Jerky is one of those epic treats that is portable, nutritious, and provides your body with a big boost of the essential nutrients you need to power through the day. Probably the biggest downside to beef jerky is the relatively high cost of good quality jerky snacks. All too often, you'll spend a bunch of money on a bag of commercial jerky only to discover that it tastes eerily similar to the dog treats you give your furry family member.
Making jerky at home isn't hard, but it does take a long time. Fortunately, it's worth it. You'll end up with a better quality, healthier jerky making it yourself when you know some of the best tricks out there. We love making jerky because it gives you the chance to get creative with flavors, textures, and proteins. Making jerky in a smoker takes your snack to the next level, letting you play even more with unique flavor combinations.
Smoking jerky requires a little patience and attention, but it's otherwise a rather simple process. We will show you how to make jerky in your smoker, then we'll let you know a secret way to speed up the process, cutting your time roughly in half.
How Long Does it Take to Smoke Beef Jerky?
Simply put, there is no fast way to make jerky. The reason is because jerky isn't so much as cooked as it is dehydrated. Dehydration takes time and you can't rush the process. You can make jerky in a food dehydrator, in the oven, or in your smoker, which is what we are going to do today.
You'll want to plan on a minimum of six hours to make jerky in the smoker and the time could be longer depending on the cut, thickness, and temperature you maintain. It's not unheard of to spend 12 hours making jerky in a smoker.
Special Equipment for Smoking Jerky
One of the best things about smoking jerky is that you really don't need to have any special tools. Obviously, you'll need a smoker, but just about any type of smoker will work well. Electric smokers are popular choices because they allow low temperatures and long time stability without having to fuss with them, but there is no reason you can't use a Traeger or a Big Green Egg to smoke jerky at home.
One key is that you'll want to provide as much air circulation as possible. This is another reason an electric smoker is popular – they provide a vertical space that allows you to hang the meat while smoking, thereby increasing the amount of surface area in contact with the smoke. The grill grates may not seem like they take up a lot of real estate, but you'll notice the difference when you hang jerky.
Stainless steel hooks are the solution to hanging beef in your smoker. We are using these ones for jerky, and we also use them for ribs and brisket. They are sturdy, sharp, and easy to clean. Plus, you can bend them to make them work best for whatever cut of meat you've got.
You'll want an accurate thermometer probe for your smoker temp. Because jerky is cut so thin, getting an accurate internal temperature isn't really practical, but keeping the temp stable in your smoker is key to getting good results.
Flavoring Jerky at Home
By far the best thing about making jerky at home is the ability you have to customize flavors to your liking. You can make spicy, sweet, salty, and umami – or any combination in between. You can do several flavors all at once, or a big batch of your favorites. The sky is the limit when it comes to making jerky. There really aren't very many things you should avoid, though liquid smoke is not advised and MSG isn't a necessary ingredient. Some people will swear that you need to use curing salt, others say it isn't important. We've done both and found that there isn't much difference. Curing salts simply give you a longer, more stable shelf life but you'll want to reduce overall salt content to keep your jerky from being mouth-puckeringly salty.
Classic Combinations You Can Make at Home
There are a few flavors you probably love that are common with grocery store jerky. Probably the most popular is peppered jerky. This one is simple, just use lots of black pepper and you'll get great results. Another classic is teriyaki flavor. Another one that is simple because you simply use teriyaki sauce for flavoring. If these are your favorite flavors, you can easily get better than store-bought results using your favorite flavors.
Re-Imagining Classic Flavors for Homemade Jerky Recipes
Love peppered jerky but want to step it up a notch? Try using pink peppercorns or a blend of white and red peppercorns. These have a subtly different flavor than typical black peppercorns. You can also control the amount of cracking your peppercorns have. Larger pieces will change the flavor, particularly if you can get fresh, whole peppercorns and crack them at home. A more coarse peppercorn will provide more aroma and a spicier flavor than fine ground or pre-ground pepper.
Virtually all teriyaki jerky has wheat flour in the ingredients, making it unsuitable for people with Celiac or gluten intolerance. Making jerky at home means you can select teriyaki sauce that is gluten-free, so your loved ones who can't partake of the glory of gluten can enjoy delicious Asian-inspired flavors without the risk of intestinal distress. Another plus to using gluten-free Asian sauces is that they tend to taste better and are more authentic. Wheat isn't a popular commodity in traditional Asian cuisine; it's something that has been added in modern times as a cost-cutting measure.
How to Make Beef Jerky in a Smoker
In our biased opinion, smoked jerky is the absolute best. Smoking the beef adds a depth of flavor and complexity that is otherwise unobtainable, and the smoker gives you the perfect texture.
Choosing the Right Type of Meat
You want to find a lean cut of beef. Top sirloin, top round, and even flank or skirt work well for making jerky. These cuts tend to be lean and are also more affordable than other cuts. When buying meat to make jerky, keep in mind that about one-half to two-thirds of your original weight will be lost after smoking. You'll want to buy what seems like way too much because it'll be just the right amount when you are done. And, if you make too much, jerky is relatively safe to store for long periods of time.
How to Slice Meat for Jerky
There are two ways to slice meat for jerky. With the grain gives you a tougher, chewier texture that is easily torn into strips. Cutting against the grain gives you a more crumbly, softer bite. Neither way is "correct," but some people prefer one way over the other.
