In case you didn’t notice, the Philly suburbs are in the midst of a cured-cuisine renaissance, with small-batch artisans transforming lean, locally sourced meats into high-end snacks. The latest addition to the surge: West Chester’s Righteous Felon Jerky Cartel, independent purveyors banking on all-natural recipes they’ve been developing for almost two decades.
Righteous Felon’s “chief trafficking officer” is Brendan Cawley, who started making jerky after he took money he’d received on his 12th birthday and bought himself a $30 dehydrator. Soon, he and his friends were pushing the product at Downingtown Middle School, earning a dubious rep among administrators thanks to some suspicious makeshift packaging.
By 2012, the contraband cooks had fine- tuned their flavors, sourced high-quality pasture-raised Black Angus beef from Maryland’s Roseda Farm, and compiled quite the all-natural seasoning profile. Wisely, Cawley—along with brothers Michael and Kyle, and friends Tucker Rinehart, Kyle Whitmore, Geoff Wolk and Bill Cohen—made their jerky-making collaboration official.
Aside from O.G. Hickory (the classic that started it all), they’ve busted out with larger-than-life flavors like Che-potle Guevara (a mild rendition peppered with chipotle, chili powder and cumin) and Habanero Escobar (the spiciest of the bunch). And with a number of limited releases in the works (including wine, chocolate and beer-infused strips), a wide-ranging, preservative-free roster is bound to keep this protein-packed cartel on the righteous path. $7/pouch. Available at Kimberton Whole Foods, Terrain at Styer’s and Di Bruno Bros.