Whether you're doing it by hobby or profession, making jerky is fun. There are several ways to prepare jerky, but using a pistol-style pump gun is by far the easiest and most efficient method. If you're looking for the best jerky gun, it doesn't get any better than The Judge by JerkySpot. We compared 18 different jerky guns on their quality, capacity, ease of use, and long-term durability, and The Judge topped the charts thanks to its commercial-grade aluminum barrel and massive 2.7 pounds of meat space. Article Summary
Jerky, or dried meat, has been a staple food in America since settlers started forging their way West. Jerky’s origins lie in Peru, where it was spotted as early as the 1500’s, but it became the staple it is today through introduction by Native Americans. Using salt to cure and store meat while traveling had been common practice for some time, but the additional process of drying the meat to store for longer periods of time was new to settlers. As you’re probably aware, jerky is still widely eaten today as a super convenient snack that can be stored anywhere for extended periods of time.
The process of making jerky includes processing various kinds of meat (any kind of meat will do, but different fat contents produce different textures), then drying it. The most popular type of meat to use is beef, but there are also turkey and buffalo varieties widely available. Jerky can be picked up in pretty much any grocery store, but many jerky enthusiasts have taken to making it at home. Making jerky is easy enough to get into, and a relatively inexpensive hobby, with several starter kits available between $50-$150 that will last you until you desire to expand, if that desire arises.
One of the most efficient ways to make jerky is through the use of a device called a jerky gun. A jerky gun works pretty much exactly like a caulk gun, or a pastry bag – just with meat instead of caulk or frosting. If you’re new to the craft of jerky making, choosing the best jerky gun can be a little confusing. At first glance, most of these meat guns appear to made equally, but there are a few intricacies that set them apart, including meat capacity, barrel material, and overall ease of use. We spent a little over three days researching almost 20 different models, and after some serious compare and contrast, we believe the three jerky guns below are the best for quality, consistent results.
Jerky Works Kit
The best jerky gun overall
As far as jerky guns go, you can’t do much better than The Judge by JerkySpot. This gun is the top-of-the-line, best-of-the-best jerky gun. This gun has gained a massive online following in the jerky world due to its quality, value and sheer size. If you’re looking for something easy to use to crank out some serious amounts of jerky, look no further than this gem.
The Judge is highly coveted among jerky enthusiasts for two main reasons: durability and capacity. First, let’s talk about durability. Jerky guns are typically rather fragile, made from plastic materials or other weak construction that is known to have a short lifespan. With a full-metal aluminum and stainless steel build, The Judge is at the same level of quality and durability you’d find in a commercial cook setting. In addition, having a gun that can perform for long periods of time, or after being in storage for a long time is a huge long-term advantage.
In terms of capacity, The Judge comes with not one but two barrels, each with 2.7lb capacities. For comparison, the normal, run-of-the-mill jerky gun has a single-barrel 1lb capacity, so each barrel holds nearly three times the normal amount. The larger capacity and the extra barrel are beneficial because they take out the hassle of refilling an empty jerky gun, which can be a messy and time-consuming ordeal. Not only does a single barrel of The Judge hold a larger amount of meat (allowing you to make more jerky with less refills), the second barrel can be immediately screwed on for your next batch.
With The Judge jerky gun, you’ll also get two different types (one for making sticks, the other for making strips) as well as a wire cleaning brush. If you’ve ever used a jerky gun before, you’ll know that cleanup of these tools can be a real pain because it’s hard to get your hands inside the barrel for thorough washing. The wire brush makes each barrel a breeze to clean, another reason why this gun was our top pick.
Considering how many benefits this jerky gun has over other models, you’d think the price would be significantly higher. Fortunately, The Judge is priced very reasonably, with a solid product guarantee from JerkySpot to back it up. If you’re looking for serious output and an easy cleanup process, this is the best jerky gun around.
A good (but smaller) runner-up
The LEM Jerky Cannon shares quite a few similarities to our top pick, but falls short in a few key categories we’re looking for in a top-notch jerky gun. With that said, LEM Products is a very respected company that specialized in meat-style products from grinders to appliances, so this is definitely a quality second choice if for some reason you weren’t impressed by The Judge
The LEM jerky gun boasts a commercial-grade aluminum barrel just like our top pick, but unfortunately it is outclassed in terms of capacity. The Judge features twin tubes with 2.7lb capacities on both, equaling 5.4lbs total of jerky-shooting power. The LEM has a single barrel with a 1.5lb capacity. Although this is slightly over the market average of 1lb, it is still less than half of our top pick by a full pound, which is a major amount when you consider the work required to use each gun.
