It's getting to be about that time again, when the weather turns cold and we need to begin conserving energy and stockpiling fat. Not to mention that we're on the verge of the true millennium, when all hell could break loose, and if you're not ready for the revolution, well, then ... I feel sorry for you.

Even if you do have all your canned goods and non-perishables hidden away under the stairs, next to the 50-gallon drums of water, space blankets, flashlights and your special friend Mr. Ted E. Bear, you're still missing something essential -- methionine.

That's right friends, methionine. A wonderful amino acid that can only be had from meat, cheese, Brazil nuts, eggs and seeds. While you can get it in supplement form, it is not as potent as the real thing, and since Brazil nuts go stale and cheese turns green, you're going to end up a little green yourself under those stairs if you don't follow my advice. You're going to have to jerk some beef.

Beef jerky is the perfect food. It lasts a very long time, is lightweight and travels well, fools you into thinking you're full, and -- if you follow the logic behind Milk-Bones -- probably promotes healthy teeth and gums. Get yourself a plug of jerky, and you're ready to trek the Oregon Trail barefoot. In the snow. Naked.

The perfect beef jerky is made with quality, extremely lean meat. I like to use an Angus flank steak because the grain of the meat is just right for slicing, and there is so little fat that trimming is almost effortless. Round steak also works well. Expensive cuts, like New York strips and ribeyes, taste good on the grill but aren't any better when jerked, and in fact, usually make the process excruciatingly long due to the marbling.

So get yourself a pound or two of lean meat, and pop it in the freezer until it becomes stiff, but not rock hard. This makes it easier to slice. You want to cut it into strips about 1/4 inch wide. The goal here is to make jerky that will cure (dry) evenly, as even slightly moist pieces will go bad. While you're cutting, remove all fat. Get every tiny little piece of it. Fat causes jerky to spoil.

Make yourself a big bowl of strong marinade. Good, rich marinade is the key to tasty jerky. I use a traditional style mixture with a base of Worcestershire sauce, blended with a shot of Jack Daniels, some garlic powder, minced dehydrated onions, about two tablespoons of white wine vinegar and enough water to make a generous amount, but not so much that I dull the flavors of the ingredients.

It's hard to give proper measurements, because everything is added to taste. I like a salty, spicy jerky. If you like teriyaki jerky, use soy sauce as a base. Another good mixture is molasses, vinegar, Worcestershire, Liquid Smoke and black pepper -- just make sure you avoid coating the meat. Keep a watery consistency so the marinade can be absorbed. Place the beef in the bowl of marinade and let sit covered in the fridge at least overnight, 24 hours for best flavor. Stir every now and then so every strip has a chance to become one with the marinade.

Now you need some kind of oven-safe drying screen. I don't have one, so I spend 10 minutes pulling out my oven rack, covering it with foil, and using a pushpin to poke a million holes in the foil wrap. Not only is this ingenious, it's rather fun. Whatever you use, it must allow air to circle freely around the meat.

Lay the strips on the rack and place in a warm oven (absolutely no more than 200 degrees). I have an old gas stove and it's hard to regulate the temperature, so I reserve an afternoon to watch the meat. Now is also a good time to sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper, if you like it spicy. Place foil under the rack -- the meat will drip.

Curing jerky is an art. You don't want to cook it, because you must avoid sealing moisture in at all costs. If you catch the meat cooking, turn down the heat. In order for the meat to keep for long periods of time it must be dry as a bone. Moist jerky is fine, if you're going to eat it within the next few days. I cure mine until it looks like tree bark, and has about the same texture. Once your jerky has dried in the oven, remove from heat and place in a cool, dry spot. Some people let their jerky sit out for five to six days, but I find that 24 to 48 hours works well. After your batch is done curing, store in tightly sealed jars someplace cool.

And there you go. While the Earth is freezing, the world order is falling into ruin and panic erupts in the streets, you'll be safe and warm under the stairs, fat and happy. And your methionine levels will be amazingly stable, too.


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