Thanks to its high protein content and portability, beef jerky (along with other meat snacks like bars and sticks) has gone from gas station staple to trendy snack for health- and fitness-minded people.
But while meat snacks contain far fewer carbs than chips or crackers, they also tend to be highly processed. Read the label, and you’ll likely find artificial ingredients as well as high levels of fat, sugar, and sodium to lengthen shelf-life and enhance texture. For example, one popular beef stick lists ingredients like corn syrup, sodium nitrite, and “mechanically separated chicken.”
Luckily, many grocery stores and online retailers now carry a variety of alternatives made from high-quality ingredients. We sampled several of them and found 10 that are minimally processed, made with well-sourced meat, contain no added sugars, and taste satisfying.
To identify meat snacks that support metabolic health, we considered the following:
Sugar and other sweeteners like corn syrup are traditionally added to meat snacks and jerky as a preservative and flavor enhancer. To avoid blood glucose spikes, choose meat snacks with little to no added sugars.
2. Meat source
Look for meat snacks that come from free-range, grass-fed livestock. This type of meat has higher omega-3 fatty acids, lower levels of saturated fat, and higher phenols compared to grain-fed beef. It’s also better for the environment.
Watch out for unnecessary additives, such as MSG, soy, and artificial colors, which may be unregulated and cause undesirable health effects, such as increased inflammation. You may see “encapsulated lactic acid” on some labels—this is a safe, natural preservative found in many foods to make items last longer.
9 of Our Favorite Meat Snacks
Made from grass-fed venison, salt, and pepper, this meat snack has a gamier flavor compared to beef options and a strong peppery finish. Venison is low in fat, high in protein, and a rich source of essential amino acids, which can’t be made by the body and are vital to many physiological processes, such as breaking down food and repairing body tissue.
Per serving (1 bar): 130 calories, 9 g fat (5 g sat), 1 g carbs, less than 1 g fiber, 0 g sugars, 12 g protein, 750 mg sodium
Price: $31.99* for 12
Biltong is a South African classic, an air-cured meat immersed in vinegar and spices. With only three ingredients—grass-fed beef, apple cider vinegar, and salt—this biltong is as simple as you can get. The result: a tender texture and simple meat flavor.
Per serving (1 container): 180 calories, 6 g fat (2 g sat), less than 1 g carbs, 0 g fiber, 0 g sugars, 32 g protein, 760 mg sodium
Price: $7.99 per 2-oz bag
Nick’s beef snacks are made from grass-fed beef and seasoned with coriander, black pepper, celery, mustard, parsley, paprika, turmeric, garlic, and onion. It’s also free of MSG, antibiotics, and hormones and lower in sodium than other options.
Per serving (1 stick): 120 calories, 8 g fat (3 g sat), 0 g carbs, 0 g fiber, 0 g sugars, 10 g protein, 350 mg sodium
Price: $3.25 per package
Available at Trader Joe’s and other grocery stores, these are made from grass-fed and grass-finished beef sustainably sourced from Australia. The list of ingredients: grass-fed beef, water, sea salt, encapsulated lactic acid, celery juice (for curing), black and red pepper, garlic powder, and coriander, resulting in a mildly spicy finish.
Per serving (1 stick): 90 calories, 6 g fat (2.5 g sat), 0 g carbs, 0 g fiber, 0 g sugars, 9 g protein, 290 mg sodium
Price: $1.69 per stick at Trader Joes, or order via Chomps.com, $22.50 for 10
This jerky is light on spice with a straightforward beef flavor and a hint of soy. The texture is soft and easily chewable, and it has no artificial preservatives or sugar. It’s also easy to find in most big-box stores.
Per serving (1 oz): 70 calories, 1.5 g fat (0 g sat), 0 g carbs, 0 g fiber, 0 g sugars, 14 g protein, 300 mg sodium
Price: $5.99 per 2.2-oz bag
This beef snack combines traditional flavorings such as salt, onion, and pepper with notes of ginger and lemon peel. Like many on this list, this one is Whole 30-approved, Paleo-friendly, and gluten-free.
Per serving (1 oz): 80 calories, 6 g fat (2.5 g sat), 1 g carbs, 0 g fiber, 0 g sugars, 6 g protein, 280 mg sodium
Price: $49.95 for 20 strips
Each Think Jerky is a unique recipe crafted by a different celebrity chef, and all use natural ingredients. If you want a break from red meat, try Michelin-starred chef Gale Gand’s Original Turkey Stick recipe, which has a peppery finish.
Per serving (1 piece): 50 calories, 1 g fat, 1 g carbs, 0 g fiber, 0 g sugars, 8 g protein, 360 mg sodium
Price: $26.99 for 10
The ingredients list here is short: grass-fed kosher beef, coriander, black pepper, salt, garlic, and vinegar. While technically biltong, it has a chewy, jerky-like texture. This meat snack also packs in the least amount of sodium per serving on this list.
Note: Available in some specialty food stores, Amazon.
Per serving (1 oz): 80 calories, 3 g fat (1 g sat), 1 g carbs, 0 g fiber, 0 g sugars, 12 g protein, 200 mg sodium
Price: $10.99 for 3-ounce pack
“Droewors” translates from Afrikaans to “dry sausage.” The manufacturer says its drying process leaves more of the meat’s muscle fibers intact, resulting in 16 grams of protein, or 30% more protein than many other meat snacks. This snack has a chewy texture and mild, spicy flavor from coriander, pepper, rosemary, and cloves.
Per serving (1 oz): 90 calories, 2.5 g fat (1 g sat), 0 g carbs, 0 g fiber, 0 g sugars, 16 g protein, 350 mg sodium
Price: $34.99 for 12
* The prices in this article reflect those listed by the retailer at the time of publication. Prices and local store availability may vary.
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