Ajay's Montana Bananas is the name of a beef jerky brand based out of Alta Sierra, CA. It's been around since 1979. It was started by Ajay Avery, a singer in a country-rock band that toured the western states between 1973 and 1978. Ajay was also big jerky lover.
He was in Missoula, MT, getting some gasoline, when he walked into a nearby butcher shop owned by Henry Wilkinson. He saw some beef jerky that Wilkinson had made, and bought some, and discovered what he felt was the best beef jerky there had ever been. Ajay would return to Wilkinson's butcher shop, and buy up several bags of this stuff, and sell them at concert venues where his band played. Eventually, he earned more money selling the jerky than he did from the band.
That lead him to buying the recipe from Wilkinson, and launching the "Montana Bananas" brand name. Today, Ajay's jerky is distributed through BevMo! a chain of liquor stores throughout California, as well as tool trucks like Snap-on and Matco, and through his website.
This particular "Original Peppered" is also known as "Cowboy Dry", and is the same recipe that Ajay bought from Wilkinson. In addition to this, Ajay offers five other varieties, which I'll be reviewing separately over the next several weeks.
Beef, salt, spices, sugar, monosodium glutamate, garlic powder, dextrose, sodium nitrite.
The flavors I pick up from the surface of these pieces starts with a slight smoky, meaty aroma, followed by a slight salty flavor, and after several seconds, a black pepper taste starts coming on. In the chewing, the flavors I get starts with a stronger black pepper taste, a stronger saltiness, and some natural meat flavors. I can also pick up a weak garlic taste in the background.
I'd say the flavor that comes out the strongest in this jerky is the saltiness. It starts from the surface of these pieces as a weak flavor, but as soon as you chew it gets strong and stays strong all the way until you swallow. In terms of salt intensity this stuff is just above my personal tolerance level. The nutrition facts label actually shows 380mg of sodium per 1 ounce serving, which is low compared to most other brands, but nonetheless the salt flavor is quite strong. I can enjoy this within the first few pieces, but after that it starts to wear down on me, and my mouth yearns for a drink.
The black pepper in this quite noticeable, but for the most part, plays second-fiddle to the salt. In some pieces where there's a more dense sprinkling of pepper, it almost overtakes the saltiness. Throughout several pieces, there's a slight peppery burn building up, which I'd rate as mild-medium on my hot scale.
The natural meat flavors perhaps makes up the third-strongest flavor. It probably takes about 5 seconds into the chewing to notice the meat flavors, perhaps because the saltiness is quite strong. There's a slight smoky color to this flavor that's noticeable on the surface of these pieces.
So if you can imagine a strong salty flavor, colored with some black pepper and garlic, that's largely the flavor I get from this, with the smoky natural meat flavors sitting behind that.
These appear to be slices of whole meat, sliced to a medium thickness, and in small to medium sized pieces. There's probably a full ounce of crumbled bits in the bottom of the bag.
This is a dry jerky, with most pieces having some flexibility before they crack open and show their cottony white meat fibers. Tearing a piece apart with my hands is somewhat easy with the grain. Biting a piece off against the grain requires a good deal of effort. The chewing varies from moderate to tough.
The chewing texture starts out hard and chewy, but after 5-10 seconds of chewing it seems to break down into something much like a steak, cooked well-done. I'm not getting anything mushy, gummy, or crumbly. It's very meaty and fibrous.
As far as that tough chewing is concerned, it's not quite tough enough that it makes my jaws tired. I think for one, it seems to break down easily enough, and two this jerky has enough flavor intensity that I pause to suck out the juices in between a few chews, as opposed to chewing all the way through.
For the most part, it's pretty clean eating. I found only a few meat fragments falling on to my lap and desk, and no residue sticking to my fingers.
I found just a few visible pieces of fat on this jerky, but nothing that gave it a rancid flavor. I didn't find any pieces of tendon or gristle. I did find a couple pieces that left behind a small unchewable wad of connective tissue in my mouth.
Ajay's Montana Bananas has a suggested retail price of $7.00 per four ounce package for each of their jerky varieties. That works out to a price of $1.75 per ounce, putting this into the average price range.
For general jerky snacking purposes, at the $1.75 per ounce price, it presents a good value. I'm getting a good deal of snackability from its strong flavor intensity, and its good chewing texture. I like the overall flavor enough to keep reaching for more, but after a few pieces, the high salt intensity eventually wears me out, and makes me pause for about 15 minutes.
As a peppered beef jerky, also at the $1.75 per ounce price, it's again a good value. I do get a good taste of black pepper in this, and in some pieces a strong black pepper taste. Even though the saltiness is still stronger overall, I think this jerky stands up to its billing as a peppered variety.
I'm giving this a good rating.
This "Original Peppered" variety from Ajay's Montana Bananas packs in a lot of flavor intensity, mostly as a salty flavor, but further enhanced with black pepper and garlic, and is able to retain some natural meat flavors with a smoky touch.
The flavor is definitely well above the mass-market jerky that we come to know so well. I want to even say that there's an "old fashioned" quality to it, except I don't know how to qualify that statement. Perhaps Ajay's story of discovering this jerky recipe in the 1970s in a small Montana town creates the old fashioned charm.
What keeps me from giving this a "best" rating is that for one, it's too salty for my personal liking, and two it's just a tad too tough. I will point out however, the nutrition facts label actually shows that this jerky is in fact lightly salted when compared to other brands. For whatever reason, the saltiness comes out strong in this, and seems to overshadow the natural meat flavors.
As for being tough to chew, it's tough enough that it presents some work in chewing, but still not quite so tough wear out my jaw muscles. The good news is that this jerky is packed so full of salty flavor, that it encourages you to chew it lightly a few times, then suck out some flavor, chew a little bit more, suck out more flavor, etc., etc. Kinda like chewing tobacco, except a lot healthier.
It's a great jerky to eat while you're working on something else. Maybe that's why Ajay distributes this stuff through tool trucks. You can take a bite of this jerky, then work on something, and grab another bite whenever you get a chance. That way the high saltiness and tough chewing won't wear you out over time.
Note that the Montana Bananas website requires you to purchase a minimum of 13 packages. So find yourself a BevMo! Store or a tool truck to buy just one.
And if you'd prefer a beer with this, I'd recommend a smooth creamy stout.
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