Smoked beef jerky is a tasty, high-protein snack enjoyed by many. Making it at home allows for complete control over the ingredients and flavors. The basic process involves marinating thin slices of beef, followed by smoking them at low temperatures to achieve the perfect combination of smokiness and chewiness. Beef jerky can be customized with different marinades and seasonings, making each batch unique to personal tastes.
Creating smoked beef jerky in a smoker involves a bit of preparation but is well worth the effort. Traditional recipes call for a marinade that often includes elements like soy sauce or Worcestershire, combined with various spices and sometimes a touch of sweetness like honey or brown sugar. The beef needs to soak up these flavors for several hours, or even overnight, to ensure that every piece is infused with taste.
The actual smoking process is where the magic happens. By carefully monitoring the temperature and smoke level, it is possible to dehydrate the beef to the desired texture. This slow-cooking technique locks in the marinade’s flavor and imparts a smoky aroma that is unmistakable. Smoked beef jerky serves as an ideal snack for those looking for a flavorful and convenient protein boost.Jump to Recipe
Table of Contents
Selecting the Right Cut of Beef
When making smoked beef jerky, the cut of the beef is critical to ensure the jerky is flavorful and has the right texture. Different cuts have their own benefits, and choosing the best one depends on the desired outcome.
Beef Round: This is a common choice for jerky. It comes from the rear leg of the cow and is divided into the top round and bottom round. The top round is leaner and thus, more preferred for jerky making because it has less fat.
Brisket: Another option for jerky is the brisket. It’s known for its rich flavor but has more fat, which could increase the drying time.
Flank Steak: The flank steak, cut from the cow’s abdominal muscles, is a lean cut that also works well for jerky. It’s important to cut it properly against the grain for the best texture.
Sirloin and Tri-Tip: The sirloin cut, especially the tri-tip, offers a nice balance of flavor and leanness. It’s a bit pricier but can result in excellent jerky.
Similar to beef, venison (from deer) and elk are also great for making jerky due to their lean protein content. They must be sliced thin and dried thoroughly to achieve the chewy and satisfying texture jerky eaters love.
Table: Recommended Beef Cuts for Jerky
|Lean, less fat, preferred for jerky
|Rich flavor, more fat, longer drying
|Lean, must be cut against the grain
|Flavorful, more pricey, good lean option
Overall, when selecting your beef cut, leaner is generally better to avoid long drying times and achieve the perfect jerky chew.
Preparing the Meat
Before transforming cuts of beef into delicious smoked jerky, one must prepare the meat correctly. This involves trimming off excess fat, removing silverskin, and slicing the meat into consistent thicknesses.
Trimming Fat and Silverskin
Fat: The first step in preparing beef for jerky is to trim away any visible fat. Fat can cause the jerky to spoil faster, so it’s crucial to remove as much as possible.
Silverskin: This is a tough membrane found on meat and should be removed because it does not soften during the smoking process and can result in a chewy texture. A fillet knife works well for this task due to its flexibility, easing the process of trimming.
Slicing Meat Uniformly
Slicing: Once the meat is trimmed, it should be sliced uniformly to ensure even drying and smoking. Meat should be cut into consistent slices, around ⅛″-¼″ thick.
- Against the grain: Slicing across the muscle fibers, or against the grain, is recommended for a tender chew.
- With the grain: For those who prefer a tougher jerky, slicing with the grain is the best approach.
Freezing for Easier Slicing
Freezer: Partially freezing the beef for about 1-2 hours firms it up, making it easier to slice uniformly. This step is optional, but helpful, especially for those without a commercial jerky slicer.
Slice: Whether using a sharp knife or a jerky slicer, the key is to achieve consistent thickness. This not only affects the texture but also the smoking time of the jerky.
Crafting the Marinade
Creating the perfect marinade is essential for flavorful smoked beef jerky. It combines savory, sweet, and spicy elements that permeate the meat, infusing it with rich taste. The right balance of ingredients and time will ensure every piece of jerky is deliciously seasoned.