Jerky Slicing Hacks
A trick to slicing a roast for jerky making is to put it in the freezer for one to two hours. The meat will partially freeze, making it much easier to slice. You'll want to slice the roast in 1/8-inch to 1/4-inch slices. Try to keep the slices as even as possible.
You can save yourself time and frustration by simply asking you local butcher to slice the roast for you. Most of the time, they'll be able to handle your slicing in a matter of minutes and you'll get great, consistent results.
Smoked Black Cobra Beef Jerky
This is a basic beef jerky recipe that takes advantage of on of the easiest peppers to grow at home – black cobra peppers. Native to the mountains of Peru, black cobra peppers grow prolifically from furry pepper plants and the grow best in cooler climates. When immature, they are about as hot as a mild jalapeno. Let them mature – especially once the weather cools off – and you'll get as much heat as a ghost pepper. For this recipe, we harvested cobra peppers at the end of summer, air dried them, and then coarsely chopped them for use on pizza, salad, eggs, and pretty much anything that needs some heat, like the jerky we are going to smoke.
Making a Marinade
The first step to making jerky is making a marinade. There is no wrong way to make a marinade for beef jerky provided that you use plenty of salt and at least some sugar. These two ingredients aid in the dehydration and preservation of the jerky. Everything else is up to you.
- 1/2 cup soy sauce – use gluten-free soy sauce for better flavor and so your gluten-intolerant friends and family can enjoy
- 2-3 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tbsp vinegar – use white, apple cider, rice, or even balsamic
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar, molasses, maple syrup, or agave
- 2 tbsp Bearded Butcher Blend Black Seasoning
- 1-2 tsp garlic powder and onion powder
- 2-3 tbsp cracked peppercorns
- Kosher salt to taste
- Crushed Cobra peppers to taste – we used about three tbsp for our jerky
How Much Meat Do I Need?
Three pounds tends to be a good starting point to make jerky at home. If your smoker will accommodate more than that, feel free to go for it.
Jerky Marinade Directions
- Combine all ingredients in a large plastic or ceramic bowl. Don't use metal because the acids can react and spoil your jerky. Whisk until everything is combined.
- Add your sliced beef to the marinade bowl and stir to coat completely.
- Cover the bowl or place the contents in a plastic bag.
- Refrigerate overnight for at least 4 hours, but not longer than 24 hours. 6-10 hours seems to be ideal.
The key with smoking jerky is to keep the temperature very low. Your target temp should be 160 to 175 degrees. This can be a little challenging with some smokers, so you should experiment to make sure you can get your smoker to consistently stay at low temps.
We are going to use a Dyna-Glo offset vertical charcoal smoker for our jerky because the upright design makes hanging meat super simple. This smoker is also very easy to control at low temperatures for long periods of time.
You'll want to remove the jerky from the marinade and place it on a rack to drip-dry. This usually takes about two hours. Some people will use a paper towel to blot the moisture off. We don't simply because we don't want to remove the flavor. Remember that the wetter the meat is the longer your smoker jerky will take to dehydrate.
We are going to feed two hooks per piece of sliced meat through the widest part of the meat. Two hooks will ensure that the meat won't fall off during the smoking process and helps to spread the surface out so that it all gets good and smoky.
Place the meat strips in a single layer if you are using your grill grates or hang so that the beef slices don't touch. If you regularly use a water tray, remove it for this process. You are trying to dehydrate, so adding water is counter to the goal.
We are going to use a cast iron wood chip smoker box for this recipe. The box prevents wood chips from burning and releasing bitter, unhealthy smoke. The best way to use the smoker box in an offset charcoal smoker is to ignite one end and let it smolder through the rest of the box. Keep an eye on the smoke. If it's white, your burning wood, not smoking it. Look for colorless or light blue smoke. We are using apple chips for a sweet, subtle flavor that balances the heat of the cobra peppers.
With this smoker, we keep the vents practically closed the entire time. This keeps the temperature low, but you'll need to stay on top of it to make sure the temp doesn't drop too much between charcoal additions.
We smoked just over three pounds of round roast which worked out to eight large slices. We kept the slices wide like the jerky you see next to the cash register at practically every convenience store.
How to Tell Jerky is Done
Since jerky is too thin to get accurate temperature readings, you'll need to use other methods. The simplest way is to watch for the jerky to have a dry, blackened appearance and it should be slightly pliable and crack when bent.
After you remove the jerky from the smoker, let it rest for about ten minutes then place it in a sealable plastic bag. The bag will allow the beef strips to rehydrate slightly, enhancing the texture.
The process for smoking jerky at home takes between 8 and 15 hours on average, depending on how long you marinade and how thick your sliced beef is. You can also use pork, turkey, or wild game with this recipe and get fantastic results. The best thing about jerky, of course, is eating it.
You'll have a hard time spending good money on grocery store jerky again once you start making jerky in your smoker. But, if you decide you want to try a good smoked jerky and don't want to put in the time, you should check out our new line of beef jerky bites featuring our classic Bearded Butchers Blend Seasoning flavors. They are a delicious, all-natural way to enjoy the best jerky on the planet, just like what we make at home.
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