[Is beef jerky better if it's made in a smoker?]
I attended the school of hard knocks when it came to jerky on the
smoker. I found that the key is to not try to completely dry the meat in the smoker. If
you do, the meat will be so smoky that no one will be able to go near it.
I like to spread out the meat, and smoke at just below 150F, rotating
the meat strips as they smoke. I smoke it for around 3 hours, and then finish it in a
dehydrator. Go light on the smoke.
Beef Jerky - Timpson
||cracked if possible
||red pepper flakes
||optional, to taste
||Liquid Smoke (optional)
I make jerky by buying about 5 pounds of beef. Usually a
roast. I then remove the fat. Cut thin strips of meat and place into marinade and let soak
for about 24 hours. Remove from marinade and allow to air dry for at least one hour. If
you have a meat smoker then omit the liquid smoke and smoke meat at a low temperature. Dry
in dehydrator or oven set to lowest temperature setting, about 150F until dry.
I've been making beef jerky in my American Harvest food dehydrator for
about 5 years. Through several experiments I finally got a finished product that I was
proud of. That happened when I joined this List. A few days ago someone suggested to smoke
the meat strips about 3 hours then finish it up in the dehydrator. Man, that made all the
difference in the world. I started with a 10 pound trimmed brisket and cut it into strips.
Bought a bottle of Red Creek Jerky Marinade and added 1/2 cup sugar, and to taste, cayenne
pepper, crushed red pepper, and coarse ground black pepper. I marinated the meat strips
overnight in the refrigerator. I then smoked them for 3 hours at 200F with mesquite.
Finished it up in the dehydrator for 6 hours at 145F. Excellent. Best jerky I've ever
Dan M Sawyer
I would like to share a jerky making process that goes back a long way,
before refrigerators, before electricity. To the best of my knowledge it has never been
written down, just passed along from one old timer to the next - until now.
Dan's Smokehouse Jerky
Generally, the lean scraps from most venison (elk, deer, caribou,
antelope and moose) work very good. Bear is greasy, as is pork. Buffalo is similar to beef
and makes good jerky. The best cut of beef that will yield the most usable lean meat is
the top round. If you like turkey, use large bone-in breasts and remove the bone. The meat
should be reasonably aged, at least kept cool for a week or so after it's dressed out and
skinned. It is important to trim as much fat off as possible, even if you have to cut it
out or scrape it off. The fat will not take salt very well when the meat brines, it will
become rancid and grow mold quickly. Cut the meat with the grain, into strips as big
around as your thumb (3/4-1" square) and as long as possible.
This is a self-brining method and works in two stages, dehydration and
rehydration. The ingredients needed are: kiln-dried medium salt. Most feed stores have 50#
bags for about $3. which will make about eight thousand pounds of jerky. Medium salt is
about the size of salt that comes on a pretzel. Molasses--I use Brer Rabbit light or
Grandma's. Brer Rabbit comes in pint bottles and has a small top that you can pour a nice
'string' from. Grandma's comes in a large mouth bottle and it's best if you transfer it to
some sort of a squeeze top ketchup or pancake syrup bottle (1 pint = about 20 lbs. of
meat). Black Pepper, medium grind or coarse - your choice. If you like it hot, use red
pepper flakes instead; if you don't like pepper, leave it out.
This brine process goes easier and more quickly if you have a few extra
happy hands joining in - the kids, the wife and myself usually make it a project and when
it's done everyone gets to pat each other on the back. Anyway, you will need a
flat-bottomed non-corrosive container and lid--a Tupperware storage bin, a plastic bus
tray or a stainless steam table pan will work well. The size depends on the amount of meat
and the room in your refrigerator--the lids keep things out and are handy for stacking the
containers. Salt the bottom of the pan evenly, making sure to get in the corners as well.
This may not be as easy as it sounds. Put a few pounds of salt in a bowl, cup your fingers
together and scoop out about a half a handful--not in your palm. Shake your hand back and
forth across the top and about a foot above the top of the pan. As the salt starts to
leave your hand, slowly open your fingers and let the salt run through evenly. Hand
salting may require some practice. Practice salting the bottom of the pan until it becomes
comfortable and the coverage is without gobs or streaks or voids. If this method becomes
too frustrating, a shaker top jar works too--a mayonnaise jar with the metal lid poked
full of holes by a 16 penny nail. The coverage amount should be between light coverage
(barely covering) and full coverage (completely covering)--the only comparison I can think
of is sugar on a pie crust or sugar on your cereal. You don't want it too salty, so one
might consider their first batch of jerky experimental and take it from there.
String the molasses. Same kind of deal as the salt; hold the bottle
about a foot above the pan, start moving it from side to side and pour. When the molasses
starts running try to get a 'string' about the size of a pencil lead and let it crisscross
the pan bottom over the salt. Once the strings are even in one direction, change
directions (perpendicular) and string evenly across again. Don't forget the corners. When
it's done, it will be an even grid about 1/2" square covering the pan bottom. Good
luck and don't worry, 10-12 layers and you'll be able to sign your name with it. The
pepper will vary as to individual taste. One note though, pepper almost doubles its
intensity as it soaks and it is easy to overpower the finished product. I would recommend
that a light dusting would be sufficient for most people (about the way you would pepper a
baked potato). Red pepper flakes, even more so. Again, hold the pepper can about a foot
above, and dust it evenly--good, you remembered the corners.
Layer the meat strips across the bottom of the pan one at a time.
