Is homemade beef jerky high in calories?

Quick Answer

Homemade beef jerky can be high in calories depending on the cut of meat used and preparation method. On average, a 1 ounce serving of homemade beef jerky contains around 100 calories.

What is beef jerky?

Beef jerky is lean meat that has been trimmed of fat, cut into strips, and dried to prevent spoilage. The drying process removes moisture from the meat, which inhibits bacterial growth and allows it to be stored without refrigeration.

Traditionally, beef jerky was made by salt curing strips of meat and slowly drying or smoking them over low heat. The salt helps remove moisture while also adding flavor. Modern commercial beef jerky may also be made by marinating the meat in a seasoned liquid brine before drying.

There are many different types of meat that can be used to make jerky, including beef, venison, turkey, chicken, and pork. Beef is the most common. Flank steak, round steak, brisket, and sirloin tip are all popular cuts of meat for making beef jerky due to their leanness.

Nutritional content of beef jerky

The nutritional value of beef jerky can vary considerably depending on the cut of meat used, preparation method, and ingredients added.

On average, a 1 ounce serving of beef jerky contains about:

  • Calories: 100
  • Protein: 15 grams
  • Fat: 1.5 grams
  • Carbs: 3 grams

Leaner cuts of beef like eye of round or bottom round will produce a jerky that is lower in fat and calories compared to higher fat options like brisket or ribeye. Using less salt and limiting added sugars during preparation can also help lower the calorie content.

Most of the calories in beef jerky come from the protein content. Protein provides 4 calories per gram, which accounts for 60 of the 100 calories in a typical serving. The remaining calories come from a small amount of fat as well as trace carbs.

Compared to other high protein snacks like Greek yogurt, eggs, or cottage cheese, beef jerky is moderately high in calories. However, it is very low in carbs, making it popular among low carb diets. It provides a very concentrated source of protein in a shelf-stable format.

Calorie content of homemade vs store bought beef jerky

Homemade beef jerky can have a slightly higher calorie content compared to mass produced commercial versions.

This is because homemade beef jerky typically uses less refined preparation methods. Most homemade recipes call for whole muscle meat cuts that are simply seasoned and dried. Very little trimming of fat or connective tissue is done.

Commercial beef jerky operations generally remove all visible fat before slicing the meat uniformly into very thin strips using specialized equipment. This produces a lower fat, lower calorie end product. Mass production techniques also often utilize tenderizers and preservatives to aid in shelf life.

Additionally, some store-bought beef jerky may use a beef jerky “base” made from chopped and formed meat. This allows greater control over fat content.

That being said, the calorie difference between homemade and store-bought is not usually too significant. Here is a general comparison of 1 ounce serving calories:

  • Homemade beef jerky: 100-120 calories
  • Store bought beef jerky: 80-100 calories

So homemade beef jerky may be around 20% higher in calories than commercial versions in a side by side comparison. But both can be considered moderately high calorie density foods.

Does preparation method impact calories?

Yes, the specific preparation method can influence the calorie content to some degree. Here are some preparation factors that affect the calories in beef jerky:

Meat cut

Fattier cuts of meat like brisket, ribeye, or chuck roast will have more calories than leaner round or loin cuts when made into jerky. Trimming off visible fat before drying will lower calories.


Dry curing jerky with salt and seasoning draws out moisture from the meat. This concentrates the protein and calories per ounce. Heavily salted jerky may be slightly higher calorie for the same weight compared to uncured options.


Wet brining involves soaking strips of meat in a seasoned marinade before drying. The moisture retained from brining results in a lower protein to moisture ratio compared to salt cured beef jerky. Brined jerky may be marginally lower in calories.


Smoking infuses flavor and improves preservation but does not significantly alter calorie density. Smoked jerky has calories comparable to oven or dehydrator dried jerky.


Thicker whole muscle jerky strips retain more moisture during drying compared to very thin slices. Thicker homemade jerky may therefore have lower calorie density by weight.

Drying method

The drying method does not substantially change the nutrition of the end product. Oven drying, dehydrator, or smoker dried jerky will all have very similar calorie levels.

