Tasting menus in today’s culinary world usually involve small plates, wine pairings and fresh seasonal produce. Rarely, if ever, do they consist entirely of beef jerky. When I found there is another Fat Man out there making 13 gourmet varieties of the stuff, I knew I had to try them all.
Fatman’s Beef Jerky is owned and operated by Rick and Ellen Robey, who began producing jerky in 2006 in Roswell. Rick was in the cattle and meat-packing business in eastern New Mexico for most of his life before entering the jerky game. Needless to say, Rick knows his beef.
New Mexicans and jerky go way back. Peoples of the region have been preserving wild game with salt, spices and smoke for centuries. Thanks to people like the Robeys, the tradition of jerkying is alive and well in the state. Today, jerkies and carne seca are more popular than ever.
Fatman’s makes their carne seca-ish jerky from inside rounds of USDA inspected American beef, and it’s MSG- and nitrate-free. The jerky is similar in appearance to the NM classic, but retains a little more moisture, making it chewier than most. The company’s new facility outside Roswell is state-of-the-art, ensuring the final product is of the highest quality and delivers the freshest flavor. The Robeys even include a production date on each package of jerky so you know it’s fresh.
So how does it taste? Well, some are better than others. With so many distinct flavors, you’re bound to have winners and losers. For the purpose of our tasting menu, we broke the varieties into four categories.
In the standard category we have original, salt & pepper, teriyaki and BBQ. Original and BBQ are the winners in this showdown of classics. Fans of big, black-pepper flavors may like the salt & pepper, but it’s not a favorite of the tasting panel. Teriyaki is also lacking in the flavor department. The original, on the other hand, is pretty tasty. One taster commented that it was the perfect cross of carne seca and Oberto (a popular commercially produced jerky from Washington). The runaway favorite from this category is BBQ—it’s similar to the original, only better. The BBQ flavor has a hint of smoke and spice, and the marinade adds moisture, giving the jerky a good amount of chew. This is the one I’d grab.
The New Mexico category includes red chile, green chile and cowboy. These are all some of Fatman’s more popular flavors and we can see why. The panel was torn trying to pick a winner from this category; all three ranked among all-around favorites. The red chile is damn good. It’s crusted in large flakes of chile, and the heat is just right. Fatman’s uses only local peppers in these recipes, and the freshness of the ingredients shines through in the final product. Cowboy is also really good. It’s the smokiest of the bunch and is the perfect choice for people who don’t like it too spicy.
Speaking of spicy, Fatman’s produces a couple flavors that really pack some heat. Their spice varieties include smoky chipotle, jalapeño-lime and habanero. Jalapeño-lime is by far the best of the bunch. Again, Fatman’s sources local chile for this variety, and the flavor is fresh and bright, with a sneaky amount of heat. Smoky chipotle would benefit from more smoke, and habanero is just too damn hot to eat. My head is sweating just thinking about it.
Last, and sort of least, is what we’re calling the wildcards: lemon-pepper, sweet & spicy and Cajun.
Lemon-pepper is the favorite here. The pepper flavor is toned down, while the lemon is nice and subtle. Sweet & spicy is sweeter than spicy, and the pineapple juice used in the marinade is definitely noticeable. Fans of teriyaki might like this variant even more. Cajun is meh.
While I wouldn’t suggest making a meal out of it, I do recommend Fatman’s Beef Jerky for your next wilderness adventure or road trip. The red chile jerky is some of the best out there, and the cowboy and BBQ flavors are pretty tasty, too. Fatman’s gourmet jerky is a great way to both enjoy a tasting of New Mexico traditional, while also supporting local business. Fatman’s jerky is available at all Brewer gas stations, as well as a few other places in town. For a full list of retailers, click here.