Beef jerky costs anywhere from $2.40 to almost $3.00 per ounce. Consequently, this meaty snack is far pricier than chocolate, chips, and cookies. But why is beef jerky so expensive?
The primary reason beef jerky is so expensive is the exorbitant cost of high-quality beef. However, weight loss during the dehydration process, intensive labor requirements, and consistent consumer demand also contribute to the high price of beef jerky.
In this guide, we’ll explore why beef jerky is one of the most expensive snacks. When you’re familiar with the factors that contribute to the high price of beef jerky, you might find yourself a little more willing to spend a few extra bucks on a bag of the stuff!
Why Is Beef Jerky So Expensive?
- Raw Beef Is Expensive
- Dried Beef Weighs Less Than Raw Beef
- Beef Jerky Is Seasoned With Expensive Spices
- Creating Beef Jerky Is a Labor-Intensive Process
- Dehydrating and Smoking Beef Takes Time
- Packaging Can Be Pricey
- Production Facility Insurance Isn’t Cheap
- Shipping Costs Are Often High
- Beef Jerky Is in High Demand
- High-Quality Ingredients Raise Prices
10. High-Quality Ingredients Raise Prices
Not all beef jerky is equally priced. While you can find bags of handcrafted jerky for as much as $30 per 10-ounce bag, you can also find similarly-sized bags for less than $14.
The price difference often comes down to ingredient quality. For example, lower-quality beef cuts aren’t nearly as expensive as high-quality cuts, and beef jerky made using minimal spices typically has a lower price tag.
Top round steak (also called London Broil) is one of the cheapest types of beef, with an average price-per-pound of between $6 and $8. However, this cut is incredibly tough and chewy, making it one of the least desirable types of beef.
Compare this to striploin, one of the most tender beef cuts, which enjoys an average price-per-pound of about $16 or more! In short, higher-quality meat used to create beef jerky results in an expensive final product.
But premium-grade ingredients aren’t the only things that influence beef jerky prices. The law of supply and demand also impacts cost.
9. Beef Jerky Is in High Demand
Preparing and cooking a slab of raw beef is bound to be a time-consuming process that could result in overcooked, unappetizing bits of meat. And if you’re not careful, that slab of fresh beef can quickly spoil before you have a chance to cook it.
But a package of beef jerky isn’t likely to spoil if left in your fridge for more than a few days, and it doesn’t require any consumer preparation. For these reasons, it’s a convenient alternative source of beef that’s often more popular and more accessible than fresh cuts.
As such, it’s no surprise that beef jerky is a popular (albeit expensive) snack food. Like the most expensive edible fish, beef jerky is a protein-rich alternative to carb-heavy snacks like potato chips.
For example, more than 120 million Americans enjoyed beef jerky in 2017. That number is likely to continue rising as consumers demand easy-to-eat, protein-rich foods grows.
8. Shipping Costs Are Often High
Global supply chains have never been in worse shape, in no small part due to labor shortages stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. A lack of truck drivers, cargo ship employees, and other crucial shipping workers have made shipping products more expensive than ever before.
Though a single bag of beef jerky might be lightweight and seemingly easy to transport, it’s essential to remember that jerky isn’t transported bag-by-bag. Instead, bags are typically housed in massive boxes, which themselves are grouped into several-ton parcels that require heavy machinery to lift and move.
Transporting these hefty supplies requires time, energy, and a capable workforce. But all of these things have been sorely lacking over the last several years, resulting in higher shipping costs for nearly all products, including beef jerky.
7. Production Facility Insurance Isn’t Cheap
Production facility insurance, also called manufacturing facility insurance, also contributes to the comparatively high cost of beef jerky. After all, meat processing and curing facilities are rife with potential dangers, and beef jerky producers must protect their employees from potential mishaps.
In addition to upgraded safety equipment and procedures, production facility owners often invest in insurance policies. These policies typically cover manufacturing equipment, employee accidents, and consumer illnesses related to products.
In short, a manufacturing facility insurance policy protects beef jerky producers from losing hefty profits if something goes wrong. However, such a policy doesn’t come cheap.
Small business owners might be able to secure a policy for about $30 per month. But more prominent manufacturers typically spend more than $1,000 each year on production facility insurance.
Unfortunately, the only way to recoup these costs is to raise product prices. And in addition to insurance costs, packaging expenses can also raise beef jerky prices.
6. Packaging Can Be Pricey
Have you ever noticed that tiny packet of silicone inside your bag of beef jerky? If so, you’ve likely wondered why an inedible substance was hanging out with tasty strips of dehydrated beef. The answer is preservation.
Though beef jerky undergoes a thorough curing and drying process, there’s still a chance of spoilage during the transport process. After all, the plastic resealable bags often used to ship and store beef jerky aren’t infallible.
These bags can rip and tear or form small holes, allowing air to flood into the bag. Depending on the humidity of the bags’ environments, this air can cause the jerky to become moldy and rotten.
The tiny silicone packets added to these bags help counteract high-humidity conditions by absorbing additional moisture. Many manufacturers also invest in upgraded packaging with anti-tear properties and sealed zipper tops.
But when more care is taken to keep beef jerky shelf-stable, the packaging becomes more expensive. Unfortunately, consumers pay for this elevated level of protection.
5. Dehydrating and Smoking Beef Takes Time
Depending on the thickness of a piece of beef, it could take between 7 and 24 hours to dehydrate fully. And this time frame reflects ideal drying conditions!
