Gary West Meats is a manufacturer of smoked meats, based in Jacksonville, OR. The company started in 1966, based on old family recipes handed down to Gary West by his grandfather.
While the company is well known for their smoked hams and turkeys, they've made a name for themselves in recent years as a manufacturer of "artisan jerky", putting emphasis on the natural meat flavors.
These elk strips is one of two exotic meat jerkies that Gary West Meats makes. The company says they use elk raised in natural environments, with no steroids, no hormones, and no antibiotics.
Interestingly, the package on these elk strips says "Beef Added", which is very common with exotic meat products. Many other manufacturers produce chopped & formed exotic meat jerky because they mix in about 10% beef, so as to escape the exotic meat certification requirements. However, according to Gary West Meats, they have a different explanation, though it sounds like it could be the same. A USDA inspector is in their factory every day, inspecting beef, but doesn't inspect any of the exotic meats. So in order to get their exotic meats inspected and approved, they add beef to it. To do this, they puree some beef and add it into the marinade. Then they soak the elk strips into the marinade. Technically, there's going to be some bits of beef stuck to the elk strips, but for all intents and purposes, it's whole elk meat.
Elk, brown sugar, pureed beef, salt, water, black pepper, sodium nitrite.
There is a slight bit of sweetness upon putting a piece into my mouth, which is quickly followed by a "gamey" meat taste, and then the saltiness, while the black pepper slowly makes itself known.
The taste of elk meat will vary from one person's description to another. I'm not an expert on elk, and it's hard for me to rate this particular elk jerky on its natural meat flavors. But most people seem to describe it as being similar to venison, which is sweeter due to its higher concentration of blood. Elk is also more lean.
These Elk Strips from Gary West Meats do have a strong natural meat taste to it. While the "gamey" taste I described above is there, it's only there on the surface. Once you chew into this, it takes on flavor similar to the company's beef jerky. It has that same mellow, smooth, and "buttery" taste.
The sodium content on the ingredients list seems pretty high, at 640mg for the standard 1oz serving. However, I don't really see this as tasting "too salty". It definitely has a salty flavor to it, but it doesn't wear me out.
Overall, this is a great tasting jerky that puts a lot of emphasis on its natural meat flavors. It's that natural meat flavor that dominates the taste of this jerky, and lasts throughout the chew. The salt is perhaps the second biggest taste.
These strips appear to be cuts of real meat, about the same width as a meat stick, and in varying lengths.
I'd consider this as being "semi-moist". While the photos below make this look as if its very moist, that's just the glaze on the outside. These strips are easy to bite off and chew.
I didn't find any chewy chunks of tendon or gristle, and no fat.
Overall, the meat consistency is excellent.
Gary West Meats sell these Elk Strips at a price of $22.00 for an 8oz package. That works out to $2.75 per ounce, making this an expensive buy.
I'd say that for general jerky purposes, I wouldn't buy it. If you compare it to the company's beef jerky, all that I'm really getting out of this is the initial gamey taste. For me, that's not worth paying the extra money to get elk.
As for the nutritional value of elk versus beef, these elk strips don't really provide much advantage. You're only getting something that's a 0.5g lower in fat per serving, and a little bit more in protein. But it's much higher in cholesterol, much higher in sodium, and slightly higher in carbs. I can't really say that this is worth the extra money for the nutritional value.
But if you have to have elk jerky, just for the fact that it's elk, then it's a great buy, mainly because you're not going to find much elk jerky out there, let alone anything that tastes this good.
I'm giving this a best rating.
These Elk Strips from Gary West Meats do a great job of retaining the natural meat flavors of elk, providing a smooth, mellow, and almost "buttery" taste, with a just enough seasoning to give this some added taste complexity.
For the most part, however, I don't really get a sense that I'm eating something other than beef, aside from that initial gamey taste. I could save myself some more money, and just buy Gary West's beef jerky. But that's really a matter of value.
Otherwise, the meat flavors that come out of this are excellent, and those meat flavors alone have me reaching for more and more. This isn't a jerky that's going to wallop you on seasonings, but will impress you on its natural meat taste.
My recommended beer pairing for these Elk Strips is pale ale, amber ale, or cream ale, that won't interfere with the natural meat flavors but still quench the saltiness.
Note: originally reviewed August 16, 2008.
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