Ratings Criteria

How I rank jerky...

Dog Treats () - A jerky that 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 hits several of the Jerky Characteristics listed below.

Best () - A jerky that has a good deal of snackability, but has an excellent taste, one that gives off a "wow" factor. It hits on 8 or more of the Jerky Characteristics below.

Jerky Characteristics

  • Snackability - (see below) - 50% of my evaluation is weighted on this one characteristic. This is how well a jerky satisfies my craving for dried, marinated meat. Do I feel like putting more of your meat into my mouth? If yes, this jerky will rank at least 3 stars.
  • Advertised Claims - If this jerky doesn't deliver its advertised claims, it will not receive a 5-star rating, no matter how awesome it is. If the package says "hot" then I expect it to be HOT, not just a little hot, but significant hot. The same with other marketed or labeled words like "Garlic", "Teriyaki", "Sweet", "Smoked", etc.  A jerky advertised as, "Cherry Teriyaki" might have an excellent flavor and chewing, but if doesn't have a clearly identifiable cherry flavor, it will never rate 5 stars. 
  • 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. It's not enough to just have a variety of ingredients. If I can't taste those ingredients, then I don't consider it to have a complex flavor.
  • 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, pan-fried steak, roasted beef, as long as it has a fresh flavor.  Some marbleized flavor is good. If a jerky has little to no natural meat flavor, then it needs a lot of Flavor Complexity to help it rate well.
  • Lively Flavor - I love jerky that makes my tastes buds come alive. This is usually a tangy flavor, like fruit, vinegar, or even a sour, pungent component like ginger, lemongrass. Adding bits of chopped garlic (instead of powdered) where I get a burst of flavor when I chew into a bit, creates a lot of liveliness. Alcohol-infused marinades, such as bourbon, can make a jerky taste "alive". 
  • Real Wood Smoked - I love, love, love, the flavor of real wood smoked meats. Even though many jerky manufacturers will argue that liquid smoke is still made from real wood smoke, the fact is that meat smoked over burning wood chips still has a more superior smoke flavor. A jerky with a very ordinary recipe can still rate 5 stars with me just for having a real wood smoke flavor done right.
  • Creativity - Unusual flavor ideas that are able to deliver on its advertised claims are more likely to rate high with me. On the flip side, stalwart recipes like, "teriyaki" or "peppered" are so common, that they're going to need an amazing recipe and chewing texture to help it rate high (and I've tried hundreds of these recipes so far).
  • Lightly Salted - I prefer lightly salted jerky. If it tastes too salty, it will lose ratings with me. Heavily salty jerky wears out my taste buds and leaves my tongue feeling parched. Ultimately, it results in a loss of snackability.
  • 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. Meat with an fair amount of stringiness will hurt ratings, as will meat with unchewable tissues.
  • 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 will rate better.  If I have to use a lot of effort to tear off a strip or bite off a chunk, it better have an awesome flavor and chewing texture.
  • Clean Handling - Jerky that makes a big mess on my hands, or leaves a bad smell on my fingers, also needs an awesome flavor and chewing texture, or else what's the point of eating it?

Exotic Meats

Applies to wild boar, elk, deer, bison, tuna, alligator, ostrich, and another animals. Does not apply to turkey, chicken, or domestic pork. This also applies only to 100% exotic meat jerky, and not beef-blended jerky (see last paragraph).

I place greater emphasis on how well the jerky delivers natural meat flavor, chewing texture, and meat consistency, and less emphasis on recipe.

Because people buy exotic meat jerky for the meat itself, they want to experience the natural flavors and chewing texture associated with that animal. If a venison jerky has too much soy sauce that you can't taste the meat flavor, it loses snackability. If a wild boar jerky has so much sugar and tenderizers that it chews like a Fruit Roll-Up, it loses snackability.

And because exotic meat jerky is typically priced higher than beef jerky, the consumer feels disappointed if they can't get any of the unique characteristics of that animal meat.

Beef blended jerky will be reviewed as beef jerky, but only if the package clearly states, in a conspicuous place where the consumer can easily see it, that it's blended with beef. If the words "beef blended" or "blended with beef" is not easy to find, minimized, or is limited to the ingredients list, it will be reviewed as an exotic meat jerky, and thereby subjected to the above criteria.

Vegan Jerky

Yes, I review vegan jerky. I've already reviewed many brands, (look here).

My criteria on vegan jerky is largely similar to that above for beef jerky and exotic meat jerky. I prefer vegan jerky snacks meant to exemplify the goodness of their ingredients, and not so much to emulate meat.

Keep in mind, I am not a vegan, and have not developed a palate for many of the soy-based meat alternatives out there. If I think it tastes awful, then it will rate as such. But also keep in mind that I am half-Japanese, and I was raised on a lot of soy-based foods and snacks and know how good they can taste. I'm very open-minded with jerky snacks made from vegan ingredients, as long as they exemplify the characteristics of those ingredients.

However, if a vegan jerky brand appears to market itself as a meat alternative (Tofurky, Primal Strips, et al), then I will review it based on well it tastes and chews like meat.


Snackability is a term I use to identify how well a jerky satisfies your urge to chew dried, marinated meat. In short, does this jerky please you and make you want to eat more?

Snackability has the largest weight in my ratings because jerky is snack food and should thereby deliver its job when someone has an urge to snack.

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.

Snackability can come from a good recipe, easy chewing, steak-like texture, a natural meat flavor, or any of the Jerky Characteristics I defined above. Even clean handling can create snackability.

Clean handling 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. Too much mess and smell on your fingers may cause you to lose desire for this particular brand of jerky if that jerky can't deliver on the other characteristics.

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.

A jerky that doesn't deliver its advertised claims can lose snackability. For example, if a hot chile pepper fanatic bought a bag of habanero jerky that claimed to be "hot", yet only delivered a watered-down heat, then that person becomes disappointed in their purchase.


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