For example, meat hanging to dry inside a dehydration chamber must be spaced out to allow the moisture inside the tissue to evaporate away. An overstuff drying rack is a surefire way to extend the drying process by several hours or days.
Consequently, beef jerky manufacturers must invest in massive, several-story drying machines to handle hundreds of pounds of meat or restrict their jerky output. Either option generates a high cost.
Giant dehydrators easily cost thousands of dollars and can be challenging (and costly) to maintain. But the alternative, drying small batches of beef, can restrict product output, lower profits, and potentially endanger the success of the jerky-producing company.
Finding a middle ground between these extremes is one of the most significant challenges beef jerky producers face, and either option leads to elevated prices.
4. Creating Beef Jerky Is a Labor-Intensive Process
Creating delicious, high-quality beef jerky isn’t as simple as letting some beef dry out then coating it in savory spices. As we mentioned above, dehydrating and smoking beef strips takes several hours, if not days.
However, the dehydration and smoking process is just a portion of the beef jerky production process. Altogether, converting raw beef into tasty beef jerky consists of six integral steps:
Some types of jerky skip the smoking process, opting instead to coat the beef strips in a liquid smoke solution. Still, the time and energy required to transform raw bits of beef into dried strips of jerky are considerable.
For example, the slicing process (also called the preparation phase) includes removing all fat from the beef pieces. This task can be incredibly challenging, as some types of beef are dotted with delicate globules of fat found throughout the muscle tissue.
But leaving the fat intact can cause the jerky to spoil, which is why it’s crucial to remove it before the curing process. Connective tissue, like ligaments, is also removed during the preparation process.
The second stage, the curing phase, is equally tedious, as the meat chunks need to sit in the curing liquid for a specific period. If the meat doesn’t sit for long enough, it won’t cure properly, making it more susceptible to bacterial growth.
Alternatively, if it sits for too long in the curing solution, it can begin to degrade and rot. Finding the perfect in-between can be tricky and often requires constant monitoring.
3. Beef Jerky Is Seasoned With Expensive Spices
Though some types of beef jerky aren’t coated in spices, most varieties are flavored with sugar, garlic, and paprika. Some of these spices can be pretty expensive, contributing to beef jerky’s comparatively high price.
For example, beef jerky flavored with saffron is often far pricier than plain beef jerky, as saffron is one of the most expensive spices in the world.
Some common spices that increase beef jerky price include:
- Brown sugar
- Worcestershire sauce
- Soy sauce
- Teriyaki sauce
Still, liquid smoke might be the costliest ingredient used to create beef jerky. Liquid smoke (a smoke-infused sauce) costs about $10 per 16 ounces, sometimes more.
Most beef jerky recipes call for one ounce of liquid smoke per two pounds of raw beef, which means you’d need almost an entire bottle to produce a single 10-ounce bag of beef jerky.
Naturally, the addition of other spices and flavorings only makes things pricier. So, the next time you feel like lamenting about the high price of beef jerky, take a peek at its ingredients list. More than likely, you’ll find that jerkies with a long list of ingredients also feature an elevated price.
2. Dried Beef Weighs Less Than Raw Beef
During the beef jerky drying and smoking process, the hunk of raw beef you start with goes through several physical changes. One of the most noticeable of these changes is shrinking.
Transforming raw beef into beef jerky can cause your initial portion to shrink by up to 66%. Consequently, a $22 six-ounce piece of high-quality meat can wither into a sliver that weighs less than four ounces.
This weight reduction is the result of water loss. After all, raw muscle tissue is typically 75% water. Because beef jerky endures a long dehydration process, it loses nearly all its water weight.
In other terms, a standard-sized ten-ounce snack bag of beef jerky was once 20 to 30 ounces of raw beef. So essentially, when you buy a bag of beef jerky, you’re buying up to three times its weight in raw meat.
Considering how expensive premium-quality meat is, a higher jerky price must compensate for this weight reduction. When you think about how much beef it takes to produce a single bag of jerky, it’s surprising that beef jerky isn’t more expensive!
1. Raw Beef Is Expensive
Though all of the factors we mentioned above contribute to the high price of beef jerky, the average cost of raw beef might be the most significant reason beef jerky is so expensive. After all, high-quality beef can cost anywhere between $58 and $114 per pound!
Generally, beef is more expensive than other types of meat, including pork, turkey, and chicken. Some of the priciest slivers of beef jerky come from USDA Angus, though you can also find gourmet jerky that comes from notoriously expensive Wagyu cattle.
Luxury-grade beef commands a high price, as grass-fed, free-range cows require a higher level of care than those raised in cramped conditions on low-quality feed. This higher labor cost translates into costly beef cuts.
Additionally, some types of beef are exceptionally rare, a factor that also influences the staggering price of the most expensive steak cuts. However, supply chain interruptions and the high cost of refrigerated transport also impact beef jerky prices.
Until food scientists can produce a low-cost, plant-based beef alternative, the mouthwatering dried beef strips we know and love will likely continue to command comparatively high prices.
Enjoy the Most Delicious Beef Jerky
Are you a fan of the mouthwatering taste of smoked beef jerky? If so, you’ve likely found yourself wondering, “Why is beef jerky so expensive?”
The answer is somewhat complex, as there are several reasons why a package of beef jerky costs more than a similarly-sized bag of potato chips, candy, or cookies. Still, the high price of high-quality beef might be the most crucial factor influencing prices.
If you’d like to learn more about the world’s most expensive foods, be sure to check out these related articles today!