FOOD AND DRINK
Must Consume: Beef Jerky That's Posh Enough for a Plane Ride, Made in Thunder Bay
Gourmet jerky is a thing, and you can look for the Bay Meats brand at Billy Bishop Airport
When North America’s continuing love affair with protein meets the artisanal snack trend – well, you get gourmet beef jerky.
Quite a lot more refined than the uber-processed and over-preserved jerky you see at gas stations, today’s food-lover-approved jerky is carefully crafted from top cuts of meat and infused with appealing flavours.
Since 2011, Thunder Bay’s premium jerky has been Bay Meats Butcher Shop. Its flagship jerky is preservative-free and gluten-free, a beefy and chewy snack.
For owners Cindy Salo and her partner Bruce Krupp, Bay Meats is a second career, following a past in the tax accounting business. They were on the lookout for an interesting investment business in Thunder Bay’s trendy Bay and Algoma neighbourhood, and decided to purchase Bay Meats, a respected fixture on Bay Street for more than 50 years.
“We’re a couple of tax geeks running a meat plant!”
They intended to be hands-off proprietors, leaving the day-to-day to a butcher and store manager, but they were soon fascinated by the art and science of the meat business. Within a year it became an obsession.
“We’re a couple of tax geeks who are running a meat plant!” Salo says.
Before long, a new line of jerky products became a focus for Bay Meats. After about a full year of experimenting – eight different cuts of beef, different grades of those cuts, cutting with and against the grain, various combinations of hours of marinating and smoking – the team created a jerky they were ready to bring to a wider market.
All the jerky is made in the Thunder Bay store. It’s sliced from a single piece of beef (the actual cut is a closely guarded secret), and then marinated in the wine, spices and other deliciousness for about four hours in a big, shiny metal vat under reverse pressure. The vat gently tumbles the meat around – a bit like a washing machine, Salo says. The lower air pressure and tumbling action means the meat is more tender and absorbs more marinade.
After a 24-hour rest, the marinated beef is tucked into another big shiny metal machine, the smoker, where a box of smoldering wood chips on one side adds more layers of flavour with four hours of smoking.
The result: a portable, yummy, salty protein snack. There are regional sweet-and-spicy preferences for the flavours. Southern Ontario buyers favour the hot version made with cayenne pepper, while T-Bayers are all about the maple version made with real maple syrup from St. Joseph Island near Sault Ste. Marie. Overall, the top seller is teriyaki.
"It tastes like what jerky is supposed to taste like."
Deciding to focus on a natural product without gluten fillers, nitrates or nitrites was an easy decision, as Salo has Crohn’s disease and has avoided those ingredients for many years.
Salo says using fewer ingredients, and good ones, makes for better jerky anyway. She’s proud of her company’s “very short, clear list – Alberta beef, red wine, gluten-free soy sauce, brown sugar, salt, spices and smoke.
“Our customers enjoy it because it tastes like what jerky is supposed to taste like,” says Spencer Cryan, co-owner and sales manager at Bespoke Craft Foods in Toronto’s Liberty Village. “It’s a good product, flavoured well, local and sustainably made – which all fits the bill for us.”
As for other places to buy Bay Meats jerky, you’ll find it at Billy Bishop Airport in Toronto, as well as the city’s other airport, Pearson International, a variety of artisanal food stores and yes, gas stations, in Ontario.
You can also order online at BayMeats.com (Ontario delivery only). It’s also worth an in-person visit to Bay Meats itself, which sells a selection of housemade smoked products like olive oil, cheese, ham, pepperettes and kielbasa (which for some reason is pronounced KOO-bah-sa in Thunder Bay).
Another in-store bonus: If your timing is right you might be able to get an advance taste of new jerky flavours under development, like spicy Caribbean, hot maple and garlic.
Also, if you’re ordering online or visiting the Thunder Bay store, look for jerkies marinated in Ontario craft beers.
A couple of years ago, lead production manager Kari Sipila and sales manager George Noonan, both craft beer lovers, were shooting the breeze on a patio after work and wondered: What if we put craft beer in our marinade too? (The slogan practically wrote itself: “The Brew You Can Chew”).
Thunder Bay’s Sleeping Giant Brewing Company got on board with the concept right away. Today, about 25 Ontario craft breweries have ordered their own jerky, including Lake of the Woods Brewing Company (Kenora), Stack Brewing (Sudbury), Creemore Springs Brewery (Creemore) and Lake on the Mountain (Prince Edward County).
Finally, there’s another hot market for gourmet jerky out there: dogs and the people who love them. “We discovered that people were buying the jerky to share with their dogs, so we created Dexter’s Dog Jerky Treats, named after Bruce’s sister’s dog,” says Salo. “It’s the very same meat and process as our other jerky, but without the salt and flavouring.”
282 Bay St., 807-344-9501