Another main drawback of this gun is the price point. Although significantly lower in performance than our top pick, it is nearly the exact same price. For the features, you would expect a price point closer to the price for the average, industry-standard jerky guns: around $20-30. Although this is a high price point, relatively, the body’s sturdy construction and overall value make this jerky gun still a good deal for those looking for a bit more versatility in the way of tip shapes.
However, despite what the LEM lacks, it makes up for by offering a few delicious extras: seasoning packets! In addition to two steel nozzles for different jerky styles, LEM also includes two bags of their premium Backwoods seasoning. LEM’s seasoning is well-known for its flavor, so this is nice in getting you started on your first batch of jerky. Just like The Judge, there is also a wire brush for simple cleaning of the barrel when you’re done, as well as an instructions manual for getting your first batch ready.
The LEM Cannon may not be our number one pick as best jerky gun, but it is definitely deserving of its runner up placing on our list. The combination of versatility, durability and ease of use make the LEM Jerky Cannon a great value, even at its not-so-generous price point.
The best bang for your buck
As far as cornering a niche brand goes, only a few brands have done as good of a job as Nesco with beef jerky home manufacturing. With a wide range of dehydrators, jerky guns, jerky seasonings and other kits, Nesco has a huge presence in the jerky market, and is known and trusted by most jerky enthusiasts. Nesco’s BJX-5 jerky making kit is a popular way to break into the jerky world with a low price point, as this jerky gun is best-suited for novices or people looking to dip their toes in the water with making jerky.
The Nesco jerky gun is a staple product in the market for newbies or occasional hobbyists, and it is also a great product in its own light, which is why it made the 2nd runner up spot on our list. The Nesco BJX-5 features a stainless steel trigger, light construction, a barrel with a 1lb capacity and 3 tips, which allow you to make wide strips, thin double strips or sticks. The kit included with the gun also includes 5 seasoning packets and 5 curing packets to get you started on the road to delicious jerky.
These product, however, has some pretty serious drawbacks when compared to our top 2. Instead of the 5.4lbs or 1.5lbs capacities of our top picks, this jerky gun has the industry standard 1lb capacity. The other major hit this jerky gun takes is on quality. The Judge features a durable metal construction with metal barrels, and the LEM Cannon features a semi-plastic body with mostly metal parts. The Nesco, on the other hand, features an almost entirely plastic construction with plastic barrels. The most common complaint of this product is that of longevity and overall durability.
Despite the negative aspects of this gun, it sits at a pretty low price point (less than half of our top 2); and, if you’re looking to dabble in jerky but aren’t looking for a long-term commitment, this can be a great way to test it out and see if the jerky life is for you. If you’re not necessarily looking for the absolute best jerky gun overall, but instead something just to get you started in home jerky making, the Nesco BJX-5 kit is a great bang for your buck.
Other jerky guns worth mentioning
Now that we’ve established which models we believe are the best jerky guns, we’ll mention a few products that were great values, but for one reason or another didn’t make our top three list. These products fell short in important areas, but were good products overall.
First on the list, LEM makes another jerky gun simply named: The Jerky Gun. This is a great starter gun for those who won’t be making much jerky, but there were several reasons it did not earn a spot in our guide. Although the body of this jerky gun is exceptional in quality, its barrel is made of plastic, which is known to lack durability. Also, another drawback of the gun is probably its capacity. This gun only holds 3/4lb of meat. If you’re making a large batch of jerky, the constant refiling of a gun with this small capacity can be a huge pain, and make the process a lot more slow-going.
For an entry level gun, the Oster Beef Jerky Kit is similar in design to our third pick (Nesco), but unfortunately it is a bit less durably constructed. Although this gun has a standard capacity and 3 tips, giving you a bit of versatility, this gun has been reported to break down relatively quickly after heavy use. The only metal components are the plunger, the tips and the trigger, making the body and barrel susceptible to cracks and breaks.
Why jerky guns are better than other methods of making jerky
Using a jerky gun isn’t the only way to make jerky. However, using a jerky gun is the preferred method of making jerky among enthusiasts because it is far and wide the easiest and most efficient. Without the best jerky gun, making jerky is quite a bit more complicated, and can be a lot more varied, especially for a beginner.
