By Dr. Victor S. Sierpina

I went to the new Texas City Buc-ee’s to check it out now that the opening-day lines had thinned out some.

I decided to get some gas and just meander, not feeling required to check out their world-famous restrooms.

Entering the huge facility, I slowly drifted to the jerky section. The wholesome girl behind the counter, like a cobra mesmerizing a mouse, inquired with a bright smile if I’d like a sample.

Given that there were about 30 different types, I asked which was the best seller. She quickly pointed to the far right of the glassed-in counter.

“Garlic-pepper beef jerky,” she said confidently. After nibbling a square inch of this dried piece of heaven, I was hooked. I winked and, like the Terminator, said, “I’ll be back.”

OK, it is like $32 a pound, but once you have tasted this jerky, you might wish to lease out your second-born child to make margaritas on Tilman Fertitta’s Boardwalk yacht. I shared some with my neighbor, the new mayor.

Jimbo affirmed the quality of the sample of garlic-pepper beef jerky with a major mayoral thumbs-up. His son Bo seconded the motion.

As a Boy Scout, I was proud of how I had to learn to pound some inexpensive round steak into flat pieces, salt and pepper them into strips and dry them in a low-temperature oven.

Though it was usually hot and sunny in Phoenix, where I grew up, hanging your jerky on the clothesline, as did the ancient Apaches, risked blowflies and hungry birds. Covering them with cheesecloth was an option that worked, but oven drying was easier.

By making my own jerky, I felt a manly satisfaction at my pre-adolescent age that I had prepared an endurable trail staple that could help me survive in the desert or mountains during the then-widely expected nuclear holocaust.

Recall that in the era before refrigeration, drying meat was the only way to preserve a valuable source of essential protein.

After killing a half-ton buffalo, a 600-pound elk or even a little 125-pound deer, what do you do with all that meat after a day or two of open fire roasting and tribal feasting?

You had to preserve it in some way.

Drying it was the only real way to keep this meat available for upcoming months of winter and offsetting the risks of starvation and protein deprivation.

But seriously, are there health benefits from eating jerky in our era when food and protein are easily available year round? Here are some.

Jerky is gluten free.

Jerky does not raise your insulin level, as it has a low glycemic index.

Jerky also is low in fat, up to 97 percent fat free.

Jerky is a highly portable and easy-to-grab snack without the usual negative aspects of calorie-loaded snack foods with high carbs and sugar.

Loved by all, jerky might be one of the healthiest non-veggie/non-fruit snack foods out there.

Watch the sodium content, though, as many jerky preparations require a lot of salt, which can be a problem to those of you with hypertension. Anything less than 300mg of sodium per serving is generally considered low.

Salt is a natural preservative for jerky, so it typically comes with the territory.

Many kinds of jerky are available: beef, turkey, bison, ostrich, venison, wild boar, chicken, alligator, emu, kangaroo, crocodile and smoked salmon.

If you don’t believe jerky has wide appeal, just check out online the variety of vegetarian “jerquees.” Nice, even if you don’t eat animal products.

So perhaps you aren’t a Native American needing a reliable source of protein to get through the winter or a way to preserve a huge pile of bison.

You are just a contemporary U.S. citizen (aka new Native American) looking for a snack for TV watching, the road, as a meal substitute or camping food.

Reach for a bag of jerky and, like in all things, use moderation. Jerky is like bacon without the fat and guilt.
Beef Jerky

My home recipe from the Scout book was ultimately simple:

Slice some lightly frozen round steak into thin slices.
Remove all visible fat.
Pound it flat with a meat hammer.
Add salt and pepper to flavor.
Dry out at low temperature, about 160 degrees in the oven. Leave plenty of air space for circulation.
Alternative jerky recipes

I easily found several great recipes online involving more steps, including several types of marinades and unique seasonings, alternate cuts like brisket or turkey, the use of a dehydrator device and storage tips.

Check out

Dr. Victor S. Sierpina is the WD and Laura Nell Nicholson Family Professor of Integrative Medicine and Professor of Family Medicine at UTMB.