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A beef treat that won't jerky you around

If you love beef jerky -- the ultimate treat for family outings, sporting events, camping or hiking trips and school lunches -- I'm certain you're not fond of the high price. At the typical supermarket price of $5.99 for 4 ounces, that works out to $24 a pound -- not exactly a cheap treat. Don't even think of paying that! Instead, make your own jerky for less than $3 a pound. You don't need a fancy food dehydrator (although if you have one, get it out).

Start by trimming all visible fat from one pound of very lean beef -- a cheap cut like chuck, round or London broil. Place in the freezer until firm and solid, but not rock hard. Cut across the grain using a sharp knife, making sure the slices are as thin as you can possibly make them -- about 1/8-inch thick. Place the strips in a large, plastic, zip-type plastic bag or a large baking dish.

Prepare one of the marinades below and pour the liquid over the strips. Close the bag tightly or cover the dish with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight or for at least 8 hours, kneading the bag occasionally to distribute the marinade evenly or turning the meat strips if you are using a dish. Preheat the oven to 140 F. Remove the meat from the marinade and place the strips on a cake rack over a cookie sheet in the oven. Make sure they are not touching so that air circulates around each strip. Dry in the closed oven until strips begin to splinter on the edges, from 18 to 24 hours or longer as necessary. Or, if you have a dehydrator, follow the manufacturer's instructions. Cool completely before wrapping lightly with plastic wrap. Jerky will keep in a tightly covered container for two to four weeks.

1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons cracked black pepper, or to taste
1/2 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup teriyaki sauce
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
4 tablespoons liquid smoke flavoring
1/2 cup pineapple juice
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste (optional)

In a small bowl or cup, mix together the onion powder, garlic powder and cracked black pepper. Season the meat lightly, using only part of the mixture. Reserve the remaining spices. Place the seasoned meat into an airtight plastic container or bowl and refrigerate.

In a saucepan over medium heat, mix together the brown sugar, soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, Worcestershire sauce, balsamic vinegar, liquid smoke flavoring and pineapple juice. Heat until the brown sugar has completely dissolved. Pour over the meat, sprinkle with the red pepper flakes if using and follow the cooking instructions above.

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