One of the first things many people want to do with a new smoker is to make jerky. Jerky is easily made in a smoker, oven, food dehydrator, or even laid out in the sun. Making jerky in a smoker adds a great smoky flavor that you won't get any other way. However, it is easy to over smoke jerky since the meat it is cut very thin before being smoked. Do not use extra smoking chips in your smoker when making jerky.
Jerky is generally long thin strips of meat that have been dried. Typically, the meat is beef and the traditional method of drying is in the sun. Modern jerky making has included all types of proteins including turkey, salmon, and venison. Jerky has remained popular for hundreds of years with people who need to carry their own food, including the trappers of old and hikers today. Jerky is tough and salty, but lightweight and lasts for a very long time without refrigeration or very much care.
Basic Steps for Smoking Jerky
Feel free to experiment with protein and flavors once you get comfortable with the basics of jerky making.
- Start with a very lean cut of meat. Starting out, a sirloin tip roast is a good basic protein for jerky because it's generally lean and easy to work with. Trim all the fat from the meat. Fat will become rancid fast and will increase the drying times.
- Cut the meat across the grain into 1/4 inch slices. There are many different spice mixtures and marinades that will flavor your jerky. Pick something that appeals to your sense of taste. However, if you choose to keep it simple, sprinkle the meat with salt and pepper and simply start smoking.
- When smoking jerky you need a low temperature and little smoke. Ideally, the temperature should be just under 150 F/65 C. If you are using an electric smoker, you will introduce a small amount of smoke, but if you are smoking over a charcoal or hardwood fire, this will generate plenty of smoke. You need to smoke or dry your jerky until it is completely dry. Depending on how you do it and your climate, this can take 12 to 72 hours.
Trying to run a smoker for more than about 12 hours can be a challenge for many people. When it comes to jerky, you are going to get the smoke flavor into the meat in about 3 hours. After this, you can take the jerky out of the smoker and finish it off in a food dehydrator or the oven.
Finishing and Storing Jerky
To store your finished jerky, make sure it is completed dried and cooled before you begin to store it. It will give off some moisture as it cools and you don't want any condensation from the moisture in your stored jerky. Jerky can be stored in a sealed container or plastic zip-top bag. It's best to label the package with the type of jerky (include any spices) and the date you dried it. Jerky should be kept in a cool, dark place and can be stored in the refrigerator or freezer for even longer storage.