Starting on one side, place the strips next to each other without overlapping and with all
of the strips running in the same direction. Work the meat across until the layer is
complete, without voids. Pat the surface, edges and corners down smooth and flat. Salt,
molasses and pepper the surface as was done to the bottom of the pan to start. The second
layer of meat is done the same, but it is run perpendicular to the first layer. Pat
smooth, salt, molasses and pepper. Run each additional layer perpendicular to the layer
before it. Continue layering the meat until it reaches to a level about 2" from the
top of the pan. The last layer, or partial layer, gets the salt, molasses and pepper
treatment as well.
This brining method will cure the meat in two days. Place the pan(s) in
the refrigerator, cover and let sit undisturbed for the first day (refrigeration is not
necessary if prepared in a cool climate 35-45F). After about 24 hours the meat should be
'turned'. Dig your hands in the pan and separate all of the strips, turning it over
several times to get the meat redistributed into a random order. Mash the meat back down
into the brining juices (at this point the juice will be thin and watery), cover, and let
sit for another day. I usually taste the juice at this point--if it tastes too salty the
meat can be rinsed with water, but it will not be as good. If the salt is right it will
have a slightly sweet, peppery flavor. During this next day the meat will soak up the
brine juices and when the meat is removed before smoking, it will have a 'candied'
texture--sticky and pliable. There should be very little, if any, brine solution left in
the pan. The meat will have soaked up the brine and be somewhat swelled up, as compared to
the first turning.
Smokehousing the meat: The smoking process will require a smokehouse or
smoking unit that is capable of maintaining 80-90F. If there is a small volume, piping the
smoke from an external source will provide a cooler smoke, and a hot plate or a few
briquettes/lump charcoal could provide the heat source. In a medium size unit
(refrigerator size), a cast iron frying pan with chips set on a hot plate will
work--although it may be difficult to maintain a constant temperature. The more volume,
the easier it is to control the temperature. I would recommend that a fire be built and
maintained throughout the smoking process, which will take from 48 to 70 hours--depending
upon the thickness of the meat.
The smokehouse that I use is medium-large (350) cu. ft. unit. It will
maintain a good smoky 80-100F with 2-3 half gallon milk-jug-sized pieces of wood burning.
Use seasoned, barkless wood of your choice. I use red alder, apple, plum, cherry, oak,
pear and some of the best I've ever done was with some 75 year old grape stumps. Citrus
works good too. Get the smokehouse going and rack or hang the meat while the temperature
stabilizes. If you rack the meat, place it without the pieces touching each other--just
enough room to run a finger between the strips. Stainless 3/16" rod sharpened on both
ends works good for hanging--again, leave some space between the strips.
As you place the strips, run them through your thumb and index finger to
squeegee off any excess brine. Before placing the racks or skewers into the smokehouse,
coarse black pepper or additional red pepper flakes may be added for those who like lotsa
zip. Load the smokehouse and leave the door cracked open for the first couple hours, or
until the surface of the meat has dried to the touch. Close the doors, poke the fire and
keep an eye on the temperature for a couple of days. Don't worry about the meat spoiling
if the fire goes out. The meat is cured. It's said that the old timers used to make their
jerky while they traveled. When they made camp at night they would hang the jerky over the
campfire until dawn, when they broke camp they simply packed up the jerky and continued
smoking the next night. This process takes about 4-5 days and is worth every minute.
Probably the two most important items would be too much salt and too much heat. If you
decide to try this method, I garr-own-tee you'll never find another piece of store bought
jerky that even comes close.
[How do you determine when the jerky is done?]
The meat is cured before it goes into the smokehouse so, technically
it's done at this point. The amount of smoke and how dry you might want it is of personal
preference. The amount of moisture in the finished product will determine its shelf life.
Some people like it softer and with a little less smoke, I'd call it kippered beef rather
than jerky--there is still a percentage of moisture in the meat and it will sweat to the
surface enabling mold growth--especially if it's kept in a plastic baggie or a closed
container at room temperature. If you prefer it this way, put it in a mason jar and keep
it in the freezer. I usually smoke the meat for three days, trying to keep the temperature
as close to 90F as I can, at this point I'll start pulling out the thinner pieces that are
dry and leave in the thicker pieces. My method of determining whether it's done isn't very
scientific--I take my pocket knife and whittle a piece in half through the thickest part
and look for meat fiber that is still somewhat reddish in color. Most of the time you can
squeeze a piece, if it feels soft inside it needs more time, if it has no give to it, it's
ready to remove. You can also over-do it, but the chances of this happening after tending
a fire for three or four days is pretty slim--a prolonged temperature spike (120-150F for
1-2 hours) will cause the meat to cook on the inside and crust on the outside and it will
stay that way--stopping the jerky process. Small, intermittent spikes or cooling below
temperature doesn't really cause any problems.
[I would like to try Dan's jerky but I don't have a smokehouse and I
don't think that my NBBD will do the trick. Can you make Dan's Smokehouse Jerky in a
regular barbecue smoker?]
I made some of Dan's jerky a few months ago in my Hondo. No real problem
keeping the temperature down. I just burned 1 or 2 lumps of mesquite charcoal at a time
and kept putting small chunks of flavor wood on top of the coals. I smoked it in the Hondo
for about 32 hours, then moved it inside to the oven (set to low) to finish drying it. The
jerky in the hotter end of the smoker dried and finished a bit before that in the other
end. All was excellent.