The Secret To Making Great Jerky
While some contribute the first beef jerky recipe to the Native Americans, others insist that it was the Incas. Regardless, jerky is a great thing to take on a hike or even to nibble on at work. Jerky can also be a great afternoon snack for the children or a quick pick-me-up at a sporting event. Making your own at home is much cheaper and healthier than buying it in the grocery store. It is also a lot of fun to make it.
There are many types of jerky that you can consider making along with several different seasoning choices. In fact, you can even miss it up and make several at the same time. My favorite is beef jerky marinated with Dr. Pepper and jalapenos, so that is the one that I am going to teach you to make.
What You Need to Follow This Tutorial
Meat - You can make jerky using a variety of meats including alligator, duck, elk, deer, turkey and wild boar. My favorite type of meat to use, however, is beef. Look for meat that has very little marbling as the fat will turn your jerky rancid making it inedible. If you are using chicken, then you want it to be a flesh tone, while pork should be a light pink. The best beef, however, will be bright red. Avoid pieces that have dark spots. My personal preference is flank steak, but you can use other beef cuts like London broil, rump roast and brisket. In most cases, two to three pounds of meat will yield one pound of jerky.
Smoker - I prefer to use my smoker to make beef jerky, but you can use a grill if you prefer. Smokers allow the meat to cook low and slow which is an essential element of preparing I prefer to smoke on a wood smoker because I like the smoky flavor that it gives to my meat, however, an electric or charcoal smoker can be used.
Wood - If you use a wood smoker, then you will need some wood chips. You can use almost any variety, but when I am making beef jerky, then I prefer to mix cherry and hickory. The cherry wood gives the jerky a slightly sweet hint while the hickory gives the meat a slight bacon-flavored hint. You may also use pecan, mesquite, apple, oak or alder. The best way to determine the wood flavor that you like best is to experiment with several different choices.
Marinade - I like to make my marinade from combining Dr. Pepper, sliced jalapenos and Worcestershire sauce combined with a little kosher salt, black pepper, garlic powder and onion powder. The sweet and bold taste of this combination is right for me, but you may choose others if you want. The right marinade adds flavor to the meat, and it helps to make it more tender. You will need a nonreactive pan for marinating the meat. Some people use curing powder, but my marinade has enough kosher salt and Worcestershire sauce in it that I do not use it.
Sharp Knife - I prefer to use an electric knife, but any sharp knife that you can cut extremely thin pieces of raw meat with will work perfectly. You do not want to cut the meat too thick as it will take longer to smoke. You also want to cut the meat across the grain as this will help your finished beef jerky be more tender. Alternatively, if you like a more chewy jerky, then slice it at a diagonal across the grain. Some people slice choose to slice against the grain but choose to tenderize the meat by pounding it with a meat mallet. Make sure that knife is sharp enough to cut the meat without tearing it. Some people prefer to use a jerky slicer so that their pieces come out more uniform.
Drying Pan - You will need to dry the meat completely after you marinade it. The best way to do this is to cover a cookie sheet with paper towels. Then, lay the meat on top. Add some more paper towels and press down until all the moisture is absorbed.
Slice the Meat
The first step in making jerky is to slice the meat. Cold meat is easier to slice, so refrigerate the meat for at least two hours before attempting to slice it. Start by cutting off any fat that you see on the meat as it will make it go rancid sooner. I like a more tender jerky, so I make sure to slice it with the grain. If you like jerky that you have to gnaw on a little bit to eat, then slice it at a diagonal across the grain. You should cut the meat so that it is about 0.25 inches thick.
Prepare the Marinade
Combine one cup Dr. Pepper, 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce, 1 tablespoon kosher salt, 1 teaspoon black pepper, 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder and 1/2 teaspoon onion powder in a pan. Thinly slice one-half jalapeno and add to the pan. Bring it to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and continue cooking until the mixture reduces by half. Cool the marinade completely before continuing to the next step.
Marinate the Meat
Pour the marinade into a non-reactive metal pan. Place the meat into the marinade and let it sit in the refrigerator for at least eight hours. You may also choose to pour the marinade into a plastic bag and add the meat. Make sure that the meat stays covered with the marinade. You can marinade the meat for up to 36 hours.
Drain the Meat
Place a cookie sheet or other pan on a flat surface and cover it with paper towels. Remove the meat from the marinade and lay it on the paper towels. Cover the top of the meat with more paper towels. Press down to remove any moisture from the meat. Depending on the cut and weather, you may need to remove the paper towels and add more to absorb all the moisture. I usually flip my meat over and press it from both sides.
Prepare the Smoker
Prepare the smoker with your favorite wood. Do not add any water to the water pan. You want to smoke the meat at the lowest temperature possible. Try not to let it get over 140 degrees as you want to smoke the meat long and slow.
Smoke the Meat
You will want to smoke the meat for at least three hours. Try to keep the temperature below 140 degrees. After three hours, open the smoker and test a piece of meat. It should bend in the middle, but not crack. Depending on how evenly you were able to slice your meat, some pieces may be done before others. Remove the pieces that are done. It may take up to five hours for all the meat to cook properly.
Place the Meat in a Bag
Once you remove the meat from the smoker, place it in a plastic bag. Seal the bag most of the way, but leave a hole for steam to escape. Until the meat is completely cooled, it will continue drying out. When all pieces will bend without breaking, then divide the meat into smaller amounts if desired. Place the bags in the freezer to keep the meat from going bad.
Remove From Freezer
When you are ready to enjoy your jerky, remove a bag from the freezer. Place it in a plastic bag with air holes poked into it. If you want the meat to last longer without being frozen, then insert a 20 to 50 cc oxygen absorber into each bag when you take it out of the freezer.
I hope that you have enjoyed learning to make beef jerky. Remember that a similar process can be used to make other types of jerky. If you have made jerky in your smoker, then share your tips with us. Please consider showing this article to your friends who you think would enjoy making their own jerky.
Frequently Asked Questions
What’s the Best Meat for Beef Jerky
You can make beef jerky with many different cuts of meat. Our favorite is the flank steak or the London Broil, but you could also use any lean cut of beef. Some other choices include eye of round, bottom round, sirloin tip, rump roast, or brisket.
How Do You Make Homemade Beef Jerky?
Beef jerky is super easy to make at home! All you need is a marinade recipe (we have a great one in the article above) and some time to dry out the meat. You can use a low-temperature oven, a dehydrator, or the smoker. The last is our favorite because it adds a nice smoky flavor to your jerky.
What is the Best Thickness for Beef Jerky?
If you can cut your slices into 1/4-inch thick pieces, they will smoke much faster than thicker pieces! That being said, it’s very difficult to make pieces this thin. The thicker the pieces are, the longer they will take to smoke. Use an electric knife if you have one and try to make even slices.
Should You Cut Beef Jerky With the Grain or Against the Grain?
Recipes differ when it comes to how you should cut beef jerky. We prefer to cut the beef against the grain because it makes a super tender finished piece of jerky. Some people recommend cutting with the grain so it’s easier for the beef slices to stay together on the grill. This makes it easier to work with, but it’s a little tougher in the end. Ultimately, it’s your choice!
How Do You Store Homemade Beef Jerky?
You can leave beef jerky in a cool, dry place (like a pantry) for up to a month. It has no water content or fat to go rancid, so it’s shelf-stable! If you’re worried about it going bad, you can always store it in the refrigerator. It will last up to six months in the fridge. Finally, you could store it in the freezer. When frozen, jerky is good for up to a year.