Jerky is lean trimmed meat that has been cut into strips and dried (dehydrated) to prevent spoilage. Normally, this drying includes the addition of salt to prevent bacteria growth before the meat has finished the dehydrating process. The word "jerky" derives from the Quechua word ch'arki which means "dried, salted meat". All that is needed to produce basic "jerky" is a low-temperature drying method, and salt to inhibit bacterial growth.
Modern manufactured jerky is often marinated, prepared with a seasoned spice rub or liquid, or smoked with low heat (usually under 70 °C/160 °F). Store-bought jerky commonly includes sweeteners such as brown sugar.
Jerky is ready-to-eat, needs no additional preparation and can be stored for months without refrigeration. To ensure maximum shelf-life a proper protein-to-moisture content is required in the final cured product.
Many products which are sold as jerky consist of highly processed, chopped and formed meat rather than traditional sliced whole-muscle meat. These products may contain more fat, but moisture content, as in the whole-muscle product, must meet a 0.75 to 1 moisture-to protein ratio in the US. Chemical preservatives can prevent oxidative spoilage, but the moisture-to-protein ratio prevents microbial spoilage by low water activity. Some jerky products are very high in sugar and therefore taste very sweet – unlike biltong, which rarely contains added sugars.