Editors' Choice 2013: Sweetwood Cattle Company Beef Jerky

This small-batch, baked (not dehydrated), Colorado-made protein snack is a cut above the rest.

Even the best bars and trail mix get mighty monotonous during a long trek. Get out of the snack-food rut with tender jerky from this Steamboat Springs-based cattle ranch. “It’s the perfect pick-me-up on the trail—not dry or chewy like gas-station jerky—and packed full of flavor,” says one tester, a food snob who polished off three bags in two days of hiking in Tasmania. What makes it different? Sweetwood uses fresh, whole-muscle pieces from Angus cows raised right on its premises (not ground-up scrap meat imported from South America, like most major jerky brands). Plus, Sweetwood jerky is baked, not dehydrated, which explains its moistness. The perfect blend of tender, hormone-free beef, brown sugar, salt, and bold (MSG-free) spices elicits a consistently smoky flavor that even had infrequent beef-eaters polishing off entire bags in one trailside break. The only problem? We couldn’t agree on a favorite flavor. Regular, peppered, hot, and teriyaki all scored high marks. (Chefs: The ranch also sells premium steaks.) $7; 2 oz.; sweetwoodjerky.com