Best Beef Jerky: Don’t Be a Jerk, Try the 7 Best Beef Jerky Brands

Beef jerky is in-between food. You eat beef jerky in-between meals to quell hunger pangs. It’s the type of savory snack that successfully bridges lunch and dinner. Beef jerky is eaten in-between places, too; it’s the quintessential road trip food. Gnawing on some jerky you bought from a gas station behind the wheel of a car? Partner, that there is called the American experience. Beef jerky even gets stuck in-between your teeth. If you’ve got trouble flossing, might I recommend eating beef jerky everyday to ignite the habit?

We love beef jerky because it’s portable, has a long shelf life, and is a delicious source of protein. For this taste test, Sporked invited Good Mythical Morning writer Kalyn French to rip into some jerky. What did we look for? Well, we want that perfect texture. Jerky shouldn’t be so damn tough that it’s like chomping down on a shoe, but it also shouldn’t be curiously soft, either. We want fibrous, fleshy jerky that feels like meat. Unique flavor is a bonus, but plain jerky can still wow if the texture is good enough. This is about how jerky feels, gang. 

I brought 20 bags of beef jerky to the table, and here’s what we whittled down to seven.

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Old Trapper Old Fashioned Beef Jerky

Best of the Best

Old Trapper Old Fashioned Beef Jerky

This beef jerky takes the crown for best overall flavor and texture. Old Trapper is smoky, salty, and sweet. “It’s like if you cooked beef in bacon fat, then jerkified it,” remarked Kalyn. The texture here is correct, too. It’s chewy, but not so tough that it feels like you’re nibbling on an end table. This jerky beckons you to buy it with its glistening chunks of beef protruding through its see-through bag. The strips of jerky look like meaty hunks of beef, not pieces of paper. This is the most savory of the jerky we tried, and the flavor here is just incredible. We think you’ll love it.

Credit: Ryan Martin / Target

Rating:

10/10

Sporks

Tillamook Country Smoker Original Beef Jerky

Best Plain

Tillamook Country Smoker Original Beef Jerky

Not to be confused with the cheese-and-butter folks, Tillamook Country Smoker makes a fantastic jerky. The texture is the biggest selling point. It almost gives the impression of being homemade with its meaty, fibrous texture. You can easily rip this jerky apart with your teeth and howl at the moon like an animal. “This is meat,” said Sporked editor-in-chief Justine Sterling. A simple, yet profound statement. Tillamook beef jerky feels natural. It’s a chewy, delightfully slow snack that maybe could use a bit more flavor. 

Credit: Ryan Martin / Amazon

Rating:

9/10

Sporks

Great Value Peppered Beef Jerky

Best Pepper Flavor

Great Value Peppered Beef Jerky

The pepper flavor here is outstanding. This isn’t ground pepper powder, mind you, these are peppercorns. The whole chunks of smashed peppercorns punch you in the mouth with a pungent and earthy fist. To me this feels like a chef seasoned this bag of jerky; it’s bold and flavorful. The texture is great, too. It’s got that coarse tissue quality we look for in beef jerky. There’s also MSG and dried soy sauce, so you really feel the umami here. I love this jerky so much, I made sure to take it home with me after the test. Great Value coming in hot with the good stuff. Good on y’all.

Credit: Ryan Martin / Walmart

Rating:

9/10

Sporks

Jack Link’s Extra Tender Original Beef Steak Strips

Best Road Trip Snack

Jack Link’s Extra Tender Original Beef Steak Strips

I know, the package is labeled as tender, but somehow it’s the chewiest jerky on this list. Justine wants to gnaw on her jerky. “I want it to be an activity,” she said. I reckon Justine can’t be alone here. Tough jerky is a pleasant activity and passes the time. However, if Jack’s Links Tender was any tougher, these flavorful little strips of jerky would be meat-gum™. Still, the flavor is pleasantly salty, and if you like your jerky to be gnawable, this is the one for you. Great road trip snack that I’m sure you’ll see at most gas stations.

Credit: Ryan Martin / Amazon

Rating:

8/10

Sporks

Jack Link’s Wild Heat Beef Jerky

Best Spicy

Jack Link’s Wild Heat Beef Jerky

A lot of companies say their product is hot, but don’t deliver on the heat. Not Jack’s Links Wild Heat. Good lord, these will singe your tongue. “This has a proper kick,” said Kalyn, “The heat builds and starts to stack.” She’s right, the heat rises and it’s delightful. It’s like a spicy chip in all the best ways. It kind of reminds me of Paquis Ghost Pepper chips. If you like hot-ass jerky, you’ll love Jack’s Links Wild Heat.

Credit: Ryan Martin / Amazon

Rating:

7/10

Sporks

Bridgford Sweet Baby Ray’s Original Beef Jerky

Best BBQ

Bridgford Sweet Baby Ray’s Original Beef Jerky

The sweet and tangy barbecue flavor earns Bridgford its number six ranking. There’s a lot of ingredients to sift through: pineapple juice powder, garlic powder, onion powder, tomato powder, vinegar, MSG, brown sugar, worcestershire sauce powder, and tamarind. My god. If that seems like too many ingredients to you, well, you’d be wrong. Because the taste here is deep and complex. The sweetness is balanced by the intense savoriness of this jerky, and it’s spiced really well. The alchemy here is just spot on. Well done, Bridgford. 

Credit: Ryan Martin / Amazon

Rating:

7/10

Sporks

Topanga’s Finest Spicy Sriracha Style Gourmet Beef Jerky

Best Local

Topanga’s Finest Spicy Sriracha Style Gourmet Beef Jerky

Topanga’s Finest includes a little package of personalized floss in the bag, which I love. Nothing worse than driving around with a piece of beef jerky stuck in your teeth. Justine wasn’t a fan of the floss, it seems like she doesn’t want jerky companies to acknowledge that consumers have teeth, but most of us found it to be useful. And hey, Topanga’s flavor rocks. The ginger, soy sauce, vinegar, and hot sauce come through very well. It’s not exactly sriracha, though. The jerky isn’t all that chewy, and the morsels are on the smaller side of things, but Topanga’s Finest tastes great. They have a ton of different jerky products to sift through. I like this small company a lot. It seems like it’s just some dude making beef jerky? Free shipping when you order four big bags, if that sweetens the deal at all.

Credit: Ryan Martin / Topanga’s Finest

Rating:

6/10

Sporks

Country Archer Provisions Original Grass-Fed Beef Jerky

“Man, that’s so next level!” shouted Rhett during their beef jerky taste test. “That piece was just like a steak at a restaurant. It was so tender.” Link was also impressed, “I didn’t think you could get more tender than Jack Link’s, but this is almost twice as tender.” Country Archer brings the good stuff when it comes to their original jerky. Like the boys said, it’s all about that tender, steak-like texture. 

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About the Author

Danny Palumbo

Danny is a comedian, cook, and food writer living in Los Angeles. He loves gas station eggs, canned sardines, and Easter candy. He also passionately believes that all the best chips come from Pennsylvania (Herr's!). If you can't understand Danny when he talks, it's because he's from Pittsburgh.

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