Everything We Know About Buc-Ee's Famous Jerky

Drive down any Texas interstate and it's unavoidable — the giant, looming head of a buck-toothed rodent in a red hat, smiling into the distance from atop a sign positioned high above the highway. Residents across Texas (and parts of Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee as well) and repeat road trip visitors know this is a sign it's time to pull over for a pit stop at the arguably the world's most amenity-filled gas station chain — Buc-ee's.

But as its fans can tell you, calling Buc-ee's merely a gas station is like calling the Louvre an art gallery. Besides having over 100 pumps for your refueling needs (per Planning Away), it's known for its enormous, sparkling clean restrooms and a food assortment that would put most fast-casual restaurants to shame, with offerings ranging from pastries to freshly made brisket sandwiches to multiple flavors of fudge to jerky. Many of these treats have become cult favorites among travelers through the South, including the jerky, which fans buy in large quantities not just to enjoy on the road, but to savor back home. Next time you're passing by a Buc-ee's and craving something salty to enjoy on the road, here's what you need to know.

Buc-ee's makes a lot of its food in house — but not all its jerky

While food is an afterthought at most gas stations (and understandably so), this is not the case at Buc-ee's. Per Texas Monthly, the chain doesn't merely sell pre-made sandwiches and microwavable frozen burritos — it has cooks on site to hand-slice barbecued brisket for its sandwiches and even makes its own tortillas on site for its Tex-Mex treats. And while you can pick up bags of your favorite brands of chips there, aficionados know to look for Buc-ee's fresh, fried-on-site potato chips.

But while Buc-ee's jerky is one of its most famous and sought-after food offerings, and all of its pre-packaged jerky comes in bags with the Buc-ee's logo and branding, the chain outsources at least some of its jerky production. A precautionary recall of one type of Buc-ee's jerky revealed that at least some of its signature jerky is made by Texas-based Junior's Smokehouse Processing Plant, per CSP Daily News. But Buc-ee's makes no secret that it outsources the production of many of its offerings. In fact, the chain's website invites interested vendors to submit applications and provide samples if they think they have products that Buc-ee's customers would enjoy.

Nearly 700 pounds of Buc-ee's jerky was recalled as a precaution

Buc-ee's has gained loyal fans not just for its wide variety of both hot and pre-packaged foods, but for the quality of its food. For instance, its cult-favorite brisket is smoked 12 to 14 hours, per CBS 42, and is meant to reflect the quality of barbecue that Texans expect. "I put it up against some of the fancy-pants barbecue that's in this part of the country," Buc-ee's culinary director Jim Mills told Texas Monthly. Mills, of course, is not exactly an objective critic, but many guests seem to agree.

But in 2018, Buc-ee's culinary reputation took a rare hit when a customer found stray pieces of metal in a package of Buc-ee's Hill Country Brand Teriyaki Beef Jerky. The vendor responsible for manufacturing the jerky, Junior's Smokehouse Processing Plant, recalled close to 700 pounds of the jerky, while the Department of Agriculture recommended that those who'd recently purchased that flavor of jerky return it for a refund or discard it, per CSP Daily News. Fortunately, there were no reports of anyone getting sick or injured as a result of the contamination. and fans continue to seek out and enjoy Buc-ee's jerky.

Buc-ee's jerky comes in a wide range of flavors

If you tend to shy away from jerky because you think it all tastes alike, you haven't been to Buc-ees. When it comes to predicting what jerky flavors and flavor profiles will go over well with its thousands of daily guests, the chain isn't hedging its bets – instead of offering just one signature flavor, it offers a range of vastly different flavors, from sweet Cherry maple to Mesquite smoked to fiery Ghost Pepper. Buc-ee's jerky not only comes in different flavors, but different cuts and textures as well — the regular jerky is thin and flat, while the chain's Hill Country Brand jerky is thicker and chunkier. In addition, Buc-ee's jerky counter also offers jerky variants such as dried sausage sticks.

Buc-ee's jerky assortment (which reportedly includes around 20 different varieties) is also intriguing because its flavors seem to come from all over the culinary map. Some of the flavors clearly and proudly reflect Texan culinary culture, featuring fajita seasoning or Hatch chiles, as well as traditional varieties like peppered jerky and steakhouse-style flavored with Worcestershire sauce. You'll also find  well-loved flavors not commonly associated with jerky, such as lemon pepper, as well as global flavors with roots far from Texas, such as Korean barbecue and teriyaki, per Texas Snax.

