Rives Quality Meats is a old-fashioned style meat market in the small town of Rives Junction, MI. It was started back in 1973 by Tom Hosler, serving the local hunters and farmers around the area by turning their game and livestock into steaks, chops, burger, and jerky.
Today, they still offer the same service, but have extended themselves into a grocery store and delicatessen, and just last year entered the digital age by launching a website.
Beef jerky was one of the first products they offered, and continues to be one of their most popular. See my previous review of their Regular variety. This Chicago Style variety is described by RQM as "A combination of sweet smoke and extreme spices with a splash of Cheyenne to create that hot, bold flavor you crave."
Did they mean to say, "Cayenne"?
The first thing I taste when I put a piece into my mouth is a light sweetness, followed by a smoky meaty flavor. A light spicy burn is quickly noticed, and then I notice the saltiness leaching out of the meat. I can even pick up traces of black pepper on certain pieces. As I start chewing, the natural meat flavors are noticed right away, followed by a bit more saltiness. I can also detect a garlic aftertaste.
For someone who's lived his entire life on the Pacific Rim, the extent of my exposure to "chicago style" cuisine has been deep dish pizza, followed by hot dogs laden with pickles and tomatoes. So I wasn't sure what it meant when applied to beef jerky. In comparison to Rives' Regular jerky, this stuff offers some spicy heat, but doesn't seem to have the black pepper. In terms of being hot, I'd rate it as being medium on my scale, enough to feel a warmth throughout my body, but not enough to create any perspiration.
But the same natural meat flavors that won my approval in the Regular variety are very much here in this Chicago Style, and still seems to provide the dominant flavor from the moment I put a piece into my mouth and all throughout the chewing. It's a smooth, mellow, "buttery" flavor, unmistakably beef.
The light sweetness on the surface is very noticeable initially, while Rives' Regular variety didn't really have any. It seems to generate the second-most dominant flavor. Eventually the sweetness moves to the background as the meat flavors come in, and ultimately fades away in latter part of chewing.
While the burn of the caynenne pepper is quite noticeable, it's flavor is not. I can taste only traces of it. The level of saltiness seems moderate, though it's hard to tell because the cayenne pepper burn seems to mask much of it.
What you're largely getting in this Chicago Style compared to the Regular, is the same great meat flavor, but with some cayenne pepper heat, some initial sweetness, but without the black pepper. There actually seems to be some black pepper on this, but barely noticeable.
These appear to be thick strips of whole meat, in widths of about 1/2 to 1 inch, and lengths of about 3-5 inches.
This is a moist jerky overall, though I found varying degrees with some being more moist, and others more dry. Most of the strips are cut against the grain allowing you to bite off chunks very easily. However, I found a couple strips cut with the grain that made it difficult to bite off. I had to grab a couple of grains with my teeth, and pull them off like string cheese. Overall, biting off pieces and chewing pieces is easy.
The chewing texture feels very much like a real chunk of beef once it hydrates in my mouth. It doesn't take long before a piece breaks down from its stiff jerky-like form into something like a medium-well steak. I don't get anything mushy, crumbly, or gummy.
Because this jerky is very wet on the surface, my fingers pick up a lot of moisture handling these pieces. But I'm not seeing any fragments fall off as I bite chunks off.
These strips seem pretty lean, but I do find small bits of fat here and there, they actually enhance the overall flavor. I don't find any tendon, gristle, or chewy sinews inside the meat.
I bought this Chicago Style jerky from Rives' website last February when they ran a month-long special on all their jerky. I paid $6.00 for this 8oz package, along with 8oz packages of their Regular and Barbecue varieties, for a total of 24oz. Add to that shipping costs of $9.80, and it came out to a total of $27.80, or a per ounce price of $1.16, putting this into the average price range.
Note for this month of March, Rives' is running a different special at $7.00 per 8oz, and if you buy 2 or more pounds of jerky, you'll get a 1/4 pound for free.
For general jerky snacking purposes, at the $1.16 price per ounce, it presents an excellent value. I'm getting a lot of snackability primarily for its great natural meat flavor, and it's great meat consistency, and great chewing texture. Even at the current price of $7.00 per 8oz package, you're still getting a lower price than if you bought a mass-market brand.
As a Chicago Style variety, at the same $1.16 per ounce price, I'd still have to say it's an excellent value, primarily because the price I was paid was still pretty low compared most other jerky brands on the market, and because I got a decent amount of heat from the cayenne. I'm still not exactly sure what "Chicago Style" is supposed to mean, but the addition of heat & sweet was clearly noticeable in this compared to Rives' Regular variety.
I'm giving this a best rating.
Like with Rives' Regular beef jerky, this Chicago Style wins big points for its excellent natural meat flavors. You also get a lot of flavor intensity such that each bite will award you with a mouthful of smoky meaty flavor, framed by a sweetness, a cayenne pepper burn, a medium saltiness, and a bit of garlic.
The size of these strips is also something to consider; their thick wide cuts create a lot of snacking anticipation, that equally satisfies in a moist, easy-eating meat consistency. And you won't find any chewy connective tissues to interrupt your meat snacking indulgence; it's pure meat.
This Chicago Style offers some cayenne pepper heat and a bit of sweet to an already excellent Regular beef jerky, but leaves out much of the black pepper. Either way, it's just different blends of taste interest adding to an already savory meat flavor.
A good beer to pair up with this is a lightly hopped pale ale.
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