All jerky I review is evaluated for the following criteria...
Snackability - This is how well a jerky satisfies the urge to snack. If it's good enough to make me want to keep eating more and more, it will score at a minimum of an average rating (three stars). Getting four stars or five stars is based on the below...
Flavor - Jerky must be flavorful. The more flavorful the better.
Flavor Complexity - Jerky with a variety of flavors that I can identify will rate better. If I can pick out the sweet, salty, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, chile pepper, citrus, smoke, meat flavor, etc, it will have a better chance of rating higher.
Natural Meat Flavor - If I can taste the natural flavor of the meat, it will rate higher. The more meat flavor, the better. Also, I look for a fresh flavor, like that of grilled steak, roasted beef, ground beef, as long as it has a fresh flavor. Some fatty flavor is good, but too much is not good.
Advertised Flavor - If the package says "hot" then I expect it to be HOT, not just a little hot, but a lot hot. The same with other marketed or labeled words like "Garlic", or "Teriyaki", or "Smoked". If the jerky doesn't provide me with a clearly identifiable flavor of what the package advertises, it will lose rating.
Meat Consistency - Generally, this refers to the amount of fat, tendon, gristle, and other non-muscle tissue found in the jerky. The more meat the better. Pure meat is awesome. Marbelized meat in some light amounts is good as long as it benefits the flavor.
Chewing Texture - Once a piece of jerky is chewed down to a soft mass, if it feels just like eating a real piece of meat, it will rate better. Meat that feels gummy, crumbly, or mushy will lose rating.
Ease of Chewing - Jerky that doesn't tire the jaws, is easy to eat, will rate better. If I have to use a lot of effort to tear off a strip or bite off a chunk, it will hurt the rating. Jerky already cut into bite sized pieces often works well with me.
Clean Eating - Jerky that makes a big mess on my hands better give me some awesome flavor and chewing or else what's the point of me getting all messy? Otherwise, I love jerky that doesn't leave much residue on my finger or drop bits of meat and seasoning all over me.
Exotic Meats - (boar, elk, deer, alligator, etc) Greater emphasis is placed on how well the jerky takes advantage of the exotic meat. Primarily, does it deliver a lot of the natural meat flavor? Does it emphasize the unique chewing texture of the meat? If not, then a consumer might as well just buy beef.
Dog Treats () - A jerky that's taste bad enough that I can't handle eating it.
Fair () - A jerky that doesn't have much snackability. It still has a decent taste, it's just not great, and is still ok enough that I can handle eating.
Average () - A jerky that has a good deal of snackability. It doesn't necessarily have an outstanding taste, but good enough that I find myself reaching for more and more. For the most part, it's good enough to satisfy a snacking urge.
Good () - A jerky that has a good deal of snackability, but has some qualities that seem to set it above average. It doesn't necessarily have an outstanding taste, but it could have one or more of the following: an excellent meat consistency, or an excellent chewing texture, or a strong natural meat flavor, a strong flavor intensity, or a strong flavor complexity.
Best () - A jerky that has a good deal of snackability, but has an excellent taste, one that gives off a "wow" factor. It could also have a less-than-excellent taste, but does really well with meat consistency, chewing texture, flavor intensity, flavor complexity, strong meat flavors.
Snackability is a term I use to identify how well a jerky satisfies your urge to snack. Snackability is actually the product of several characteristics, it has the largest weight towards the ratings I assign.
A jerky with a moderate to high level of snackability will get no worse than an average rating.
To sum it up, if I find a jerky difficult to resist eating more and more of, it has a good deal of snackability.
A good flavor contributes towards snackability, as does ease in tearing apart a piece, ease in chewing, and even how "clean" a jerky eats.
Clean eating refers to how messy a jerky gets when eating, such as sticky or powdery residue on your fingers and hands, and how many fragments of meat and seasonings fall on your lap. It could also be how much smell remains on your hands. A messy jerky could take some enjoyment away from your snacking.
Finding a lot of chewy connective tissues and sinews in the meat pieces will take some snackability away from a jerky. It subtracts from the chewing enjoyment. Tendon and gristle ruins a lot of chewing enjoyment for me.
A high salt intensity will ruin snackability for me. After so many pieces, my tongue and mouth will feel scorched and I just can't handle eating any more.
Level of Saltiness
Sometimes a jerky is too salty for me to keep eating. I generally prefer jerky with low to medium level of saltiness. I find that salt tends to mask the other flavors. The more salty the jerky, the harder it is to taste the other seasonings and marinades.
A jerky that is too salty for me will lose snackability, and thereby lose rating.
Standing Up to an Advertised Flavor
I take into consideration how well a jerky represents its advertised flavor. That is if a package is labeled as "teriyaki", then I expect to get a good deal of teriyaki flavor, as well as something close to true teriyaki flavor.
A jerky that doesn't live up to its advertised flavor tends to lose some snackability because it doesn't satisfy the particular flavor that you had hoped to enjoy.
Spicy Versus Hot - when I see a jerky advertised as "spicy" I don't necessarily expect it to be "hot". I only expect it to have a strong flavor intensity of other than salty or sweet. But "hot" on the other hand, I do expect to have a strong burn on the mouth.
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