Jerky has always been one of Buc-ee's signature offerings

Jerky has long been a travel food. According to People's Choice Jerky, indigenous peoples in both North and South America first developed techniques for air-drying or smoking meat for preservation. European settlers in the Americas learned these techniques from them, and over time, the preparation evolved into what we now recognize as jerky. Then, as now, it was valued as a flavorful, durable, and highly portable protein source. Mountain High Jerky notes that early settlers valued it not only because it was nourishing, but also lightweight enough to carry comfortably in a knapsack while atop a horse.

The tradition of jerky as travel food has endured into the automotive era, and today, even the smallest and most sparsely stocked gas station will likely have a bag or two for sale. Buc-ee's, however, has proudly taken the road-trip jerky tradition to the extreme, which makes an odd kind of sense — after all, jerky symbolizes both Texas cowboy heritage and Buc-ee's primary role as a provisioner for travelers. "That's part of our DNA, really good beef jerky," Jim Mills, Buc-ee's culinary director, told Texas Monthly. "That's a real Texas thing. A lot of it starts back to the roots of the company."

Buc-ee's most popular jerky flavor may surprise you

Fast food executives and marketers know that crowd-pleasing food tends to be fairly conservative food — familiar, recognizable presentations and flavors that won't scare off wide swaths of the dining population. More unusual or daring items may be useful for generating buzz and bringing curious newcomers through the doors, but few marketers would expect, say, a ghost pepper-topped fish sandwich to outsell a cheeseburger.

The jerky assortment at Buc-ee's seems to embody this principle. While there are plenty of unusual flavors to get hungry travelers talking, such as lemon pepper and Korean barbecue, there are also plenty of familiar favorites like peppered jerky to keep traditionalists and less adventurous palates happy. But while the more traditional varieties are popular, surprisingly, the best-selling variety of their wide assortment is not one of the usual suspects. Per Eater Houston, the best-selling flavor is Bohemian Garlic, which is lavishly seasoned with garlic, brown sugar, and soy sauce . It's clearly a favorite among hungry travelers and taste testers alike – in a review of more than a dozen Buc-ee's jerky varieties, The Traveling Foodie Vlog ranked Bohemian Garlic the top flavor.

If you're not into beef, Buc-ee's has turkey jerky

Say the word jerky and the first word that probably comes to mind is beef. And while jerky was historically made from game meats – and even now is made from a variety of animals including lamb, pork, and venison — the most commonly encountered commercial types you'll find today are generally made from beef. If you're a red meat lover, this is a good thing. But if you're avoiding beef for dietary, sustainability-related, or religious reasons, it's problematic, especially if you're also a fan of salty, high-protein snacks.

Thankfully, you don't have to feel left out of the party. Buc-ee's also offers turkey jerky, albeit in a smaller range of flavors than its regular beef jerky. According to the YouTube channel Rants, Reviews and Road Trips, the peppered turkey jerky is a solidly good product, superior to typical mass-produced turkey jerky. It's made from whole strips of turkey, rather than ground meat that's reformed into strips, as is sometimes the case for some low-end varieties. The flavor is also top notch, with a nice hit of black pepper. And if you're following a keto diet, you can indulge freely — it also has only 1 gram of carbs.

A Buc-ee's jerky counter can be up to 20 feet long

The actress Mae West once famously said "too much of a good thing is wonderful" – and if you're a serious carnivore, this observation will certainly apply to Buc-ee's jerky assortment. While you can always grab a prepackaged bag of their famous jerky to go, hardcore fans make a beeline to the Buc-ee's jerky counter — a supersized glass display case loaded with dozens of varieties of jerky and other dried meat treats. There, you place your order with an attendant who will assemble and wrap it up for you.

But be warned — if you've never been to Buc-ee's or are prone to decision paralysis, the jerky counter can be a bit overwhelming. In some stores, it can be over 20 feet long, according to Texas Monthly. But the attendants are no doubt used to people gaping in awe at the selection, and getting your jerky there is a good choice if you have questions about the flavors or want a larger or smaller quantity than the prepackaged varieties offer.

If you're in a hurry, head for the Wall of Jerky instead

While the wide assortment of goodies at Buc-ee's invites lingering, the cold hard truth is most travelers have schedules to keep and thus need to keep their pit stops as short as possible. The fact that Buc-ee's stations typically have around 100 or more gas pumps and that even the men's rooms reportedly have dozens of stalls suggests that the chain's management understands this and aims to keep wait times for critical amenities as short as possible.

