BBQ FAQ Section 10.2.2


10.2.2 Jerky


[Is beef jerky better if it's made in a smoker?]

Rick Thead--

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.


Carey Starzinger--

Beef Jerky - Timpson


Measure Ingredient Preparation Method


pounds beef roast


cup soy sauce


tablespoon Worcestershire sauce


teaspoon garlic powder


teaspoon onion powder


teaspoon black pepper cracked if possible
red pepper flakes optional, to taste


tablespoon 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.


Wiley Mixon--

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 made.


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

The Meat:

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.

The Brine:

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?]

Dave Crawford--

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.

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BBQ FAQ Ver 1.0, 2.0 1997, 1998 William W. Wight. All rights reserved.

Thursday, November 25, 1999
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