The Chard 16-tray digital dehydrator and electric jerky shooter will take your big game snacks up a notch!
When it comes to finding uses for your wild game meat, it is hard to beat some fresh jerky or snack sticks. If you are like me, you have probably paid a processor to make this stuff from your venison for years. While that is the easy way to get these tasty snacks, it's not exactly a cost-effective one.
Many processors charge what seems like an arm and a leg per pound to make the stuff. This year it led me to take an interest in the possibility of making it myself. Coincidentally, a chance to test the Chard electric jerky shooter and digital food dehydrator came around at the same time.
The result was some of the best jerky I have ever eaten. And it was produced right on my own kitchen countertop! Here is our full review of both the jerky gun and the food dehydrator.
Chard Electric Jerky Gun
Prior to getting the Chard products, I had been looking at some smaller, manual jerky guns that operate much like a caulk gun. The Chard electric is a 15-inch jerky gun made for some serious meat processing. It can hold up to 1.5 pounds of meat in that tube, allowing you to prep faster than ever before. It's perfect if you are prepping a ton of jerky for friends and family since you'll spend less time loading.
The gun was easy to setup. Simply prep the meat with a jerky mixture, roll it into balls and load it into the tube. The DIY approach to jerky is a messy process, but the Chard is extremely well made, and the motor makes it easy to dispense the meat using one of the four stainless steel attachments. There is one for making larger strips, one for making thinner double strips, a single stick attachment and a double stick attachment. I ended up testing out all four and all worked flawlessly.
I also tested making sticks both with and without casings. I ended up preferring using the single stick shooter without casings and the double jerky strip attachments since you'll get more finished product. The single shooter with casings made sticks that were quite fat. Those ended up being quite tasty, but the compromise is less sticks overall. It's really a matter of personal choice on what you want the end result to be.
Seeing as how I had never tried making my own sticks before using the Chard, I cannot compare to some of the manual shooters on the market. I have heard the manual ones can get a bit tiring to work with after a while, especially if you're doing a large batch of jerky. The Chard is incredibly ergonomic. It uses a motor and internal gears to produce what the company says is 300 pounds of force. Shooting the jerky from this gadget was as simple as squeezing the trigger. I did turn the speed down to the slowest setting as anything faster than that is probably going to require some skilled hands who really know what they're doing.
In any case, the first batch of sticks I made with a casing were a little rough looking. Chalk that up to me not knowing how to properly put the casing on the nozzle ahead of time as I encountered air pockets. However, the first batch of caseless sticks and jerky strips I thought looked pretty professional. Just make sure you have lots of trays on hand. The Chard works fast, and you'll get more than you're anticipating from just two pounds to four pounds of meat.
I should mention some of the other things you get with the Chard that I know don't come standard with many other jerky shooters on the market. One is a loading funnel that fits on the end. It helps ensure that the meat is getting into the tube and not the threads where you fit the nozzle attachments. Just don't forget to insert the plastic washers when changing attachments. I forgot once and ended up with meat seeping into the thread area. Chard also includes a meat pusher. This is one of my few gripes about this product. I wish it was a little bit longer because the Chard's tube is so long. I also wish the end wasn't so smooth. It makes it difficult to grip and pull out of the tube when your hands are slick from the jerky ingredients.
One area I will give them major props is the addition of a tube brush and a nozzle brush. Making jerky is an incredibly messy process, but these two additions make for easy cleanup. Especially on the strip nozzles that can easily collect excess meat and ingredients in the corners.
The other thing we appreciate is the hard shell case that the gun comes in. It easily holds not only the gun, but also all the dispensers and other accessories. It feels heavy duty and should protect the gun for years of use. It's nice because unlike other forms of cookware, it feels like it could be stored anywhere. No need to clear out a bunch of cabinet space in the kitchen. In fact, you may not want to store it there anyway since the case is quite large.
Overall, the jerky shooter is a winner. It's easy dispensing for those who have never made jerky before and it feels built well enough to handle commercial work. I'm already seriously considering making jerky out of just plain ground beef or bison if I can find it. It's a great indoor afternoon project, especially during the dead cold of Michigan's winter right now.
Chard 16-Tray Stainless Steel Digital Dehydrator
Along with the jerky gun, I was also given the opportunity to test one of Chard's newest products in their new, heavy-duty 16-tray dehydrator. A food dehydrator machine is yet another product I have no experience with previously. However, I came away thoroughly impressed with the capabilities of this product too. The first thing I'd say to keep in mind is the size. I've seen other stainless steel food dehydrators in stores but never one this large. The dimensions are about 16 by 16 inches and a height of 20 inches. It's a large machine and it takes up a ton of counter space. It comes in at about 35 pounds. I mention this simply because I didn't look at the size closely and got quite the surprise when the monstrous box was delivered to my home!
Size considerations aside, this thing will help you prep a lot of food in a serious hurry. As the name suggests, it holds 16 stainless steel mesh trays at once. The most venison I tried to dehydrate at one time was four pounds, which filled it to roughly half capacity. For the average Joe prepping your own harvests, it should be more than adequate. This electric food dehydrator feels well made with a solid stainless steel construction. The front has a piece of glass in it so you can monitor what you're dehydrating without the need to open the door. Chard put an air flow fan in the center of this machine that distributes the heat evenly. No need to rotate trays periodically. Half the time I just set it, worked for a few hours, and came back to find the jerky was nearly done.
For most venison and beef jerky, this thing works fast. My first batch of sweet and spicy sticks and venison took about four to five hours. I went a little overboard with the cooking on my second batch, which included Teriyaki, and over-dehydrated it a bit, resulting in a rather dry batch. I blame that on my own stupid user error and not the machine itself, which worked to perfection every time. The first batch of jerky was extremely juicy and tender. I should note that the venison I was prepping was mixed with regular ground beef.
The Chard 16-tray food dehydrator positions the temperature controls and the LED thermostat and digital timer display at the top of the machine. I'm tall enough that it was easy enough for me to use this machine sitting on the kitchen counter with no issues. However, I let my mother borrow the machine to test on some veggies, banana chips to be precise. The machine worked well for that too, but she's a short woman and she had to stand on her tip toes to see the controls and display on top when it was sitting on the kitchen counter. Remember that the dryer is 20 inches tall. That's a minor gripe at best, but something to consider for shorter people. Keep in mind Chard does make smaller variants of this product for those who don't need to produce as much food at one time.
In the end, I came away thoroughly impressed by this dehydrator. I keep telling myself that eventually I want to do all my own deer processing. I eventually hope to invest stuff like vacuum sealers, grinders and all the other necessary products. I'm not entirely there yet but these two Chard products are a good step in that direction. The pricing of these machines is excellent. If I can make jerky, anyone can. Starting next season, I'll stop paying butchers to make this stuff and I'll be doing it all on my own from now on. If you are looking to start making your own wild game snacks or if you're just hoping to preserve some fruits and vegetables, I can heartily recommend the Chard dehydrator.
See the Chard website for more information on their dehydrators and other meat processing products.