I have been making jerky for many years. It was the very first meat I smoked when I got my smoker. You can use any number of appliances to dry your jerky including dehydrators or even the home oven. I much prefer the taste I get from my smoker, though I have used a dehydrator and an oven in the past with much success.
Over the years, through trial and error, I have perfected this jerky technique and want to share it with you. So read on and you will discover my secrets to making the best jerky on Planet Earth!
Now, you will notice that the technique below is VERY labor intensive and time consuming. So as not to scare you away, I will admit the process can be shortened. How? Several ways……..
You can choose to use a dry rub. This can be done immediately after slicing and you can smoke the same day. Just be sure to use lots of rub! I use a baggie, fill it with meat and dump in enough rub to coat all your strips. I used to use a great spice that Durkee made called, Hot and Spicy. It was so darn good they quit making it! Go figure.
You can also cut out the drying of the meat part. Just marinade right after slicing. Keep in mind your meat will not absorb as much flavor because it is already full of moisture.
You can slo cut your marinading time to overnight.
Finally, you can use your oven’s convection setting which makes drying just few hours. I gotta be honest, my neighbor Bill, who is a very accomplished BBQ cook, uses his oven and loves the flavor it imparts. Me? I notice a huge difference when I make my jerky in the smoker. Maybe go part way in the smoker and finish in the oven. Whatever works for you! See? I’m a flexible guy!
Any jerky recipe starts with the meat. I use REAL meat, not the ground crap that comes out of a jerky gun. Sorry Bro! Pay close attention to the price! The jerky process below results in about 1/2 to 2/3 loss of volume. That means your finished cost will be about double or triple what you paid!
By far the best cut of meat for jerky is Top Round. There is literally no fat, unfortunately, this cut can be expensive so watch for sale prices. Other cuts that can be used are brisket flats and flank steak (again, both can be expensive). Bottom Round can be used in a pinch, but it has a fair amount of fat that is hard to trim out. Eye of Round has become my favorite choice because I can usually buy it for around $3.00 per lb. Plus it fits easily into the home slicer I use. The idea here is to get the cheapest, leanest cut of beef you can find. If the beef has too much internal fat, it will spoil and turn rank during the drying process.
PREPARING THE MEAT
Have the meat market/dept. cut this for you. They will just slice it to your requirements. Then, all you have to do is cut it into strips. Find a meat market that will do this for you, it is invaluable!!!!!! The thickness doesn’t really matter too much. I know folks who like it thick and those who prefer it thin. I am somewhere in the middle (about ¼ inch). Unfortunately, more and more meat markets refuse to do this.
Unfortunately fewer and fewer markets will do this, but I encourage you to ask. If you cannot find anyone to do this then you will be stuck slicing. To help with this task, after trimming the outside fat, place the whole chunk of meat in the freezer. For a 3-5 lb. roast about 30-40 minutes will do. Slice with the grain if you like your jerky chewy or against the grain if you prefer a more tender piece.
When slicing by hand you will get a variety of widths and thickness. Not much you can do about that! Once the meat is sliced, again trim any fat and then cut into strips.
Another way you can go, especially if you plan on making lots of jerky, is to buy a home meat slicer. I invested in the Chef’s Choice model 610. It gets the job done and only cost about $100. It works best if you cut your meat into 2-3lb. chunks (pictured below) and then freeze for about 1 hr.
After you have sliced the meat, put it on a platter in a criss-cross pattern and let dry for 24 hours. I put the platter right in the refrigerator uncovered! I use a cookie cooling rack inside of a large sheet cake pan. You want the meat to dry slightly so it absorbs more of the marinade in the next step. In the pic below you can see the accumulated blood after drying. And, NO, the meat will NOT go bad!!
After drying, place in marinade (recipe below) for AT LEAST 24 hours. I find if I marinade for 2 days, the flavor is even better. Use a 1 gallon freezer ZipLoc bag for this! It needs to be strong so don’t use a regular ZipLoc…go with the extra thick freezer variety.
Below are 2 bags of prepared beef strips. Each bag contains about 5 lbs. of meat. As you can see these bags are nearly full. You need room for the marinade so don’t over fill the bags with meat. Once you add the marinade, be sure to purge all the air out when sealing.
After marinating, drain in a colander for a couple of hours. Or, use a salad spinner! You want to remove as much of the moisture as possible so as not to prolong the drying process.
OK, you are now ready for the drying process. Notice the title? It says DRYING, not cooking. So, temperature is very important in this step. Meat cooks at around 180-200º. You want to avoid this! Jerky is dried meat, not cooked meat! I keep my temps around 150-170º when using my smoker. Most commercial dehydrators operate at 150-155º. This can make it rather difficult to make in the oven. However, if your oven has a “Warm” setting check the temp out using an oven thermometer and most likely it will work. Fortunately, the newer ovens have settings as low as 170º.
Drying can take the better part of the day (8 – 12 hours) so be prepared to spend some time on this step. The time will depend on both the temps of your cooker and the thickness of your jerky slices. The thicker your slices and the lower your temps, the longer it will take. It is impossible to give a time estimate because of all the variables. The only way you can tell when it is done is to taste it! Dry it to your personal liking and note how long it took.
Because of the huge amount of labor involved in making jerky, I like to make a lot every time. To do this in my smoker, I have had to get creative to maximize my space.
I used to use toothpicks to hang……………….
Talk about labor intensive!!! Here is how I now maximize my jerky production………………
Those are extruded aluminum trays that can be purchased at most stores that carry grilling stuff. They are supposed to be disposable but I have used these for several years. My WSM can support 5 trays on each level for a total of 10. I use 1″ X 1″ blocks of wood to separate which allows the smoke and heat to circulate. Usually half way thru the cook I rotate them as needed.
The finished “stacks”, ready for the smoker…………………..
USING THE SMOKER
First start a small fire……………………………..
Yep, that small amount got me to 150º in about 15 minutes.
Time to load her up and let it work its magic! 5 stacks on top and 5 on the bottom.
IS IT DONE YET???
Here are some pics of the final product. A couple of things to look at when determining if your jerky is finished drying. You should get a nice little sheen on the finished product. Look closely at the pic and you can see how it shines………………
You also want the jerky to bend without breaking as seen below……………
So there you have it! After several days and 12 lbs. of raw meat, this batch ended up weighing in at about 5 lbs. A GREAT treat the whole neighborhood will enjoy!
This is my old standby marinade. I have used this recipe for years and keep going back to it. Tender Quick is NOT a meat tenderizer. It is packaged in 2 lb. blue bags (see pic below) and is usually around the salt and spices section of store . The Tender Quick helps to cure so you can store the jerky longer and it also gives it the needed salt taste. If you cannot find this, add the equivalent amount of Kosher salt.
This recipe is based on 1 lb. of sliced and ready meat, so adjust accordingly.
1 pound Jerky meat, sliced and ready
1 tablespoon Tender Quick OR Kosher salt
1 tablespoon Sugar
1 tablespoon Honey
1/2 tablespoon A1 Steak Sauce
2 teaspoons Beef rub
1 teaspoon Garlic powder
Hot pepper powder or Hot sauce to taste
Enough water or chicken broth to cover
Combine everything except the water or chicken broth in a large mixing bowl. Estimate how much liquid you will need to cover the meat and add to the spices…..you can always add more once the meat is in the marinade bags. Soak for 2-3 days.
Well, there you have it! As you can see there is some work involved here. This is one of the reasons good jerky is so darn expensive to buy….very labor intensive. But as I mentioned above, you can use some short cuts and really cut the time to make.