Is beef jerky healthy? It depends. If you’re a beef jerky lover you’ve probably tried quite a few different brands, flavors, and varieties—but have you ever investigated the ingredients in the jerkies you consume? The sad reality is that these days many of the foods that we assume are healthy are not. So, is beef jerky healthy? While most jerkies are similar in terms of basic nutrition facts such as calories, carbs, and protein, you might be surprised to find out that many popular beef jerky brands contain harmful ingredients.  

The good news is you don’t have to give up beef jerky altogether. Healthy beef jerky does exist, you just need to know what to look for. In this article we will discuss the harmful ingredients that you should avoid when choosing jerky. Later, we will compare five popular beef jerky brands to determine which jerkies you should avoid, and which brands make healthy jerky. 

Nutritional Benefits of Beef Jerky 

Beef jerky is a high-protein, low-carb snack that has grown in popularity in recent years with the rise of keto and paleo diets. The lean beef snack satisfies hunger and keeps you full for hours. Obesity is an epidemic in the United States, much of the issue can be attributed to unhealthy snacking habits. Convenience is paramount in the fast-paced American lifestyle which has led to an increased dependence on fast food and gas station snacks to satisfy hunger. Beef jerky is a nutritious snack that fits into the grab-and-go lifestyle. So next time you stop at a gas station for a snack, look for a quality beef jerky instead of chips, crackers, or a candy bar.  

Unhealthy Additives Often used in Jerky 

It’s a sad reality that many large-scale food corporations are more concerned about their bottom line than producing a good quality product. While there are still jerky makers that refuse to put unhealthy additives in their recipes, many of the largest beef jerky manufacturers do. 

If an ingredient label includes ingredients that you do not recognize, that’s a red flag. In the following sections we will discuss the harmful ingredients that some jerky brands include in their recipes. We will explain why companies choose to add these unhealthy ingredients and how they can negatively impact the health of people who consume them. 


Most packaged foods, including most jerkies, contain artificial preservatives. The purpose of preservatives is found in the name–they are added to foods to preserve them and push back expiration dates. Not all preservatives are bad, natural preservatives such as salt, sugar, and vinegar can be used to preserve foods, but many companies choose to use artificial preservatives because it’s cheaper. Research published by the International Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Research, showed that artificial preservatives “can cause serious health hazards such as hypersensitivity, allergy, asthma, hyperactivity, neurological damage, and cancer”. The list of artificial preservatives is seemingly endless, so we are going to focus on the most common artificial preservatives found in jerky, Nitrates and Nitrites. 

Nitrates & Nitrites 

Sodium Nitrite and Sodium Nitrate are chemicals commonly added to cured meats. They are preservatives designed to extend the shelf life of products and preserve flavor. They also add a pink color to meat products that makes them appear fresh. The potential consequences of consuming nitrates and nitrites include short-term and long-term health issues. According to an article from Harvard Health Publishing, Nitrates and Nitrites can interfere with Thyroid function. Sodium Nitrite impairs the blood’s ability to transport Oxygen to the rest of the body which can lead to short-term health concerns such as headaches, fatigue, and dizziness according to the New Jersey Department of Health. Consuming large amounts of Nitrates and Nitrites over time has been tied to an increased risk of Cancer. According to The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Nitrates and Nitrites in food are associated with an elevated risk of Gastrointestinal Cancer. 

Artificial Flavors & Colors 

Every ingredient in food legally sold in the United States, including artificial flavors and colors, are approved by the Food and Drug Administration. However, there is always a chance that down the road scientists will discover that an artificial ingredient is harmful. The best way to avoid the unknown is to consume products with natural ingredients that you recognize and avoid ingredient lists with long chemical names. 

Comparing Jerky Brands 

Now that you know the health risks associated with the ingredients above, you can make an informed purchase decision. To make your jerky selection easier we compared five different jerky brands by analyzing their ingredients to determine which brand makes the healthiest jerky. 

Slim Jim 

Slim Jim sells meat sticks as well as traditional jerky, for this comparison we will be focusing on their jerky recipe. Slim Jim uses artificial preservatives in their jerky products, including Sodium Nitrite. 


Casey’s is a massive gas station chain with more than 2,000 locations throughout the Midwest and the northern portion of the Southern United States. Casey’s manufactures and sells a wide variety of their own products including Casey’s Original Beef Jerky. Casey’s jerky is high in preservatives with Sodium Nitrite and other artificial preservatives in their recipe. Their jerky might last a long time on the shelves, but it could also contribute to major health problems associated with consuming too many artificial preservatives. 

Jack Link’s 

Jack Link’s is one of the most well-known jerky companies in the United States. It is widely available in grocery stores and gas stations. Jack Link’s uses cultured celery extract to keep their products self-stable. Don’t let the word “celery” throw you off though, cultured celery extract is simply a plant-derived source of Sodium Nitrite. While it’s technically derived from a natural source, it’s biochemically identical to Sodium Nitrite, serves the same purpose, and poses the same health risks to consumers. 

No Man’s Land 

No Man’s Land beef jerky is sold at major retailers across the country. It is the most expensive jerky brand in this comparison which might lead you to assume that it has the highest quality ingredients, however, this is not the case. While the No Man’s Land recipe includes mostly natural ingredients, it also includes an artificial preservative. 

Crockett Creek 

Crockett Creek Beef Jerky takes home the prize for healthiest beef jerky. Crockett Creek is a craft beef jerky company located in Knoxville, TN. They sell a wide variety of jerkies as well as marinade and spice mix. Their products do not contain any of the harmful ingredients discussed in this article. Crockett Creek Jerky is 100% natural which makes it a truly healthy snack.  

Choose Crockett Creek Jerky 

Crockett Creek is an outlier in the world of jerky because they refuse to use ingredients that could negatively impact the health of their consumers. Crockett Creek jerky is made from high quality beef and flavored with ingredients that you could find in a kitchen like garlic, brown sugar, pineapple juice, and soy sauce. Using natural ingredients is not only better for your health, it tastes better! Crockett Creek jerky comes in a variety of flavors: Teriyaki, Ol’ Smoky, Peppered, Honey Jalapeno, Blazin’ Cajun, Garlic, Steakhouse, Sweet N’ Spicy, Bayou Boil, and Fire. They also have Elk, Buffalo, and Venison jerky. If you can’t decide which flavor to get, try their variety box

If you want a high-protein, all-natural, delicious snack, try Crockett Creek! Click here to learn more about Crockett Creek and purchase some healthy jerky!