How to make Jerky in a Smoker
Making Jerky in a Smoker is the best way to make jerky. Jerky dehydrators work great, but are just outmatched by smokers. Smokers tend to give a much deeper, richer flavor that you will struggle to get with a dehydrator. Also, having the ability to infuse the meat with different flavors of wood adds an extra layer of taste that you just can’t beat. In this guide, we’ll take you through everything you need to know about how to make jerky in a smoker.
The first place to start is the with the cut of meat that you’ll be using. You can many different types of meat. Beef is the go to meat for jerky and is probably the best. You can also make venison jerky, which is very nice, turkey jerky and even alligator jerky, which is very… interesting.
We’ll stick with beef for now.
With any cut of beef, make sure you buy the correct amount. You’re going to be reducing the weight by about 2/3 so if you buy 3lbs of meat, you’ll be left with 1lb of jerky.
Any cut that has as little fat as possible will work great. The fat will ruin the jerky so stay away. We recommend using any of the round cuts. The eye of round is our favorite as it’s lean with little interior fat and relatively cheap.
The sirloin tip is another great choice. This is very lean and will give you the most tender jerky.
Lastly, the flank streak can make great jerky. This is generally tougher but when marinated can give you a great tasting jerky.
We’d recommend the eye of round if this is your first time making jerky in a smoker.
How to Cut the Meat
Firstly, you’re going to need to trim any visible fat off of it. If you’re using an eye of round then there will be an obvious chunk of fat that needs removing. You can always ask your butcher to do this.
Next, with a very sharp knife, slice against the grain of the meat to the thickness you want. We recommend ¼ inch. Slicing against the grain will give you a more tender jerky, if you slice with the grain you’ll get a chewier jerky. We prefer tender, but the choice is yours.
If the meat is a little soft and your knife isn’t as sharp as you’d like, you can freeze the meat for a couple of hours to give it some rigidity to make cutting it easier.
There are so many different beef jerky marinade recipes that work amazingly well. Here we’ll provide a basic peppered beef jerky marinade. This will work well for around 2lbs of raw meat.
- ½ cup of soy sauce
- ½ cup of Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tablespoons of brown sugar
- ½ tablespoon of garlic salt
- ½ tablespoon of onion powder
- 3 tablespoons of black crushed pepper
Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl then pour the marinade and place the slices of beef into re-sealable bags. Massage the meat so that all the slices of beef get a good coating of the marinade.
Place the plastic bag in the refrigerator for several hours, ideally overnight.
How to Cook Jerky in a Smoker
Depending on which smoker you’re using will alter this step. Grab some foil and place it over anything you don’t want to be cleaning later. You’ll thank yourself for doing this as the jerky will likely make quite a mess as it will be hanging vertically.
Remove your jerky from the fridge and dry each strip with a paper towel to remove any excess marinade. You can then slide a tooth pick through each end or even a bamboo skewer to keep them aligned and manageable. We prefer to hang the jerky rather than lay it horizontally on the grate but both work just fine. If you don’t have bamboo skewers or toothpicks handy then simply hanging the beef slices over the rack will work. Some smokers come with jerky hanging racks which are ideal for this.
Next, set your smoker to 140°F and wait for it to get up to temperature. Hang your jerky from the very top rack with the top vent open all the way. We recommend leaving it for 3-4 hours at this temperature.
Read More: ‘Smoker Times and Temperatures’
Half way through your smoke grab some wood chips of your favorite flavor and place them in your smoker. We’d go for hickory or oak with beef but there are many different flavors and combinations that will work fantastically. Check out our complete guide to smoking with wood for more information. After 1 – 1.5 hours with a light wood smoke your jerky should be ready.
Check your jerky by taking a piece out and leaving it to cool for 5 minutes. When your jerky is ready it will bend and should be able to crack without snapping completely. Feel free to experiment with the timings as some people may like their jerky different to us, but we’ve found that jerky at this point is our favorite.
If it bends and cracks without snapping then take the rest out, let it cool and you’re ready to eat it!
How to Store Beef Jerky
If, for some reason, you’ve got some jerky left over then you’re going to want to store it correctly. There’s a few ways to store beef jerky, some work for the short term and others will keep your jerky for up to a year. Whatever you do, it is important to not let the jerky be exposed to the air or moisture for long periods as this will make your jerky spoil.
The best short term option is to put your jerky in a zip lock bag and store it in the fridge. This will stop the air from getting to it and will usually last around 4 weeks. It’s best to note down the date on the jerky so you know when it’s going to go bad. Jerky will generally become much darker and drier with a different smell if it has gone bad.
There’s a couple of ways to preserve your beef jerky for longer periods of time than a month. One method is to use mason jars but this can be a hassle and will only extend the life of the jerky to around 6 months. Another is to use a vacuum sealer. We highly recommend using a vacuum sealer as they remove all the air around the jerky and extend the life span to a whole year!
Check out our guide to the best vacuum sealers for more information.
Best Smoker for Smoking Jerky
To smoke beef jerky you need a smoker that can comfortably sit at around 140°F. This is going to be tricky for a lot of smokers as they tend to prioritize higher temperatures. If you only have a smoker that can go as low as 175°F or 200°F, for example, then you can still smoke jerky but it’ll require different timings.
A good charcoal smoker like the Weber Smokey Mountain will be a good choice but will require a little tending to to make sure it stays at such a low temperature.
We’d recommend going for an electric smoker or a gas smoker. The Masterbuilt 30” electric smoker is an idea candidate as it can go as low as 100°F with just a touch of a button. Another option is the Camp Chef Smoke Vault. This is a propane smoker that even comes with a jerky rack. Both will work brilliantly, not just for jerky but for a huge range of food.
We hope this has been useful and you’ve learnt a thing or two on how to smoke beef jerky. If you have any questions let us know in the comments below.