In a large bowl, gather the fundamental components of your marinade:
- Soy sauce: Provides a savory umami base.
- Worcestershire sauce: Adds complexity with its tangy flavor.
- Onion powder, garlic powder, and garlic salt: Supply aromatic depth.
- Brown sugar and honey: Contribute sweetness to balance the saltiness.
- Salt and black pepper: Enhance the meat’s natural flavors.
- Red pepper flakes: Offer a kick of heat for those who like it spicy.
- Optional additions like liquid smoke can impart a smoky flavor if you’re not using a smoker.
- A dash of beer can tenderize and add another layer of taste.
Be thorough as they mix the ingredients in the bowl until they achieve a consistent blend. Make sure the liquid smoke is well-distributed if included.
For the flavors to properly infuse the beef, one must allow for sufficient marination time. Here is a guideline for marination:
- Minimum: 4 hours
- Optimal: 24 hours
Let the meat rest in the refrigerator during this time, fully submerged in the marinade. The longer the beef sits in the mixture, the more pronounced the flavors will become. However, they should avoid marinating beyond 48 hours as the texture of the meat may start to break down, becoming too soft.
Setting Up the Smoker
Before one begins the process of smoking beef jerky, preparing the smoker is a critical step. The type of wood and the management of temperature and smoke all contribute to the final flavor and texture of the jerky.
Choosing the Right Wood
The type of wood used for smoking beef jerky is pivotal in flavoring the meat. Woods like hickory and mesquite impart a strong, smoky flavor, while oak is a little milder. For a sweeter note, one might opt for apple wood or cherry wood. Pecan provides a subtler touch. It’s also important to match the wood to the type of smoker:
- Pellet smokers and grills work best with pellets designed for smoking, which come in various wood flavors.
- For electric smokers, one should use wood chips, ensuring they don’t overfill the tray.
Preheating and Smoke Management
Properly preheating the smoker is essential. The smoker should reach a stable temperature before adding the meat. For beef jerky, the ideal temperature is around 165°F (74°C). It’s paramount to maintain a consistent temperature throughout the smoking process to ensure even drying of the jerky. Here are some tips:
- For pellet smokers and grills, setting the temperature is typically as easy as adjusting a dial.
- With electric smokers, it’s crucial to monitor the smoke production as too much can lead to bitter flavors.
- Use a smoker thermometer to keep an accurate read on the temperature, as internal smoker gauges can often be unreliable.
Drying and Smoking
After marinating, the critical steps to achieving flavorful smoked beef jerky are proper drying and smoking. Both stages require attention to detail to ensure the jerky develops its signature texture and taste.
Arranging Strips on Racks
To begin, one must arrange the marinated jerky strips on the racks, ensuring they do not overlap. It’s typically recommended to use a cooling rack or grill grates to aid airflow around each piece. For those using an oven, laying aluminum foil beneath the racks helps catch drips without blocking the airflow essential for even drying.
Controlling Temperature and Airflow
The right temperature and airflow are crucial for drying out the meat without cooking it. When using a smoker or an oven with a built-in fan, aim to maintain a low temperature—usually between 160°F and 180°F. This slow process gradually dries the meat while infusing it with smoke flavor. The airflow should be steady but not too forceful to prevent the jerky from becoming too tough.
Monitoring the Smoking Process
Constant monitoring ensures the smoked jerky does not overdry. Depending on the thickness of the slices, the process can take several hours. Jerky strips should be checked periodically for the desired firmness and texture. Once the smoking is complete, the jerky should be placed on a cooling rack to prevent any residual heat from overcooking it, and one should allow it to cool completely before storing.
Storage and Preservation
Proper storage and preservation are crucial for maintaining the quality and safety of homemade smoked beef jerky. Ensuring the jerky is cooled correctly and stored in the right conditions will keep it fresh and delicious for longer.
