Editor’s Note: Our intermittent vegetarian correspondent, Alex, recently took on an epic (and tasty) assignment for ES, with some assistance from her eager crew of med student friends/taste testers.
You learn a lot of important things in medical school, but far and away the most useful skill you attain is the ability to snack like nobody’s business. Studying for finals? Almonds and chocolate-covered espresso beans. Bummed about a quiz? Ice cream and wine. Just a run-of-the-mill study night? Well, technically you’ve already eaten dinner, but popcorn is like basically not food anyway.
Now, being a vegetarian, I had never considered any meaty snacks, but it occurred to me awhile ago that back in my carnivore days, I used to love (LOVE) beef jerky. And heck, they do everything veg now, so it led me to wonder — is there a veg jerky option?
Turns out, yes, holy cow, there are about a zillion. And thus the Great Vegetarian Jerky-Off was born.
Fourteen varieties of faux beef jerky. Several hungry medical students. One night. Some beer.
The setup was highly organized for impartiality: blind taste test, with ES rep BS serving up the samples (and monitoring for legitimacy). Med students were selected for their snacking prowess, jerky expertise and, um, being my friends. Jerkies were supplied by Vegan Dream, Tasty Eats and Primal Strips. (Tofurky tried to help us out too, but unfortunately nobody in the Upper Valley sells Tofurky Jerky. Sorry Tofurky, we tried.)
After much debate about categories and judging, we decided to just go with a straight winner. Best Jerky Overall. The One Great Jerky.
But then we couldn’t decide, so we went with two winners that demonstrated excellence in different areas.
And then we decided that some of them were so bad that the public must be warned.
So here they are, the winners and anti-winners of the Great Vegetarian Jerky-Off:
Unanimously awarded the Never Ever Eat This Jerky award, we have the Primal Strips Hot ‘n’ Spicy flavor. In the words of one judge, “It tastes like nothing and then it tastes horrible.” Another judge described it as a “chemical burn,” and our most sensitive judge just vommed a little in her mouth.
But giving Hot ‘n’ Spicy a run for its money was another Primal Strips flavor, Mesquite Lime. This one gave our med students major human dissection lab flashbacks, from the one where we opened the gallbladder. “Smells like cat food,” said one judge, while another remarked that he “just kept thinking of pigeons.”
With the Most Controversial title, we had the Tasty Eats version of Hot ‘n’ Spicy jerky. This one got several votes for best AND several votes for worst, with those in favor saying that it takes you back to the flavor of Chicken McNuggets with sweet and sour sauce. But another judge remarked that it smelled like dogfood. That judge has a dog, so we trust him.
Best in Show
And finally, for the title of the One Great Jerky. We hemmed. We hawed. We chewed and swallowed. We argued a lot, with one judge remarking, “If these two had babies, that would be perfect.” And finally, the winners emerged, deadlocked and delicious:
Tied for first place, we have the Tasty Eats Tandoori Chicken flavor and, in a surprise show of versatility, the Primal Strips Hickory Smoke flavor.
Tasty Eats Tandoori Chicken was the judges’ choice for best flavor, although some thought its texture was undeserving of the designation of “jerky.” It was described as “meaty, but not jerky-y,” and “delicious, but not jerky — I’m in it for the chewing.” Another judge agreed, saying “Jerky should be something to do AND something to eat.”
So while TE Tandoori Chicken got the award for best flavor, Primal Strips Hickory Smoke took it for texture and durability of chew. Our most adventurous judge noted that she “would go cross-country with this,” her highest snacking accolade. Another mentioned that it “tastes a little like cigarettes, but I like it.”
And thus concluded the Great Vegetarian Jerky-Off. It was good. Sometimes, it was bad. It was emotional and meat-free. But eventually, as with all great snacks, the jerky ran out.