Smoking jerky is a two part process. The first part is the curing and seasoning of the jerky and the second is the drying of it. *** to kill all bacteria, meat still needs to reach the correct temp before or after smoking. ***
To cure jerky, you have to soak your jerky in a store-bought or homemade mix over-night. You can buy kits to achieve this or you can make your own mixture. I am a big fan of homemade mixtures because they are dirt cheap to make plus I like the fact I made it myself. A popular store bought cure I have had luck with is High Mountain Jerky.
The second part of the making jerky is the drying process. You can dehydrate, sun-dry (not recommended) or cook jerky in the oven. This article is how to smoke jerky so we will be talking about drying jerky using a smoker.
To start smoking jerky, you need to start with the meat. Hopefully you have some venison in the freezer but do not worry if you don't. You can behave like a domesticated man and buy some at the grocery store. Hey, at least you are making jerky with it!
I really hope you don't have to go this route but if you do, you should be looking for flank steak or some other lean type of meat. The less fat the better. You want to limit the fat if possible because it is the first thing to spoil.
The same rules apply for venison. If you have your deer processed, your butcher will know what meat is the best. Have them separate the jerky meat in three pound increments I have found three to four pounds makes the perfect amount of jerky. If you process your deer yourself, the meat on the back legs make the best jerky meat.
Once you have picked out your meat choice, you need to slice it into jerky. Feel free to cut your jerky however you like to but I prefer thin strips. I like my jerky this way because the thinner the jerky the faster it will be ready. When slicing your jerky, it is best to cut your jerky with the grain so you can pull it apart when you eat it.
|Cut the jerky into thin strips.|
The next step in making jerky in a smoker is to soak it in a cure. I have found a good homemade cure is one tablespoon of soy sauce, one table spoon of Worcestershire sauce, two teaspoons of salt. Put all the ingredients in with the meat and then add water to cover the top of the meat. Shake the mixture and refrigerate for 24 hours. Try this recipe, add different flavors, or use a store bought version. They all work the same.
|My homemade mix ready for water.|
Once the jerky has soaked in the cure for 24 hours, it is time to bring the meat to temp before smoking. Even though you are smoking the jerky, the meat of whatever you are using needs to reach the required temp to kill bacteria. Once this is accomplished, you can smoke the jerky. *** You can also do this after smoking the jerky if you prefer. Just make sure whatever meat you are working with reaches the correct temp. ***
To smoke jerky, I have found 225 degrees will do the trick but you can get away with less if you cook it longer. I use a Little Chief brand smoker which only gets up to 170 so I have to cook mine for around 12 hours.
|Not the best smoker but it was free from a co-worker.|
Once the smoker is set-up, put the meat on the trays and get it up to temp. My smoker does this automatically but if yours doesn't this is an important part. You do not want the smoker to get too hot or the jerky will not turn out as well. Remember, you are not cooking the meat now, you are only drying it out.
|Ready for action!|
Now that your smoker is on and ready, it is time for the wood chips. When smoking meat, the wood chips are where the real flavor comes from. Wood chips come in a few different varieties but I prefer Hickory or mesquite for my deer jerky.
When adding wood chips, make sure you do not over do it. Adding too much smoke can make the jerky nasty tasting. I like to run two sets of woodchips through my smoker and then let the drying process take over. I recommend trying this your first batch and then fine-tuning your process to fit your tastes.
|Hickory wood chips!|
After the second batch of wood chips burns down, let the smoker go until the jerky is done to your liking. How long should this take? All smokers are different so it could range from 3 hours to 12. Make sure to monitor your jerky at least every hour until you figure out your smoker's time frame. After the jerky is smoked, put it in oven to make sure it reaches the correct temp before eating. *** if you did not do this before smoking,***