The food assortment at Buc-ee's also reflects this awareness. While those with more leisurely schedules can enjoy made-to-order sandwiches and breakfast tacos served on freshly made tortillas, or spend time perusing the massive jerky counter, there are also plenty of grab-and-go options for those who don't have time to wait around. And if you want to try some new varieties of Buc-ee's jerky but can't wait to have it hand-selected and wrapped for you, no worries — instead of heading for the jerky counter, head for the wall of jerky, where hundreds of pre-packaged bags of jerky are hanging and waiting for you to take them home.

Buc-ee's jerky is available 24 hours a day at its stores

There's something lonely about traveling in the wee hours of the night or early morning. While it's liberating to have normally crowded highways almost completely to yourself, it can also be a bit creepy being one of the very few people out there – who are the other folks driving around at 3 a.m., and why? And this sense of unease is only magnified if you find yourself running out of gas or in desperate need of a bathroom or food break in the middle of the night. Not many convenience stores are open 24/7, and most of those that are open tend to be unremarkable by day, and oddly sterile and unnerving at night. Who knows how long those shriveled hot dogs have been rolling around inside that hot box?

Then there's Buc-ee's. While many of its operations slow down late at night (for example, its car washes close at 8 p.m.) or are limited to specific times of day (made-to-order breakfasts are only offered between 4 a.m. and 11 a.m.), the kitchen is open and offers made-to-order hot food around the clock. And if you need your jerky fix in the wee hours of the night, Buc-ee's has you covered — the jerky counter — along with the fudge, bakery, and Dippin' Dots counters—are also open at all hours, in case you crave daytime comfort in the dead of night.

You can buy Buc-ee's jerky online

It used to be that regional specialties were valued in part because of their limited availability – you had to go to their place of origin to get them. You could pack away a few bottles of that soda you love that's only sold in certain parts of the country, but once your stash was gone, it was gone – you wouldn't be able to have any more until your next trip.

This used to be the case for Buc-ee's jerky and other famous treats as well. If you developed a fondness for Buc-ee's jerky during a road trip through Texas but live nowhere near one of its outlets, you were out of luck — Buc-ee's may have a lot of amenities, but it does not have it's own online store. 

However, this was deemed a big enough problem that an enterprising Texans decided to do something about it. As Texas is Life reports, recent college grad Chris Koerner founded the online store Texas Snax as a way to enable Buc-ee's fans to get their fill of the chain's signature jerky, nuts, fudge, and other treats from anywhere in the country. Apparently, Koerner goes to Buc-ee's himself to provision his online store, which offers nationwide and even international shipping. Other vendors also offer Buc-ee's jerky on Amazon. Buc-ee's is aware of these operations and even includes links to them on its website — but emphasizes that the chain is not affiliated with them and doesn't endorse them.

Expect your jerky to be expertly hand-wrapped for you

Even the biggest jerky fan will have to admit that the dried meat isn't much to look at. Most of it is kind of dull brown in color, unevenly shaped, and unattractively textured. At first glance, it bears more of a resemblance to shards of tree bark than actual food. But true jerky lovers don't let this throw them off. Jerky was, after all, originally invented as winter survival food, and the fact that it's evolved into a treat available in dozens of different flavors makes its homely appearance forgivable.

But even the most rational eater has to admit that an attractive presentation makes any food more appetizing. And if you choose to get your Buc-ee's jerky from the jerky counter, you can expect an extra special touch: When you order your jerky, the attendant won't simply weigh it out and stick it into a bag. Instead, each variety you order will be carefully wrapped in multiple layers of butcher paper and sealed with a yellow Buc-ee's sticker. And jerky lovers do indeed notice and appreciate this attention to detail. "They wrap their jerky like Publix wraps my $30 steak," praised one Tripadvisor reviewer.

Buc-ee's recommends refrigerating its fresh jerky

When you pick up your meticulously wrapped bundle of jerky at the Buc-ee's jerky counter, you probably won't pay much attention to the printed label pasted onto the wrapper. But as one Twitter user noted, a close look reveals a surprising suggestion – to keep it refrigerated. This is a bit puzzling given jerky's origins as a means of preserving perishable meat in the pre-refrigeration era, and in light of the fact that just a few feet away from the jerky counter at Buc-ee's is an unrefrigerated wall covered with bags of pre-packaged jerky. So what's going on?

While our ancestors had no choice but to keep their jerky unrefrigerated, we now have the option to be a bit more careful. According to Lorissa's Kitchen, jerky that you buy in a sealed, airtight package can be kept at room temperature, unopened, for up to a year without any loss of quality. Once opened, however, jerky should ideally be stored in the refrigerator in its packaging to preserve its original quality. The National Center for Home Food Preservation concurs, noting that while fully dried jerky can safely be stored at room temperature in a sealed container, refrigerating it will increase its shelf life and better preserve its flavors.