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If you like beef jerky, but don’t like the store bought kind, then learning how to make beef jerky in a smoker may be the perfect new skill to add to your cooking arsenal. Jerky is great anytime and is a quintessential camping or hiking food, because it’s healthy and gluten-free.
In this article we will cover everything you need to make beef jerky in a smoker including choosing the cuts of meat, best type of wood, how to smoke jerky along with some easy and delicious recipes.
Before we get started, let’s take a look at the history and types of Jerky
History of Jerky
The word jerky originated from the Spanish word Charqui, which means dried meat. The Mayans and Native Americans of Central and South America have dried meats dating back to 600BC. The meat was usually cut into thin strips and hung high above campfires in order to dry. This allowed the meat to maintain its natural flavors and freshness, while also allowing it to last longer.
Types of Jerky
The term “jerky” refers to a wide variety of dried meats. The precise origin of the name is unclear, but it is believed the term originated from Spanish and Portuguese sailors who would eat jerked pork. But that’s just one example.
The jerky can be made from a variety of different meats such as beef, venison, elk, bison, ostrich and more. The most popular types of jerky are beef jerky and venison jerky (and many other types).
Difference between wet, semi-dry, and dry jerky
There are three different types of jerky that you can make.
Wet Jerky: The meat is soaked in water for a long period of time before the drying stage begins. This is done so that the jerky retains moisture while being roasted over a fire or barbeque grill. The meat will still be juicy and delicious, just not as dry.
Wet jerky is not smoked but require an ample amount of salt to create a cure so intense that it requires refrigeration or freezing to prevent bacterial growth.
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Semi-Dry Jerky: This is a popular method of making jerky. Meat is wrapped in banana leaf or other types of loosely woven bag and then hung up above the fire or grill so that the meat slowly dehydrates over a period of time. There are still a lot of liquid when it’s done, so this should not be confused with dry meat.
Dry Jerky: The dry jerky is what most people associate with jerky. It is cured with a neutral cure and does not require refrigeration or freezing before consumption.
Drying techniques similar to those used for smoking poultry. This means that the meat is allowed to dry in a smoke environment, usually in the smoker or under an open fire. As with wet jerky, this type of jerky also has a lot of liquid when it’s done. This liquid will evaporate away during the dehydrating phase and the meats become extremely dried out.
What is Needed to Smoke Jerky
The following items are needed to create jerky.
A Smoker! What Smoker is Best for Jerky? If you do not have a smoker or are looking for a new one, the Master-built Electric Smoker is great for jerky and one of the best smokers.
Masterbuilt MB20071117 Digital Electric Smoker
Feel free to substitute items in this list with ones you have at home, however, make sure to double check the ingredients before you purchase. This is also a list of “less expensive” options so feel free to skip certain items if you do not have them on hand.
Cut of Meat: Beef, venison or other meat of choice, such as pork or chicken.
Find the Best Meat for Smoking
Meat Tenderizer: Usually celery salt or a commercial powder.
Cure: This is an additive that should be purchased from your local grocery store or butcher. This is used to create the proper flavor and texture in the final product.
Spices: These are optional and can be purchased at any grocery store, but again, make sure that you check ingredients before you buy so that there are no gluten containing ingredients listed on the packaging.
Molasses: Again, this is optional but can add a great flavor to your jerky. Make sure that you buy the type of molasses which do not contain gluten.
Brown Sugar: Again, this is optional but will give extra sweetness to the jerky, which helps balance out the saltiness.
Hot Sauce: This is another optional item and can give a great flavor to the jerky. Again, make sure that you check ingredients before purchasing so that there are no ingredients which may contain gluten.
Wood Chips: Once again, this is optional but will make your jerky smoke much more evenly and will usually add a slight flavor as well. These can be purchased at any local store that sells cooking supplies or at your local grocer’s or home improvement store.
How to Make Beef Jerky in a Smoker
Chose your cut of meat: Whatever cut of meat you choose (beef or other) make sure that it’s leaner than most cuts of meat.
What Type of Meat is Best for Beef Jerky?
