Taste of the States

It might bring to mind the American deep south, but you can get local beef jerky made just off the A1 in Northumberland. Rosie McGlade enjoys a little taste of the US in the North East

As with most things quickly devoured, it’s best not to know how fattening it is, and between the Beef Jerky farm – a little piece of America off the A1 near Felton in Northumberland – and Newcastle I’ve eaten an entire packet of the stuff.

Its maker, Mr BBQ – Brian Bradley – reassures me that it’s a healthy snack; low fat, pure protein, made only of beef, a tiny bit of salt and nothing else.

Thus, surely the perfect diet nibble as it’s very flavoursome and takes a degree of chewing. Brian looks in reasonable shape, and let’s face it, lining up a load of beef on trays to go inside a dryer for 18 hours isn’t the most physically taxing employ. That’s pretty much all there is to it, he tells me. Apart from a cleverly perfected series of marinade recipes.

That said, he now has a growing petting farm at the pretty cafe on the site where the jerky is made, which must demand some considerable exercise.  Along with miniature Shetlands, rescue donkeys, goats, chickens, rabbits and meerkats, there’s a racoon, Bert, who’s just arrived, and Brian has agreed to rehome a tame fox. Brian loves animals.

You can’t miss the farm; just look out for the bright yellow van marked ‘Beef Jerky’ on the right side of the A1 as you head north six or seven miles past Morpeth.

Brian assures me his comes from the leanest possible cuts of beef; the reddest slices with no marbling and minimal fat. Once dehydrated, any fat marbling would coat the jerky in grease, and there’s no grease. That’s good.

Beef jerky is very tasty, the only annoying thing being that it gets stuck in your teeth. My son adores it, as do I. My mother finds it tricky, but enjoys the really spicy Cajun Hot variety. I think teeth probably get gappier the older we get; I know mine have.

At first chew it feels very hard and dry, but then it rehydrates in your mouth. It’s meat, but not as we’re used to it.

Brian regularly sells big orders to the British military, which has many jerky fans serving in Afghanistan who have been introduced to it by US troops. With a shelf life of nine months, it’s perfect desert food and a delicious remedy for cravings for things like bacon.

It’s made from quarter of an inch (NOT a centimetre, Brian says…) slice of prime meat, nothing added (apart from salt, marinade or spice depending on which of his eight flavours you pick), no additives (unlike so many other jerkies on the market), and only the natural water content taken away through the dehydration process. Which means I must have eaten the equivalent of three Sunday dinners of pure cow, if I’m understanding things right. 

The Ancient Egyptians invented jerky when they realised the sun and the wind allowed for meat to be preserved and stored. Today it’s the Americans, the South Africans (who also use different bush meats and call it biltong) and the Australians who have popularised it.

Brian sells it around the world and in the UK through outlets as illustrious as Harrods, Fortnum and Mason Fenwick’s Food Hall and the Jet petrol station in Newton Aycliffe, where it does very well, incidentally. “It’s the perfect car snack,” he says. “I’d really like to get into the motorway services market.”

Brian has turned numerous big supermarkets away, careful to maintain control of the growth of a business that has doubled in profit for each of the five years of its life to date. 

And long may he continue to do prosper. Brian’s Northumberland beef jerky is a quirky feather in the North East’s culinary cap, and one to celebrate.



Brian Bradley began working life as a dairy farmer with his father in Lancashire. It was a life he loved, but he was forced to quit by EC milk quotas.

Married to Linda, who now runs the café at their base near Eshott Heugh, and with daughter Maxine a babe in arms, they upped sticks to Wichita, Kansas, where he began a welding company and also learned to dry a prototype jerky in his home kitchen.

In his 15 years of trading, he made specialist machinery, specialising in trailers for Boeing aeroplanes and NASA space rockets, believe it or not.

But England was calling and Brian, Linda, and their two then teenage children moved to Northumberland, where they began selling high quality meat snacks at shows.  

When that didn’t work – they couldn’t compete with similar vans selling burgers a quarter of the price – Brian recalled the jerky he had made for his children in is Kansas kitchen, and the rest we know, other than to say he was one of Gary Rhodes’ food heroes of 2007 and has picked up various awards.

In the States, the beef jerky business is a three to four billion dollar industry, Brian says. “I took my first batch here to some farmers’ markets, and it just grew from there. Then we added on the tea room and the animals. It’s funny how things come together, and it’s come together really well.”

Brian is not your most conventional type, but a lover of life, a character, even if he might take a while to warm up to journalists. Once warmed, he is very affable indeed. There are probably wealthier men in the county than Brian, but he’d give them a run for their money in fulfilment.

Mr BBQ Ltd, No 2, Eshott Heugh Workshops, Felton, Morpeth, Northumberland, open every day apart from Wednesdays, 9am to 4pm. Check for the yellow van at the top of the road on the A1. “If it’s there we’re open.” www.britishbeefjerky.co.uk


Beef jerky is best known as a snack, but you can also use it to spice up all manner of meals. Try these:

Add slices to the top of macaroni cheese for a bit of extra bite

Use it as a salad topping instead of bacon bits

Use sparingly in a cheese and onion omelette or in scrambled eggs

Add to baked beans, or boil up your own pan of pinto beans with onion, garlic, lemon and lime and add jerky

Add to potato salad or coleslaw

Great in soups, where you might traditionally use bacon

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