Never made jerky before. I'm thinking beef to start with as it's the easiest meat to get. But I have no idea what cut of beef would be best for making jerky. What sort of cut is ideal? And what would be the cheapest one that would still make decent jerky even if not the best?
Also, I don't have a dehydrator or anything fancy. Just an oven (no fan). Can this be used and how? (temperature, length of time)
We have a dehydrator and I highly recommend getting one. It's easy to use and easy to clean. I've made beef and venison jerky quite a few times. My favorite is grass-fed london broil. It may be a bit more expensive than some other cuts but it is so easy and tastes great. There is no or little fat or connective tissue to trim and it is simple to slice. I put it in the freezer for about 2 or 3 hours just so it firms up without freezing through. Then you can slice it into evenly thick pieces in just a minute or two. I put the slices and whatever marinade I'm using into zip bags with the air squeezed and let them sit in the fridge. After 24 hours it will make a great jerky but after 48 it will be amazing. With a dehydrator it takes maybe 4 hours to be finished. My wife always gets into it a little early because she likes it when it is still warm and a bit chewy.
My butcher recommended that I use rump steak (round steak, for you Americans) for its leanness, but mine worked fine using some braising steak. If you can be bothered to trim your meat extensively it'll end up with less fat anyway.
I also just used a non-fan oven on the lowest setting propped open with a wooden spoon. It cooked disappointingly quickly, but it was incredibly thin and still had the jerky taste, even if it presumably wouldn't keep so well. I assume that opening the door wider and turning the heat off totally now and again would allow a longer drying process.
I was inspired to buy a Nesco dehydrator thanks to this thread. The homemade dehydrator looked cool but I probably would've burned my place down with the cardboard box and lightbulb. Great device and highly recommended. I tried it with a cut from Whole Foods labeled as "London broil" that I believe was top round. $6/lb. It turned out as some of the best jerky I've ever had with just a simple water & spice marinade. I'm dehydrating some strawberries now to experiment with my own Paleo-friendly trail mix (jerky + berries + nuts).
Let me add another vote for getting a real food dehydrator. I got the Excalibur, cut up and marinated some grass-fed bottom round beef, and the jerky came out perfect the first time. I even brought some to Whole Foods where I got the meat, shared some jerky with the guys at the meat counter, and they all loved it!
My husband is in charge of making jerky - although it's Biltong, the African version, and I'm not sure how different that is - but anyway, we use a dehydrator we bought for $40 and it does a good job. Latest success - Kangaroo Fillet! Easy to get and very cheap - in Australia. It's lovely and lean and gamey - even better than beef.
I'd recommend getting a jerky gun. You fill it with ground hamburger and then press out thin strips or tubes of meat onto your dehydrator trays. I just made my first batch, and it came out great. It holds together just like "real" beef jerky (although it is a little easier to chew). This method seems easier to me and is much cheaper.