Tips for reducing calories in homemade beef jerky

If your goal is to reduce the calorie density of your homemade beef jerky, here are some helpful tips:

  • Start with very lean cuts of beef like eye of round or sirloin tip.
  • Trim all visible fat before slicing.
  • Slice meat across the grain for tender, low fat jerky.
  • Reduce or eliminate added oils, sugars, and salt in marinades.
  • Use a brine rather than dry cure.
  • Cut jerky into thicker strips rather than paper thin slices.
  • Blot off excess marinade before drying.
  • Use an oven or dehydrator instead of heavy smoking.

Following these guidelines can help reduce the calorie content by 20-40% compared to high fat homemade beef jerky recipes.

How does beef jerky compare to other high protein snacks?

Beef jerky contains around 15 grams of protein per ounce serving. Here is how it compares to other popular high protein snacks:

Greek yogurt

Non-fat plain Greek yogurt provides a similar amount of protein as jerky, around 20 grams per 6 ounce serving. However, it has much fewer calories at only 100 compared to 600 calories for 6 ounces of jerky.

Cottage cheese

Low fat cottage cheese has about 15 grams of protein per half cup. It also has fewer calories than beef jerky at around 110 calories per serving.

Protein bars

Protein bars vary widely in nutrients. But on average, a 2 ounce bar has 10-15 grams of protein and 200 calories. So jerky has slightly higher protein but also twice the calories.

Protein powder

Whey and plant based protein powders contain 20-30 grams of protein per scoop of 120 calories. Protein powder offers more protein for fewer calories compared to jerky.


One large boiled egg has about 6 grams of protein for 70 calories. Jerky provides more protein per calorie.


Shelled edamame beans contain around 10 grams protein per half cup serving. They have fewer calories than jerky at about 120 per serving.

So in summary, beef jerky provides a high concentration of protein but also relatively high calorie density compared to other popular high protein snacks. Options like Greek yogurt and protein powder may offer more protein per calorie.

Should you eat beef jerky on a diet?

Beef jerky can be included as part of a healthy diet in moderation. Here are some benefits as well as drawbacks to consider:


  • Convenient, portable source of protein
  • Very low carb
  • No refrigeration required
  • Long shelf life
  • Nutrient dense

The high protein and low carb content makes jerky a useful snack for low carb diets or pre/post workout nutrition. It’s also very convenient to pack for hiking, camping, or travel when refrigerator access is limited.


  • High sodium content if overly cured
  • Can be expensive compared to other protein sources
  • Tough texture may not satisfy cravings
  • High calorie density

Sodium can add up quickly if consuming multiple servings of cured jerky. The high calories may also make it hard to stick to a calorie deficit. For some, the chewy texture offers little satisfaction compared to cookies, chips, etc.

Overall, enjoying homemade beef jerky in moderation can fit into a balanced diet. Limit to 1-2 ounces a day as a high protein snack. Be sure to account for the calories if trying to manage your weight. And drink plenty of water to offset the sodium content.

Healthy beef jerky recipe (low calorie)

Want to make your own lean, low cal beef jerky at home? Here is a healthy recipe to try:


  • 1 pound beef eye of round, very thinly sliced
  • 2 tbsp low sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper


  1. Trim all visible fat from the eye of round and slice across the grain into 1/4 inch thick strips.
  2. Whisk together the soy sauce, Worcestershire, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, and black pepper in a bowl.
  3. Add the sliced beef to the marinade and mix well to coat evenly. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours up to overnight.
  4. Remove beef from marinade and pat dry with paper towels. Discard leftover marinade.
  5. Arrange strips of meat in a single layer on dehydrator racks or oven racks. Make sure air can circulate freely around each piece.
  6. Dehydrate at 155°F for 4-6 hours, flipping halfway through. Or bake in oven on lowest setting for 4-6 hours with oven door propped open, rotating racks halfway.
  7. Jerky is done when slices are darkened and dried, but still slightly pliable. Cool completely before storing.
  8. Refrigerate up to 2 weeks or freeze for longer term storage. Enjoy as a protein packed snack!

Making your beef jerky with a lean cut like eye of round, minimal added salt and sugar, and an effective drying method will produce a protein-dense, low calorie homemade snack.

The bottom line

Homemade beef jerky can certainly be high in calories if using fatty cuts of meat and calorie-rich marinades. However, with some simple preparation adjustments, it is possible to make lower calorie versions that still deliver on protein. Moderating portion sizes is also important when snacking on jerky.

While not the absolute lowest calorie source of protein, beef jerky can fit into a healthy diet in moderation. It provides a tasty, nutritious, and convenient protein boost for many lifestyles and diets.

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