Cooling and Conditioning
After the beef jerky is smoked, it must be cooled to room temperature before storing. This helps prevent moisture from forming, which could lead to spoilage. Once cooled, pat the jerky dry with a towel to remove any residual moisture. It’s recommended to use curing salt during the preparation to aid in preservation.
Storing in Airtight Containers
For long-term storage, placing beef jerky in an airtight container is essential. The container should be sealed tightly and stored in a cool, dry place, like a pantry. For extra protection, jerky can also be kept in the refrigerator where it can stay fresh for several weeks. Using containers that remove as much air as possible, such as vacuum-sealed bags, will extend the jerky’s shelf life even further.
When enjoying homemade smoked beef jerky, there are many creative ways to serve it. Whether it’s a protein-packed snack on its own or as a part of a larger meal, here are a few ideas to enhance the experience.
As a Snack:
- Enjoy it straight from the smoker, cool it down, and eat as is.
- Pair it with slices of cheese or crackers for a satisfying mini meal.
- Diced apples or grapes can add a fresh, juicy contrast to the smoky flavor.
- Dry fruits, like apricots or figs, complement the chewy texture of the jerky.
- Chop it up and toss it into an omelette or scrambled eggs for a smoky twist.
- Add strips of jerked beef to your salad for extra protein.
- Serve with cold iced tea or lemonade to refresh the palate.
- For adults, pair with a bold red wine that stands up to the jerky’s robust flavor.
Remember, when following the beef jerky recipe or exploring a smoked jerky recipe, serving it in different ways can make each bite an adventure. It’s key to balance the flavors and textures for the best tasting experience. Whether it’s part of a charcuterie board or a quick snack, smoked beef jerky is versatile and always a crowd-pleaser.
Advanced Tips and Variations
When making smoked beef jerky, one can explore a variety of seasonings and techniques to enhance the flavor. Cayenne gives a spicy kick, while both paprika and smoked paprika add a sweet and smoky note. For those who don’t have access to a smoker, adding liquid smoke to the marinade can impart a similar smoky flavor.
For DIY enthusiasts using a Masterbuilt smoker, controlling the temperature is crucial. They should aim to dehydrate the meat at a low temperature, which helps in preserving the jerky’s taste and texture. It’s vital to select the right cut; a tri-tip is a fantastic option because of its leanness and flavor, balancing quality with cost.
Here are some specific tips:
- Use sea salt in the marinade for a pure and mineral-rich saltiness.
- A dash of Worcestershire sauce adds depth with its tangy, umami properties.
|A pinch for a fiery touch
|Half a teaspoon for mild smokiness
|1-2 drops if not using a smoker
|Trim fat and slice thin against the grain
|To taste, but remember it intensifies when dried
For those wanting to experiment, they can create a rub or marinade from scratch, combining the above ingredients with their personal preferences in mind. Adjusting the amount of each ingredient allows for a custom flavor that suits individual taste buds. They should always ensure that the meat is sliced evenly to promote uniform drying. Remember, patience is key when smoking jerky, as the process cannot be rushed without compromising the result.
Smoked Beef Jerky Recipe
- 2 lbs beef brisket trimmed and sliced into thin strips
- 1/2 cup soy sauce
- 1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon liquid smoke if not using a wood smoker
- 2 teaspoons onion powder
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- Wood chips for smoking hickory or mesquite are recommended
- Prepare Beef: Cut the beef brisket into thin, uniform strips. Partial freezing can make this easier.
- Create Marinade: In a bowl, mix soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, apple cider vinegar, liquid smoke (if using), onion powder, garlic powder, and black pepper.
- Marinate Beef: Place the beef strips in the marinade, ensuring they are fully coated. Refrigerate and let marinate for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.
- Smoker Setup: Preheat your smoker to 160°F (71°C). Add your choice of wood chips.
- Smoke Beef: Arrange the beef strips on the smoker racks, leaving space between them for airflow. Smoke for 4 to 6 hours, or until the jerky reaches your desired level of dryness and chewiness.
- Cool and Store: Remove the jerky from the smoker, let it cool completely, and store in an airtight container.