Beef jerky — from Slim Jim to Jack Link's, it's sold at the cashier of every convenience store, gas station, and rest stop you've ever entered. Meat sticks in flashy packaging and vacuum-sealed bags of dry, hard, teeth-wrenching beef that without Macho Man Randy Savage screaming "Snap into a Slim Jim," wouldn't seem to have much going for them. Sure, jerky has served humanity well. It's light, convenient, resistant to spoiling, and a great source of nutrition. But the stuff you see at the convenience store isn't exactly known for being dynamic. Still, there's a world of quirky jerky out there beyond run-of-the-mill gas station fare.
What on Earth is quirky jerky? Different types of meat besides beef and bison for one. Did you know you can find turkey jerky? Fish jerky? Rabbit? It's true. And flavors that go beyond teriyaki. Since the invention of the process, making jerky has involved the heavy use of spice to help mask and improve its flavor. But the use of heat has been taken to a new level.
Slim Jim has a "Dare" campaign with ad copy that plays off fascination with heat: "Treat your Spice Loss symptoms at the Slim Jim Pharmacy. Here you'll find a range of man-medicine to cure your most embarrassing manmergencies." They do three levels of spicy jerky (Kinda Hot Chili Pepper, Freakin' Hot Jalapeno, and Really Freakin' Hot Habanero) with commercials full of men eating jerky to salvage their masculinity. And they're not the only ones doing quirky jerky commercials. Jack Link's Messin' with Sasquatch commercials feature bizarre situations where people who stand around eating jerky taunt a Sasquatch with some disastrous results, including dismemberment.
Another flavoring approach involves the use of unconventional marinades on conventional beef jerky. Guarana- and caffeine-marinated jerky for extra energy (Perky Jerky)? Soda as meat marinade? Yup, there's a surprisingly good Dr Pepper beef jerky. There are international approaches to jerky you may not be familiar with: Chinatown beef jerky, South African jerky, Italian, and Ethiopian jerky. There's upscale beef jerky, gourmet jerky, and jerky that's been shredded to resemble chewing tobacco, and of course, there's the exotic jerky market — jerkies made with wild boar, ostrich, and alligator. Check them out in this slideshow.