One of the best things about owning a smoker is the versatility. Just about any meat can be smoked and made into bacon, sausage, and jerky. Jerky is a great way to conserve tougher parts of meat not normally used and it’s perfect for snacks or as a high protein source of energy.
Store-bought jerky can be expensive so this is a perfect way to put your smoker to use. The jerky, which can be made from just about any type of animal meat, is first cured to rid any bacteria and to preserve the meat, then smoked in strips. Below we’ll discuss the technique in detail so you can get started on your jerky.
It’s generally good to get a leaner cut of meat, since the jerky will stay more flavorful and last longer with less fat. The meat should be cut into thin strips with the grain, which will smoke faster and are easier to pull apart. Curing the jerky can be done with either a store bought mix, and there are many out there, or using your own recipe, which is probably cheaper and more fun since you can alter the tastes and experiment with different flavors. Most curing marinades are usually made from some sort of mixture that contains sodium (such as soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and salt) and either a sweet flavor to balance out the salt (like pineapple) or just simply garlic and spices.
The mixture will need to be marinated overnight, or at least 24 hours. This tenderizes the meat and allows any bacteria to be killed while soaking in the mixture, which is important since the meat won’t technically be “cooked”. If you’re not using a traditional cure and marinate method, you’ll need to cook the jerky in the oven first before smoking in order to kill the bacteria. It is highly recommended that either the proper amount of salt be used to cure the jerky be used, or that it is dried in the oven for a while first, or a combination of both in order to avoid any food borne illness.
Once your meat is prepared and ready, it’s time for the fun part. 225 degrees is the generally recommended temperature for smoking, but the jerky can be slow cooked at a lower temperature as long as it stays in the smoker for longer. If the temperature is up too high the jerky will dry out too much and be tough and inedible. Time to add the wood chips!
This is where you can get even more creative. The right combination of wood chips will really flavor your jerky and allow you to create some interesting and super flavorful cuts of meat. Hickory and mesquite chips are a good place to start. Try not to add too many wood chips, as it will overpower your meat. Cooking times vary from 3 to usually around 12 hours, depending on your smoker and the amount of jerky, meat thickness, wood chips, etc. It may take a few trial runs to figure out the right combination of cooking time/amount of wood chips for your jerky, but once it’s fine tuned you’ll have a tried and true method that can be used every time for making jerky.