Unprocessed, Choice, Select
These are the words that you need to be looking for when you go shopping for meat. These cuts of meat are very lean, but not bone-in. This is because the bone will add additional weight and will therefore reduce the overall amount of food that can be dried out. All of these cuts of beef are also less expensive than other types so they make a great choice if you’re not cooking all that much meat at once.
The best cuts for jerky are normally top round, bottom round, pectoral, and lifter, but flank and skirt steak also work well. All of these cuts of beef are tender, flavorful, and cost-effective. If you want to learn how to create beef jerky, let’s take a look at a few different kinds of meat.
Top Round: It is also known as “London Broil” or “Inside Round Steak,” and is a round primal cut. For jerky, it’s a great supply of inexpensive, lean big cuts of meat. As far as commercial jerky firms are concerned, it’s the most common cut. It’s lean and inexpensive, but it lacks taste and tenderness.
“Bottom Round Oven Roast” or “Round Roast” is another name for this cut, which originates from the same area as the top round and has the same cooking method. Despite its rougher texture, it still makes excellent beef jerky. It’s a little less delicate than the first round, but otherwise it’s really comparable.
Eye of Round: Also present in the round primordial area, the eye of round is derived from the elongated muscles in the middle. Top and bottom round is less expensive, but top and bottom round is better since it is more soft and has more flavor.
Sirloin Tip: If you’re looking for something a little less popular from the round primordial, you can’t go wrong with the Sirloin Tip. In terms of price and flavor, it’s a little better than the other cuts, but it’s also a little tougher.
Blade Meat or Cap Wedge Meat—also known as Lifter Meat, this meat originates from the rib primal, and it’s from the ribs. Because it is less lean and has mild marbling, this cut of beef makes for better-tasting jerky, but it is also more expensive.
Flank Steak: When it comes to beef, you can’t go wrong with flank steak, which is also known as “Beef Flank” or “Plank Steak.” It’s a lean cut with a lot of grain in it.. It’s lean and lacks a lot of fat. There is a distinct difference in tenderness between this cut and lifter meat; nonetheless, it has a far greater flavor. Beef jerky made from this cut is one of the most costly on the market.
After you have chosen your meat, you will need to prepare it to make beef jerky.
Before cooking, make sure to trim the fat of your meat. This process is easy if you have a Cimeter Knife such as the one below
Victorinox Fibrox Pro 10-Inch Curved Cimeter Knife
After removing the fat, you will need to tenderize the meat. If you have a nice old-fashioned meat tenderizer, that would also work. Alternatively, you can use a commercial beef tenderizer powder which will work just as well but with more surface area contact with the meat, it helps melt fat more efficiently and makes for better tasting jerky.
McCormick Culinary Unseasoned Meat Tenderizer, 35 oz
In a small mixing bowl, add the commercial beef tenderizer powder. Then add 3 tablespoons of water. And then stir it up until it is a good consistency.
Read: Our complete Beginners Guide to Cold Smoking
After you have mixed it up, spread the tenderizer over the meat and rub it in with your hands. Make sure to get all sides of the meat as well as the top and bottom of them as well. Add additional tenderizer if needed depending on how much you are making at one time.
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The larger the slice of meat, the more tender the product will be, so when you first start making jerky, start with a small piece of meat. Once you master this process and learn what works best for your particular cut of meat, you can increase your volume of meat without having to worry about over-tenderizing your meat or producing an inferior product.
After washing your hands and making sure that they are washed well, use your electric knife or any other kind of knife you have to begin cutting up the meat. Make sure that you are using a sharp, flexible blade to help prevent damage to the edges of the meat.
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Once you have cut a slice or two, place in a plastic baggie and let sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes. This will help make it easier for the tenderizer powder to coat the meat for maximum flavor penetration.
Once you have let the meat sit at room temperature for 30 minutes or so, take it out and place in the refrigerator for an hour or so. This will help the tenderizer powder firm up into a thicker consistency. After an hour of refrigeration, take your jerky out and let it sit on your counter until it is cool enough to handle. The longer the meat sits at room temperature, the more tender it will become. It’s difficult to cook jerky before it cools down so use a thermometer and make sure you check the temperature before you begin.
