Battle Creek

A love of beef jerky becomes a business for Battle Creek man

Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Battle Creek series.

The pandemic created an opportunity for Zaccari Frailey to focus on a beef jerky enterprise that is garnering attention from connoisseurs of the dried beef treat.
Frailey, 20, a graduate of Harper Creek High School, founded his business aptly called “Jerk Your Beef Jerky” in December 2020. Amid COVID-related shutdowns, he took a job on a construction project that involved the rebuilding of a restaurant in Battle Creek.
“It was my junior year in high school,” he says. “(The school) gave every student who had free or reduced lunch an EBT card. I was issued a card because I was on free lunch. I would run over to this gas station and get beef jerky. I spent $500 on food, about 90 percent of that on beef jerky.”
One day he went to swipe his EBT card and discovered there was no money left on it.
Taylor Sopko holds up some of Jerk Your Beef Jerky’s products for sale at the Richland Farmers Market.After seeing the cooking equipment in the restaurant, he experienced an “aha” moment deciding to make his own beef jerky. With permission from the owner of the restaurant, he began making batches of beef jerky for his own personal use and to share with friends.
“I wasn’t making it for a business at this point. I was just making it to eat and I gave it to my buddies and they liked it," Frailey says. "I made a couple more batches."
By this point, he was selling his homemade jerky at his job and realized he was making more money with his product than what he was earning working construction.
“It started as a joke making it for my friends and they asked me if I did this as a business what would I call it,” Frailey says. After mulling over names he came up with Jerk Your Beef.
His initial batches were packaged in nondescript sandwich bags and he took donations for what his customers thought it was worth. As the demand grew, he brought legitimate packaging with the name of the business on them, although it was still not technically a business, and thought, “This is cool.”
Here are some of the products made by Jerk Your Beef Jerky and sold at area farmers’ markets like this one in Richland.A biker buddy of his who worked at a dealership asked him if he’d be interested in selling his jerky at an event at the dealership. Because he had to work his regular job that day, he sent his girlfriend with bags of jerky.
“We sold out and sold more than my construction paycheck was worth for a week. I received a couple of text messages from people who said ‘I didn’t get to you in time. When are you making another batch?’ Those events were really good for me,” Frailey says.
In late 2020 he began the process of establishing an LLC (Limited Liability Corporation), and in June 2022, the business was licensed and he set up shop in Sprout’s food incubator kitchens. This is where he and his team of six now produce close to 800 pounds of jerky each week for sale at area Farmer’s Markets.
A three-ounce bag of Frailey's jerky costs $10. Frailey says this is more than the packets of beef jerky sold at places like gas stations and convenience stores, but worth every penny because of the high quality of the meat he uses and the time-intensive process used to make his jerky.
Here are some of the products made by Jerk Your Beef Jerky and sold at area farmers’ markets like this one in Richland.“We buy the most quality cuts we can get our hands on. We’re literally turning tenderloin into beef jerky,” Frailey says. “A lot of people will talk about the price of beef jerky. It is expensive. What a lot of people don’t understand is how much weight the beef loses during the cooking process. By the time you trim off the fat and silver skin, for every 10 pounds that I buy, I can only turn three pounds into jerky by the time it’s cooked out and trimmed.”
The beef is shipped to Frailey in semi-truck loads. He and his team spend hours hand-trimming off the fat and silver skin and slicing the prepared pieces which are then soaked for 24 hours in a homemade marinade sauce. From there the beef slices are slow-smoked and dried.
“There’s a lot of measuring involved and we have to make sure we have the right temperature,” Frailey says. “You have to test for how much water is in it and how long to dry it for, in addition to testing it for listeria before bagging it up to sell. There’s a lot more to it when you want to go professional.”
Learning by doing
Frailey says he knew he always wanted to own his own business but never imagined that it would revolve around beef jerky. With no formal business training, he says he learned much of what he now knows from an uncle who operated a restaurant in Battle Creek where he worked from time to time.
Here are some of the products made by Jerk Your Beef Jerky and sold at area farmers’ markets like this one in Richland.“I’ve worked in restaurants since I was just a pup. My uncle has always been in the restaurant business and being around him made me think about food. I worked with a chef who lives and breathes food and knows everything about how to cut, slice, and cook meat. So when I told him what I was going to do, he taught me how to trim and slice steaks. Nobody I’ve known has ever done beef jerky. I didn’t realize so much went into this behind the curtains. I thought you just throw it on the smoker and call it done.”
Perfecting the signature marinade used in his jerky was among the most time-consuming exercises.
“It was trial and error. I couldn’t even tell you how many batches we lost because it didn’t taste good. I tried to do flavors that sounded cool and would draw your attention, but then I knew if I put it on the meat it’s not going to taste good. You’ve got to roll with it and see what works and what doesn’t.”
In preparation for the initial sale of his jerky, Frailey and his girlfriend spent many hours inside the commercial kitchen at Sprout making enough to sell.
“Last year’s farmers market season was wild. I didn’t have anybody working for me yet so it was me and my girlfriend and we would literally sleep on the floor at Sprout because we had to get the jerky ready. That was the most comfortable sleep I ever got,” he says. “I never thought it was rough. I was just thinking that we have to get the jerky done because we have the Battle Creek Farmer’s Market coming up.”
In addition to Battle Creek's Farmer’s Market, Frailey sells his jerky every week at nine other markets including those in Kalamazoo, Portage, and Springfield. Two weeks ago he sold out at some of these venues.
“It has a real direct market,” he says of his jerky. “People who have an idea of what the typical beef jerky is and buy it are more middle-aged men. But, our beef jerky isn’t normal beef jerky. It’s tender and flavorful and more like steak in a bag. When we start passing out samples people will say, 'I don’t eat beef jerky, but this is good.' It’s like steak rather than a leather belt.”
Frailey says he’s very grateful to people for taking a chance to try his product. "As it’s a new product I can understand how you would be iffy to try new things. I’m very grateful how it panned out. I want to be in stores all across the country. I want to be able to walk into a store and see product on the shelves.”

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Read more articles by Jane Parikh.

Jane Parikh is a freelance reporter and writer with more than 20 years of experience and also is the owner of In So Many Words based in Battle Creek. She is the Project Editor for On the Ground Battle Creek.