With its high protein content and long shelf life, jerky is the perfect on-the-go snack. While you can always purchase jerky from a grocery store or convenience store, you can actually make it yourself using a standard grill or smoker. To make homemade smoked jerky, though, you'll need to follow a few steps.
Cut Your Meat
You can make smoked jerky using any type of lean meat, but most home chefs prefer using beef. From round steak and sirloin to flank steak and London broil, there are numerous cuts of lean beef from which you can choose. Alternatively, you can choose a non-beef meat, assuming it's lean, such as veal or venison.
After purchasing your mean, carefully cut into relatively small strips measuring about one-quarter inch long each. If you come across any marbling (fat), go ahead and trim it off. Fat should be removed jerky for two reasons:
- It increases the smoking time of your jerky.
- It adds moisture to your jerky, thereby shortening its shelf life.
Season Your Meat
Now it's time to season your meat. You can either use pre-made jerky seasoning, which is sold at most grocery stores, or you can make your own seasoning. When seasoning your meat, though, it's recommended that you make a marinade so that your meat can soak up all the spices and ingredients.
Don't forget to add curing salt to your jerky marinade. Typically consisting of salt and sodium nitrite, curing salt lives up to its namesake by "curing" meat. It facilitates the removal of moisture while also neutralizing and preventing germs that could otherwise cause foodborne illness.
Once you've created your marinade, add your jerky strips and then place them in the refrigerator for 12 to 24 hours. You can marinate jerky for as little as six hours, but a minimum of 12 hours is recommended for maximum flavor. The longer your jerky marinates, the more flavor it will soak up.
Prepare Your Grill or Smoker
After allowing your jerky strips to marinade for 12 to 24 hours, you can fire up your grill or smoker. Depending on the specific type of meat you are smoking -- as well as the length and thickness of your strips -- you'll need to achieve a temperature of about 160 to 170 degrees Fahrenheit.
You can use charcoal as a fuel source, but it shouldn't be the only fuel in your grill or smoker. Using only charcoal will create a hot environment that's well above 170 degrees Fahrenheit, so add any combination of cooking wood, smoking chips and/or smoking chips as well. Not only does wood burn at a lower temperature than charcoal; it introduces a unique smokey flavor that's simply not found in charcoal.
Place Meat Inside Grill or Smoker
Using a thermometer, you can check the temperature of your grill or smoker. Once the thermometer reads 160 to 170 degrees Fahrenheit, you can proceed by adding your meat. Carefully place each strip of meat on the grate, ensuring that no two strips are overlapping each other. You may want to spray the cooking grate with a non-stick oil beforehand to prevent your jerky from sticking. After arranging your jerky on the grate, close your grill or smoker and allow it to smoke.
Smoke for 2 to 6 Hours
The length at which you'll need to smoke your meat varies depending on the type of meat, its size and the temperature of your grill or smoker. With that said, most jerky requires about two to six hours of smoking at a temperature of 160 to 170 degrees Fahrenheit.
Of course, your fuel probably won't last a full two to six hours, in which case you'll need to add more fuel to maintain a consistent temperature. If you discover the temperature inside your grill or smoker is dropping, check to see if the charcoal or wood has burned out. If so, add more charcoal or wood until the temperature rises to 160 to 170 degrees Fahrenheit.
Check and Remove Jerky Once Cooked
You can usually tell if your jerky is done cooking by checking its firmness. After smoking for two to six hours, it should feel relatively firm -- though not necessarily hard or tough. If your jerky is still soft and able to bend or flex, place it back in your grill or smoker for a little longer. Only remove your jerky once it's relatively firm.
Consisting of lean meat that's been cured and slow-cooked to remove most of its moisture, jerky is the perfect on-the-go snack. By following these steps, you can smoke delicious jerky using your grill or smoker. Just remember to control the heat so that your jerky cooks slowly.
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