Don’t you love yourself some good old jerky! The consistency, flavor, scent, all in just one piece of meat is to die for. The good thing with jerky, not only can you enjoy a bite but also feed some of it to your pets at home. So how about we show you how to make the best jerky you’ve ever tasted?
Sure, you can make jerky in different ways but there’s no comparison to what smoking can bring to the table. Its flavor is on a whole new level. And if you’ve been around smoking long enough, you can agree that even the slightest infusion of smoke renders tremendous results.
This is why we came up with the perfect recipe behind smoked beef jerky. Read along!
What Makes Jerky
The truth is you can make jerky from almost any kind of meat out there. It all depends on what you like, are willing to experiment with, and maybe a little bit to do with where you come from too. Antelope, deer, even kangaroo jerky all taste pretty good when smoked right. But for traditional forks who don’t like to test the waters, beef is the go-to option.
Whatever you choose to cook with, be sure to go for a lean piece of meat and cut it equally thin. New York Strip and other plump varieties will not go well because they tend to accumulate a lot of fat. If you’re making jerky from scratch, be sure to source your meat from a certified butcher. Ensure your local vendor gets their beef from an authorized source and will not sell you damaged goods. Bad meat equals bad jerky.
One of the best parts to work with is around the shoulder region so unless you’ve had experience with other areas, aim for this.
How to Slice your Jerky
Onto the next most important part, slicing. Take a close look at store-bought jerky (assuming you’ve tried some) and borrow a few notes from here. The cuts almost always take to a slim design and this works to help the smoke flavor penetrate even better.
When you’ve just bought your lump of beef, don’t be in a hurry to get to cutting. A healthy cow is going to spot some fat here and there so take time to trim off the excess.
The secret is to freeze it a while so that it toughens. Meat right from the butcher onto the chopping board is going to be squishy. You might even injure yourself trying to get your knife through.
Cooling will give you a more solid surface area to work with such that cutting thinner, consistent pieces is not a hassle (provided the knife is sharp of course). Let the beef sit for at least an hour, maybe two depending on the size. Thereafter pull it out and get to work. Exceed this and you risk your beef turning to ice hard rock, another dilemma that will set you back more hours as you let it thaw out. About ¼ by 1/8 inches thick is a good slicing ratio.
Again, you want to slice against the muscle fibers. When you cut parallel to the grain, you’re buttering yourself up for some tough jaw work. Leave this for when you’re making jerky primarily for your four-legged friends; maybe then you could get away with a bit of recklessness.
In case you’re worried about not getting enough chew, don’t be. The smoking will further toughen the jerky so you have just the right amount of jaw exercise.
Being that slicing by hand could take quite some time especially when you’re making jerky in bulk, the easy way out is to use a jerky slicer. It saves you time and energy, while simultaneously producing clean, lean cuts that will cook evenly in the smoker.
Check this Tenderizer & Jerky Slicer for a start.
Prepare to Marinade
Just like with most meats, marinating brings out an intense flavor that’s going to be a delight in your mouth. All the same with jerky. So do not slack on this step.
For the ingredients, work with favorite sauces and powders the best way you know-how. To start you off get some;
- Soy sauce
- Worcestershire sauce
- Onion powder
- Garlic powder
- Black pepper
Decide the amounts depending on how much jerky you intend to smoke. There’s no end to this list but at the least have your salt and pepper to tie everything together. Some prefer to add some liquid smoke to get a deeper flavor but nothing crazy. The smoke in itself is sufficient.
Mix all your ingredients into a large plastic bowl, and after them giving a good stir, add your cuts inside. Ensure the seasoning is evenly coated on each slice.
For the marinating, have it done the previous night for best results. The long hours give time for the ingredients to work their way into the jerky. But if you are pressed for time, at the bare minimum allow roughly 6 hours.
Also, check our favorite pork bacon jerky recipe
Let’s Get to Cooking
Finally, we’re here! Before anything, understand that jerky doesn’t need a lot of heat to get done. Primarily, the whole point is to dry and not exactly cook. Because of the thin slicing, a lot of fire could likely result in a burn so go easy on the temperatures.
Smoking beef jerky can be done either one of two ways, inside or outdoor. Quickly let’s run through the steps of doing it in your oven.
1. Smoking with an Oven
If you do not have a smoker box, you could still make do with your cooker oven. And this is how;
- Preheat your oven to about 180 F
- Before putting in the jerky, prepare a baking sheet and have it lined with foil paper. It’s going to spare you the aftermath of cleaning a wrecked oven from all the drippings.
- Layout the pieces straight leaving space between each and insert into the middle rack.
- After the first 1 ½ hour, be back to flip the jerky to the other side.
It’s going to take about 3 hours to cook so have your timer close by. The trick is to vent that door in the oven for proper circulation and keep the temperatures 180F low.
2. Combining a Smoker and Dehydrator
Like we said, smoking is the best approach for a burst of flavor. In this case, we’ll combine both a smoker and dehydrator and walk you through every step of it. Note that no dehydrator jerky still tastes supreme but the extra effort to dehydrate is what makes it really pop.
For the smoking part;
- Get your smoker going with some charcoal lumps/briquettes.
- When the coal is hot throw in a handful of wood chunks. A combination of apple and oak is ideal.
- Aim for temperatures between 170F-180F.
- In the meantime use some kneading needles/ toothpicks to pierce through each beef. This is to suspend them inside the smoker rack.
- Space the jerky in a way they do not touch one another.
- When the smoker is ready, hang it and let the process begin.
- Rotate the jerky midway so that all sides cook evenly.
Maintaining temperatures is most crucial and only a temperature gauge can help you achieve this. Invest in a quality one and be gentle with the charcoal bed and wood amounts because you just need thin whips of smoke and not the white dense type.
Jerky is best prepared between a range of 160-180F. But this can be a difficult target if you’re not working with an electric smoker. In case you scale up to the 200F mark, it’s fairly okay but proceed cautiously or else you will over dry your jerky.
Introducing a dehydrator will save you time that you would otherwise spend monitoring your jerky progress. About 2 -2 ½ hours in the smoker and you’re out. The rest of the drying is up to your dehydrating unit.
However, if you choose to finish everything from your smoker, give a longer allowance of about 5-6 hours total cooking time.
Related article: The best charcoal smokers in 2021
How to Know Your Jerky is Ready
It’s only jerky when it’s chewy. But how chewy it gets will depend on how you like your jerky done. The above time frames yield a perfect balance between rubbery and tender. Unless you want to be tagged against the beef, stick to these. If you fancy a crispier feel, ensure to stretch out the time in the smoker box.
The easiest indicator your jerky is done is when you pull it apart and it bends without cracking. Spotting white fibers is also a good confirmation. And when the smoke flavor is no more than proportionately mild, you know you hit the sweet spot.
Storing for Future
Smoked beef jerky can last a long long time in the refrigerator, up to months. But before you get to storing, let the jerky sit out for at least thirty minutes in the open. Use vacuum seal bags for packing and ensure that all the air is driven out.
Lock them away safely in the freezer, and occasionally treat yourself to a fantastic snack!
But if you made just enough for the moment, it’s about time to dig in! Call over a couple of friends and enjoy the best-smoked beef jerky! Cheers!
- The best jerky cooking temperature is between 160-180F.
- A combination of fruitwood and hardwood produces premium smoke.
- Use a digital thermometer to keep track of temperatures.
- A dehydrator is convenient for a set-and-forget type of approach.