Food Artisans: Kings County Jerky
Kings County Jerky founder Chris Woehrle's first attempt at making beef jerky involved a box fan, some AC filters and a long night of crossed fingers. A few years later, he's working out of a custom "jerky kitchen" in Bushwick and selling his wares to delighted dried-meat fans at markets around the city.
Woehrle and his business partner take justifiable pride in sourcing their ingredients, toasting and grinding all of their spices fresh and buying grass-fed, pasture-raised local meat. Since they want the leanest possible meat—fat doesn't dehydrate wellm&mdashtheir needs are the opposite of restaurants and most home cooks, who want the fat to be evenly distributed throughout the muscle. So they end up buying cuts that the famers would otherwise have a more difficult time selling, like bottom rounds and eye rounds.
"People like jerky for a reason," Woehrle says, "and they're used to a certain flavor profile," so their first product was a traditional, peppery beef jerky. Though he wanted to use Worcestershire sauce to achieve that classic flavor, he wasn't able to source one made without corn syrup. So, instead, he adds the dominant flavors—cloves, onions, garlic, cracked black pepper, a bit of molasses—to the marinade directly, along with smoked paprika. The Korean BBQ and Szechuan orange/ginger flavors were a result of "being inspired by being in New York and all the great food cultures here," Woehrle says. "Why does everything have to be teriyaki?"
The most recent addition to the line is a portobello mushroom jerky. While he says that having an option for vegetarians and vegans was a "no brainer," it took a while to get the product ready to launch. Since he uses whole mushrooms, sliced and marinated (rather than ground 'shrooms mixed with soy protein, like other vegan jerkies on the market), texture was key. After several rounds of turning out hard-as-rocks mushroom chips, he finally hit on the right combination of time and temperature to yield a chewy, yet fully dried product. Woehrle uses the classic marinade here too, but applied with a light hand to the mushrooms, so their own flavor shines through.