One of the most difficult processes in making jerky, aside from achieving the right flavor, is the preparation for drying, either before or after the meat has been seasoned. Whichever meat you’re using must be sectioned before drying, whether by slicing the meat, cutting it apart with kitchen shears, tearing it apart with your hands; or, in our case, using a jerky gun. Every method besides using a jerky gun, in unpracticed hands, will result in inconsistencies. Some inconsistency is fine, it’s actually part of what characterizes jerky, but different pieces of meat with varying thickness will not dry evenly, and thus will produce jerky of varying quality.
Using a jerky gun eliminates bad cuts and other mishaps while preparing the meat to be dried. The ability to season and process the meat, then quickly and easily shoot it out into equal sizes will ensure that you have evenly cooked jerky every time. By using a jerky gun, you’ll not only guarantee perfectly sized strips, sticks or sheets, you’ll incur less mess. Also, using a jerky gun is a huge time saver, as slicing or cutting meet, especially if preparing a large amount, can take a very long time. With the jerky gun you simply process your meat, load it up and fire away onto whichever surface you’re going to dry the meat on.
How to make jerky with a jerky gun
Making jerky is a hobby that many people get into at some point – it’s a great way to make a tasty snack and learn more about food and meat preparation. However, the actual process of making it is a mystery to most people. Since the times of drying racks and scraping the meat with sharpened flint have long-since passed, what is the modern way to make jerky? The actual production of jerky lies in 3 steps: prepare, marinade and dry. Let’s go through the process step-by-step, with the inclusion of using a jerky gun for efficiency and speed.
Whichever meat product you decide to use, it first needs to be prepared for grinding and drying. The first step of preparation is to trim all of the fat that you can off of the meat – fat is bad for jerky because it decreases its longevity. After the fat is removed, the meat can be ground. You can either grind your meat in a meat grinder, if you have one, or a food processor. Once the meat is ground, it can be seasoned and prepared for the next step:
The drying process is going to add a complexity to the flavor of the meat, but it’s also going to suck a lot of flavor it, which is why you need to marinate the meat. Popular marinades include those made with soy sauce, vinegar, beer, brown sugar, turmeric, etc. Experiment with different marinades to find one you like. After your meat has marinated for a good amount of time (4-24 hours is recommended), it’s on to the next step.
Pack your seasoned, marinated meat into the jerky gun, then squeeze out segments of the desired shape onto your rack(s). You can either use a specially designed jerky rack compatible with a jerky drying kit, or simply use a regular grated rack in an oven or smoker. Drying is a process that takes several hours, so don’t expect to have instant jerky. It’s normal for the drying process to take anywhere from 3-9 hours. Once drying concludes, congratulations! The jerky is done and ready for sharing – or eating it all yourself.
Other accessories you’ll need to get started
Using the best jerky gun is a fantastic tool, and it makes one of the steps of making jerky a whole lot easier. However, the other steps can also be streamlined with a few simple tools. The steps themselves aren’t intrinsically difficult, and a jerky gun is enough to make the process manageable for the everyday hobbyist, but why not improve where there’s room?
The first accessory that is a must-have for jerky makers, especially if you’re planning on making jerky often, is a dehydrator. Dehydrators are convenient ways to dry your jerky. Often tower-shaped, these devices hold several racks of jerky. Dehydrators work by heating themselves and the space the racks of jerky are held in to a consistent temperature and blowing the air around with an electric fan. This is a very efficient way of heating the jerky consistently to ensure even drying. Check out this method for making jerky in a dehydrator.
A meat grinder
Next, if you don’t already have one, a meat grinder is a fantastic tool to have in the kitchen. Not only does a meat grounder allow you to customize the size of the grind on your meat, it allows you to precisely dictate the content of the end product. If you buy a pound of ground beef at the store, it likely won’t be the same quality as if you had bought some cheap beef and ground it yourself, especially if you want to add in different kinds of meat.
Wrapping it up
Making jerky is a fun way to engage in a new hobby – a new hobby that produces snacks. Jerky is also a relatively healthy snack for those not opposed to eating meat. Although it is a time-consuming process, many people make jerky in their homes for themselves and their families and friends. Each of the steps of making jerky require thought and effort, but using a jerky gun is a great way to cut down on time and increase the quality of the finished product. We believe The Judge is the best jerky gun out there. What are your thoughts?