After the meat has cooled down, you can begin rubbing it with a spicy marinade. If you are not into spicy food, don’t worry because there are many other options such as teriyaki or honey garlic. You can also coat the meat with soy sauce or coconut aminos if you want to flavor them without adding any spice.
Prepping Your Smoker
To avoid having to mop up drippings after drying, cover the drip pan with aluminum foil. If you don’t cover it, it’s going to be a disaster. The last thing you’d want to do is spend an hour cleaning your smoker because you skipped a 30 second phase in the procedure!!
To make cleanup a breeze, place a thin sheet of foil directly on top of the heating element. Use a piece of foil to allow air to travel from the bottom of the smoker to the top.
Remove any excess marinade from the jerky strips by drying them on paper towels and either laying them on the metal racks of the smoker or using toothpicks and hanging them. I’ve opted to hang my strips with toothpicks. One toothpick per piece of jerky is inserted after the strips have been dried on paper towels.
Smoking Your Jerky
Hang the strips on the tallest metal rack in your smoker.
The smoker’s top vent should be completely open for 1 12 hours at 170°F to dry completely.
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If you marinated your strips in a “wet” marinade, do not add water to the water pan when preparing jerky. Make sure to add some water or vinegar to the pan if you’ve used an all-natural dry rub to season the meat.*
Add a few wood chips to the smoker and raise the temperature to between 180°F and 200°F. Prepare the wood chips by soaking them for 10 to 15 minutes in water prior to use. Continue smoking at this temperature until no more smoke comes out of the wood chips (about 30 minutes to 1 hour). If the wood is burning at the proper temperature, blue smoke should be flowing out of the smoker. Increase the smoker’s temperature if the smoke is a thick, white haze. This white smoke has the potential to damage the jerky by imparting a bitter taste to the meat.
Reduce the temperature to 160°F, and do not add any additional wood chips. In my perspective, 30 minutes to an hour of smoking is about right for jerky. The jerky will dry faster if the wood tray door is left open a little after all the wood has burned through.
How to Know When the Jerky Is Done
Jerky is done when it bends and cracks but does not split in half while being smoked at 160°F. Pull a piece out of the smoker at regular intervals and allow it to come to room temperature before serving. After it has cooled, bend it to test if it is finished (let cool for 5-10 minutes, this helps not to over dry).
However, it should be able to flex and crack without breaking. The presence of white threads in the jerky is another telltale sign that it has finished drying.
Between 5 and 10 hours, depending on the thickness of your jerky and the type of smoker you use. Jerky generally takes 6-8 hours to dry to my satisfaction in my smoker.
During the final smoking step, I also leave the wood tray door open on the bottom of the smoker, allowing air to circulate from the bottom of the smoker up and out of the fully opened top vent; this helps speed up the drying process. I have over dried more jerky in my smoker than any other drying method.)
Easy Beef Jerky Recipe
This simple recipe is a great way to test out your beef jerky smoking skills. It is easy with limited ingredients and tastes great.
Slice the meat between 1/8 and 1/4 inches thick, parallel to the grain, and serve. Make horizontal slicing easier by cutting the larger cuts in half.
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In a medium bowl, combine brown sugar, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, smoked paprika, meat tenderizer, black pepper, red pepper flakes, onion powder, and garlic powder to taste. Whisk until mixed evenly and sugar has disolved.
In a large bowl, combine the meat with the marinade and toss to coat thoroughly. Refrigerate for at least 12 hours or overnight, covered with plastic wrap (or transferred to a large ziplock bag). To ensure that the meat marinates evenly, toss the meat (or flip the bag) once or twice.
After meat is ready, prepare smoker as described earlier and smoke the meat until finished as described in the previous section
Last step, Enjoy!
Take your jerky to the next level with this Ultimate Bacon Jerky Recipe
In conclusion, beef jerky has been around for centuries and is a delicious snack. It can be smoked to improve its flavor and to preserve it. The main things to be aware of when smoking beef jerky are:
Before smoking, marinating the meat for the proper amount of time is crucial. Next, prepare your smoker and set it up properly. Then, follow all the steps I have outlined in this article to enjoy a great batch of beef jerky!
If you want to learn more about how to cook and use your smoker, let me know in the comments section.