Monday, July 24, 2017

The Lawless Jerky Approach to Innovation

Matt Tolnick on the set of MVP
How does the team at Lawless Jerky, and particularly me as our resident “jerky chef,” come up with our line of world-inspired Braver Flavors, and convert those ideas into recipes you can find at your local convenience store, supermarket or mailbox?

My team and I keep our eyes on emerging culinary trends and influences that may not be familiar to most Americas. As you can see from Lawless Jerky’s flavors, I’ve found tremendous inspiration in cuisine throughout Asia: Japan, China, Thailand and beyond. I also had a powerful stroke of inspiration during a recent trip to Jamaica for a friend’s wedding. Jerk seasoning is only the tip of the iceberg (a flavorful iceberg) in Jamaican cooking. 

To start, I face the fundamental challenge of translating my inspiration into a marinade recipe that will convey the flavor into a single bite of jerky. I begin with similar ingredients to the original recipe, and a ton of trial and error! Lawless Jerky is unique in that we don’t consider the conventions of the industry, what the other guys are doing. I start from scratch with an idea, a dream flavor, in mind and work tirelessly until I’ve brought it to life. Along the way I keep copious notes to inform my next experiment, and to faithfully replicate the formula when I hit the jackpot.

In creating Lawless’ line of Braver Flavors, I’ve developed a technique that has served me well with flavors like Mango Habanero, Sweet Sriracha and Honey Chipotle. By balancing the heat of hot peppers with a corresponding sweetness, the resulting flavor profile is much richer and more enjoyable than if spicy or sweet were dominating the other on the palate. In sampling our products, you’ll also recognize the varying prominence of distinct flavor components during the course of the chew, particularly in our more complex recipes.

In addition to looking around the globe and into the future for our next big flavor, I also look back in time for ideas. Jerky is, of course, based on traditional methods of preserving meat. Part of Lawless Jerky’s craft approach draws upon the knowledge of our ancestors. Sometimes the old way of doing things makes for a more satisfying, flavorful and healthful result than the modern version that is optimized for automation, speed and cost.

Sometimes it’s as simple as persistent suggestion from an old friend. As long as I’ve made jerky, about 15 years, my buddy Ethan found every possible way to suggest I translate his favorite dish, Vietnamese Pho, into a jerky. Finally, when Lawless Jerky ran a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign, the highest support level offered a batch of jerky in a flavor of the donor’s choice. I should’ve guessed that Ethan would take advantage, but that only required me to make a single batch. Despite my chagrin that he’d finally forced my hand, I wanted to faithfully recreate the flavor. I did plenty of research at restaurants around LA and in Vietnamese cookbooks to ensure the jerky had the full bouquet of flavors including cilantro, mint, basil, jalapeno, star anise, cinnamon, cloves, fish sauce, plum sauce and more. Long story short, the Pho jerky came out so well it is now among our bestsellers at some retailers and a cornerstone of Lawless Jerky’s commitment to unique ingredients exquisitely combined.

Where to next? I can’t divulge all my secrets but I’ll provide some hints. First, we’re experimenting with new protein options for our jerky beyond the 100% grass-fed beef and humanely-raised pork of today. Goat is my personal favorite, but I’m not sure America’s quite ready for it. We’re also looking to Africa for a new Braver Flavor profile. And, most exciting, we’re working on a protein snack for a time during the day people don’t normally reach for jerky. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, use coupon code INNOVATION for 25% off your order at so you can sample all of the delicious flavors discussed above.

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