys. That might be a deterrent for some, but if you like jerky that makes you work, this is superlative. It comes in a couple unexpected varieties, including a slightly softer South African-style biltong and one inspired by Indonesian rendang that assaults the senses with Thai chilies, coconut, and an unexpected funk. But the original is the real draw, an ultra-salty, straightforward hunk of meat that rewards the hard work of chewing it with a weirdly complex and ever-changing flavor profile. [Buy it here]

Savage Jerky Co.

Best for: Sadists, people with something to prove, spice aficionados, or people who enjoy eating things on a dare
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. [Buy it here]

North Sea Fish Snacks

Best for: Umami lovers
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. [Buy it here]

Chops

Best for: People who like their jerky to be chewier or people with sensitive teeth
Chops manages a feat that very few dried beefs have ever pulled off: These chunks of jerky are incredibly soft, to the point that they're almost, dare we say, juicy. This is about as close as you're going to get to eating steak out of a bag, with simple flavors like sweet & spicy, teriyaki, and red chili on offer. But honestly, the regular variety is a thing of simple beauty, a salty slab of meat that we were tempted to microwave just to see if it could pass as an entree, but then couldn't because we ate the whole bag while daydreaming about it. [Buy it here]

Lightlife Meatless Smart Jerky

Best for: Vegans or people pretending to be vegan to impress a date they've duped into hiking with them
A smoky option from this beloved purveyor of fake meat, the jerky pieces are slightly sweet, and actually pretty good, in a generic jerky sort of way. But they also dissolve into strands as you chew, so if you're vegan, this is your jam! [Buy it here]

Krave Jerky

Best for: Pork obsessives or people who like their jerky to come in enough flavors to compete with Jelly Belly
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 spicy pink peppercorn beef, an herbaceous basil citrus turkey number, and the layered black cherry BBQ pork. They're also doing sticks as power foods, plus bars, which look and behave like a standard energy bar, but with way more pork. [Buy it here]

One For Neptune

One For Neptune

Best for: Pescatarians, environmentalist snackers, keto scuba divers, or folks with fond memories of lake towns
One For Neptune might sound like the name of a clean-cut ‘90s alt-rock ballad-rock group (they're opening for Goo Goo Dolls on the '90s cruise!), but it is in fact 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. [Buy it here]

Fatman's

Best for: Traditionalists
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. [Buy it here]

Jackson Hole Buffalo Jerky
Jackson Hole Buffalo Jerky

Jackson Hole Buffalo Jerky

Best for: Cowboys or people who have tasted the magic of buffalo jerky in the West and can't find it near them
In Wyoming, the Dakotas, and Montana, you can find amazing buffalo jerky pretty much everywhere. If you're anywhere else, it's a tougher sell. But Jackson Hole Buffalo Meat Co. is among the best. You aren't gonna get anything too fancy here. Just salted, lean, buffalo strips, and pepperoni at its best. Throw in some elk, too. Shipping it's way cheaper than driving across the country to get it at a roadside stand. [Buy it here]

Pan's Mushroom Jerky
Pan's Mushroom Jerky

Pan's Mushroom Jerky

Best for: Converted vegans who still crave the texture of meat
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. [Buy it here]

Fishpeople salmon jerky
Courtesy of Fishpeople

Fishpeople Wild Alaska Salmon Jerky

Best for: Environmentally conscious pescatarians or environmentally conscious sea captains
This take on dried fish is more Pacific Northwest than acquired Japanese taste, offering up ultra-lean, environmentally conscious, sustainably caught hunks of Alaskan protein power that doesn't skimp on flavor. Generally, this is the kind of stuff you'd find in a roadside stand in Alaska or a hipster joint on the Oregon coast, but thanks to the good, um, fish people at Fishpeople, you can find these fantastic fish sticks -- which come in flavors like in ancho chili & lime, lemon herb, and rainbow peppercorn -- all over the place. [Buy it here]

SumoJerky

Best for: Lazy jerky fans, adventurous eaters, or box fanatics
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. [Buy it here]

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Jason Brick is a voracious reader, heroic drinker, and super-cool dad (not necessarily in that order of importance). When not testing the theoretical limits of coolness, he practices martial arts so he can beat people up for teasing him about how much he likes playing Dungeons & Dragons. Find out more at BrickCommaJason.com.
Andy Kryza is a jerk. He eats his own. Follow him @apkryza.