Of all the world’s edible delights, few can rival beef jerky. It’s the meat you can carry in your pocket or leave in your car, the snack that needs no garnish or condiment, the treat you rip apart like prey – channeling your inner timber wolf.
I’ve often wished our family Advent calendar contained little chunks of it behind each door, that strips of it hung in garlands from our tree, and that each holiday fruitcake came with a beef jerky center.
But in all my life, nearly every strip of jerky I’ve ever purchased has come from a gas station, usually in a dusty plastic bag, positioned between the lotto tickets and those hard-boiled eggs floating in a gallon jug of blue juice, sold with those little white packets that warn “Do Not Eat.”
My meat-free friends might want to skip this column, for today I celebrate Lisa Adams, who on Saturday opened a 1,400-square-foot jerky market between Cabela’s and Five Guys in Garner, a dried-meat emporium that offers 200 varieties stored in waist-high barrels. Her store, the only Beef Jerky Outlet in the Triangle, finally elevates this delicacy to the height it deserves – a shelf, for me, only slightly lower than filet mignon.
“Think about it,” Adams said. “It’s really fun to eat. You’re, like, gnawing on it, trying to tear it with your teeth. You’re eating a piece of meat with your hands.”
A king of the snack-meat industry, jerky has seen its sales rise enough to command headlines. Earlier this year, Fortune magazine announced a “dried-meat explosion” and called jerky the new cupcake.
Driven by Atkins, paleo and other diet crazes that appreciate jerky’s low fat content, Fortune reported, the market has widened to include bison jerky for $70 a pound at Dean & DeLuca, the gourmet grocery chain. That puts it several meat classes apart from the Slim Jims once made in Garner before the corporate-giant-that-must-not-be-named unkindly split town.
This Beef Jerky Outlet marks Adams’ second store and one of 50 nationwide, a number that is expected to soon double.
“I love my job,” said Adams, 44, who started out in industrial real estate. “Everybody else has to deal with cranky people. No one’s ever angry with me.”
Inside Adams’ barrels, a jerky dilettante can sample ostrich, pheasant, alligator, buffalo, elk, antelope and wild boar. My Australian friends might want to skip this column, for this is the part where I confess that I ate a strip of jerky made from the noble kangaroo, finding it subtle in flavor without a hint of gaminess.
Jerky in Garner comes flavored with teriyaki, garlic, rum, moonshine, ghost pepper and Carolina Reaper, which earned itself a Guinness World Records mention in 2013 for hottest chili pepper. You can buy a single strip for $2.50 or five for $10. You can mix, match and fill a 2.5-pound bag.
My tradition-minded friends might want to skip this column, for I have written a jerky carol. It has only one verse, which I will print here in the spirit of beefy frivolity: Oh jerky store, oh jerky store, you make me love the jerky more.
I shall also include this cherished passage from “A Christmas Carol,” in which Scrooge throws open his window and calls down to a passing child on Christmas morning:
“Do you know whether they’ve sold the prize jerky that was hanging there – not the little prize jerky: the big one?”
“What, the one as big as me?” returned the boy.
“What a delightful boy!” said Scrooge. “It’s a pleasure to talk to him. Yes, my buck.”
“It’s hanging there now,” replied the boy.
“Is it?” said Scrooge. “Go and buy it.”
For those of you still reading, peace and dried meat be with you.