Jerky: The Original Road Trip Food

Who hasn't guiltily grabbed a long stick of jerky at 7-Eleven when on a road trip? The meat, the salt —  it's sodium heaven.

But goose jerky? Kangaroo?

Driving up highway from Santa Fe to Taos, N.M., you will notice Native Americans in roadside shacks selling elk jerky like kids peddling lemonade, with signs that read,  "ELK JERKY $2."

At the White House Store at Smith Mountain Lake in Huddleston, Va., local deer hunters in camouflage stand chatting by their mud-encrusted pick-ups with dead deer in the beds of the trucks. Inside, they come to purchase venison jerky, only to notice alligator there as well, an enticing alternative. 

The Incans called it ch'arki and Native Americans called buffalo jerky pemmican, according to Having a source of self-preserving meat that didn't have to be consumed immediately was paramount for explorers and trappers. In truth, jerky was invented for the original traveler, a standby food that would not rot over monthlong treks.

This dried meat delicacy is made relatively easily. All you need is meat, salt, spices, some marinating, a dehydrator or oven, and a dry place to cure it — removing the fat and moisture in these lean strips means you're left with mostly protein. The worst jerky, like any food, is the one that uses the most preservatives, although we all know how good preservatives taste.

It seems like you can make jerky by salting just about any meat, but beyond your convenience store Slim Jim, the sodium-nitrite, steroids equivalent of beef jerky, where do you have to travel to find a good chunk?  

In truth, when traveling through hunter country of most states is when you will find the best dried meat, usually in the local convenience stores where you see a lot of trucks with gun racks. Upstate New York near the Adirondacks, the Idaho panhandle, southern Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, and Taos, N.M., rate as the best places where you can pretty much walk into any small shop and start noshing on local jerkies. 

There are many websites where you can buy it now, but that sort of takes the fun out of stopping in the middle of nowhere on your cross-country road trip, buying some snacks, and seeing a strip of meat that was probably made just down the road by a hunter who killed it himself. 

When you get home, try making some of your own. The only the thing to figure out now is whether use boar, turkey, goose, kangaroo, or alligator.  

For the moment, try these places then venture out from them. Otherwise, your best bet is to talk to your local hunters who usually make it and dry it themselves:

White House Store, Huddleston, Va.–With Smith Mountain Lake just a few miles away and the Peaks of Otter in the distance, this is deer country, and you see them everywhere at night. Hunters abound and they love their jerky, and because supply always honors demand, you'll never know what creative jerky you'll find here. The alligator is to be savored.

Mast Store, Asheville, N.C.–Bama Boy Beef Jerky is the star here. In downtown Asheville, you can gnaw on it while you enjoy the city center and cruise around the famous breweries like Craggie and Green Man.

Texas Slabs, Mansfield, Tx.–Probably the moistest beef jerky on the planet made by hand. Sweet and spicy is the top choice. All their meats are cured at their retail store.