I am always trying new things as a guy who enjoys outdoor cooking. And at times, it can feel like you start running out of new ideas, which is a ridiculous thought when you consider how many techniques and foods are prepared outdoors all over the world. One thing I had never tried to prepare has been beef jerky. One of the reasons is that a normal smoker tends to smoke things at 235 degrees or so, which is too hot for the making of jerky. As I am sure you know, the drying of meat (aka jerky) has been used for thousands of years as a method of preserving meat for long periods of time. The word “jerky” actually comes from a South African word “ch’arki,” which translates to “burnt meat.” The irony is that you don’t burn anything. In fact, the earliest methods included allowing meat to air-dry, first in the hot sun of the desert and then left out in the cold desert nights. This method dried the meat out, thereby preserving it.
Native Americans were known to smoke their meat. The meat they used was buffalo as well as other wild game. They built smoke sheds to smoke and preserve meat in large quantities. And in recent times, beef jerky has inserted itself as a snack that is quite popular all over the country.
But, I have never liked the jerky offered at stores. To me, the salt and spices were overpowering, and in many ways it felt like the meat was doused in chemicals, preservatives and liquid smoke. What I love about this homemade jerky is that it is the polar opposite of store-bought jerky. Everyone who has tried it has loved it. Heck, I’m chewing on a piece now as I type up this column. (Not kidding.)
The choice of the meat for me is either top, eye or bottom round, This is the rear quarter of the animal. The meat is lean and it can be tough, which is perfect for jerky. You do not want well marbled meat, as the fat will go rancid. Some people like to cut their pieces along the grain, resulting in a tougher and chewier jerky, and others cut against the grain, which is my preference. This results in jerky that is easier to chew. You want to cut the pieces about ⅛ of an inch thick. I put the large piece of meat in the freezer for 45 minutes or so to firm it up a bit, but not freeze it. This made the cutting easier. I used a freshly sharpened brisket knife. The following marinade worked for 8 pounds of meat which resulted in around 3 pounds of jerky.
smoked beef jerky
½ cup low sodium soy sauce
½ Worcestershire willow
¾ cup of your favorite full flavored beer
2 tsp of honey
2 tsp black pepper
2 tsp onion powder
I tsp cayenne pepper
Once you have the meat cut into thin pieces, place the meat in a large zip lock bag. Pour the marinade in the bag, squeeze the air out, close the bag and place on a cookie sheet in case of leakage. Leave in the fridge for a minimum of 24 hours, rotating the bag two or three times.
We set the pellet smoker to 175 degrees. I draped the marinated meat over cookie cooling racks and screen pizza trays after spaying each rack and tray with olive oil to prevent sticking. We let it smoke for four hours. The end result is a beautiful, deep burgundy color and a beef jerky that will run circles around the packaged stuff. If you don’t have a pellet smoker, use your oven if you can set it as low as 175 to 185 degrees. You won’t get the smoky flavor but it will still be delicious. Give it a try!
Dave Lobeck is an Edward Jones Financial Advisor in Jeffersonville, Indiana by day and a BBQ and food enthusiast on nights and weekends. Liz is his wife of him. You can contact Dave with your BBQ, cooking or grilling questions at email@example.com. You can also visit his YouTube channel at www.YouTube.com/BBQMyWay.