For over a thousand years, nomadic peoples have been drying strips of meat to capture maximum calories in easily transportable form. Modern-day road-trippers choke down packages of Oberto because jerky is affordable and satisfying–a stop-gap when pulling over for real food isn't an option. For Riverside County resident Steve Johnson though, desiccated meat is not a necessity, but a passion. Johnson runs Best Beef Jerky, a blog dedicated to publishing meticulous, comprehensive reviews of jerky products.

“I've always loved beef jerky. I remember as young as seven years old, my mom buying jars of jerky at the grocery store and then while driving home, I'd pull the jar out of the grocery bag and start eating it down,” he recalls via email, probably tearing off a mottled brown shard as he types. Johnson started out writing a blog about junk food, but the free samples–all manner of candy, chocolate, chips, and puffs–contributed to a 70-pound weight gain. Jerky proved a healthier, albeit excessively salty, muse.

We asked Johnson to share his jerky-judging secrets and he complied. He tends to avoid jerky so rugged that it dulls the teeth, prefering “soft, semi-moist jerky that provides the same texture as a real piece of meat once it's chewed down to a soft mass.” He says he doesn't mind working for his jerky so long as all the gnawing pays off. “I don't want meat that feels mushy, gummy, or crumbly. . .I still enjoy tough jerky if it can provide steak-like texture and an awesome flavor for the labor.”

Unlike his pioneer predecessors, most of the Internet-ranging cowpoke's jerky consumption happens when he's saddled up to the computer, wrangling a blog. However, when he hits the trail up to Vegas for a weekend, he makes sure to stop in Baker, California, to load up on supplies at Alien Fresh Jerky–just not, we presume, the store's “Colon Cleaner Hot” variety. In May 2009, he slammed it for leaving behind “an unchewable wad of tissue” with each bite.

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