several beef jerky pouches on a blue background
Lifestyle

Beef Jerky Is Shockingly Healthy—Here Are the Best Brands to Buy

The fabled roadtrip nosh isn't a bad midday snack, either.
By Will Price
May 22, 2024

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Beef jerky. The salty, chewy, and sweet road trip snack of your dreams. The small morsels of beef are cut to the absolute perfect size for quick eating. Truthfully, there may not be a better snack than jerky, but an influx of less-than-great versions have hit store and internet shelves in the last decade than are worth counting. Which ones are good? Which ones have so much black pepper, teriyaki flavoring, and highly processed nonsense covering them that they are unrecognizable from the legendary gas station snack? We have the answers. These are the best beef jerk options you can buy.

Is Beef Jerky Healthy?

Yes, beef jerky is generally healthy. It’s a relatively low-calorie protein snack that carries minerals we don’t get enough of—namely iron and zinc. One ounce is the typical jerky serving size, and in that one ounce, you get roughly 12g of protein, 7g of carbs, a gram or so of fat, and 100 calories. Sugar and sodium levels vary based on brand and flavor, but for a single ounce of a snack—an ounce is a couple of pieces at most—these are excellent numbers, especially in the nutritionally bogus world of snacks.  

Mind sodium and sugar levels, though; some servings of jerky are so overloaded with salt and sugar you can nearly run through your typical daily allotment of either just eating half a bag. Here are the best options to buy.

PROTEIN 101

The Best Beef Jerky You Can Buy

Oberto Original Beef Jerky

Whether it’s beer, whiskey, or indeed jerky, there’s a journey everyone who gets really into something goes on. You begin at what everyone knows—Miller Lite, Wild Turkey, etc.—then you go through your pretentious phase. The pretentious phase has you scoffing at the mass market, always available products you used to enjoy. Then, with time, you come to realize those things that are culturally unswayable are that way for a reason. In the world of jerky, that’s Oberto.Oberto original beef jerky doesn’t do anything to wow you, it’s just the standard for what solid beef jerky is. Dry, salty, a little chewy, and extremely crushable. Oberto gets points for not only setting the bar, but also remaining as affordable and available as its seemingly always been.

Pros
  • Affordable
  • Available everywhere
  • Classic jerky texture and flavor
Cons
  • Could be less salty

Chef's Cut Beef Jerky

If you’re looking for a widely available beef jerky that is a bit less chewy than Oberto, Jack’s Links, or the other top brands, try Chef’s Cuts. Flavor-wise, it’s a bit less generic than Oberto but carries fairly similar calories, protein, fat, and carbs. It’s also excellent if you’re slightly worried about sodium intake, as servings have about 30 to 40 percent (depending on flavor) less sodium than the mainstream brands.

Pros
  • Lots of flavor variation
  • Nice chewiness
  • Lower sodium level
Cons
  • Can't find it at all gas stations

EPIC Beef Jerky

EPIC makes a lot more jerky than just the traditional beef kind, but its simple salt-and-pepper beef jerky bites are just as good as the rest of its lineup. The jerky has no added sugar and relatively low sodium levels, making it a strong choice for folks cutting back on salt or sweets. If you’re adventurous, don’t sleep on the salmon bites.

Pros
  • No sugar
  • Low sodium
  • Well-seasoned
Cons
  • More crumbly than chewy

Jack Link's Beef Jerky

Jack Link’s is Oberto’s fiercest competition on gas station convenience store shelves and, by our estimation, a step behind in terms of quality. It doesn’t have the same chew, and the meat can sometimes look a bit too consistent; plus the sodium and sugar levels are a bit higher, and you’ll find more more processed stuff like hydrolyzed corn protein on the ingredients list. Despite this, Jack Link’s is still tasty, affordable, and generally good for you to eat. It’s not the top choice for beef jerky, but its consistency and widespread availability are laudable. Plus, if we’re being honest, the teriyaki flavor goes hard.

Pros
  • Available everywhere
  • Loads of flavors
  • Affordable
Cons
  • Higher in sugar and sodium
  • Some suspect ingredients

Krave Beef Jerky

The worst thing we can say about Krave jerky is that it’s probably a bit too tender. But if you’re someone who doesn’t want to gnaw on a piece of jerky (or have tough jerky lodge between your molars), you should try Krave. The pieces are small and easy to throw back, making them great for quick bites while working out, and the flavors are far more interesting than the usual stuff at the gas station (surely there are enough black pepper options by now?). Plus, the ingredient list and nutrition label are clean—there aren’t any surprises or ingredients you’re unfamiliar with in this jerky.

Pros
  • Best flavor options
  • No weird ingredients
  • Great for athletes
Cons
  • A bit too tender

Wicked Cutz Original

If you like beef jerky to taste like, well, beef jerky, try Wicked Cutz. Obnoxious brand name aside, it’s got the lowest sodium content on this list and there’s absolutely no lack of flavor. It’s meaty, it’s fairly priced, and it’s nice and chewy. No, you won’t be floored by some bizarre combination of peppers and brown sugar and god knows what else—but you will have salt-of-the-earth-good-for-you beef jerky to snack on.

Pros
  • Tastes like beef
  • Very low sodium level
  • Reasonably priced
Cons
  • Some will think it's boring