Nothing beats beef jerky for a quick and tasty snack! Though it's easy enough to pick up jerky from the checkout at your grocery store, making your own at home on your smoker is really easy, and you can get any flavor you like!
Having an outdoor smoker is such a fun hobby, and once your friends try your smoked foods they will be begging to be invited over again. Any type of charcoal or electric backyard smoker will work. If you're unsure, check out this part of my Smoker Lesson to learn more.
Here's what we'll need for this lesson:
- Flank steak
- Probe-style thermometer
- Salt (Kosher is best but sea salt is great, too!)
- Soy sauce
- Cooking oil
- Garlic Powder
- Lean flank steak
This Instructable is a companion to the Meat Smoking Lesson, and relies on a basic understanding on how smokers work. Check out the smoking lesson and get a primer on outdoor smokers, and the difference between hot and cold smoking. For making beef jerky we'll be cold smoking.
Cold smoking is done at a low temperature (under 120°F (49°C)). Cold smoking meat is contentious because it doesn't raise the temperature above 140°F (60°C), the requirement for killing any surface bacteria that could be present on the meat. However, if done correctly, beef jerky can effectively be made on the smoker and will dry the meat completely. Dehydrated food has it's moisture removed, and harmful bacteria can't efficiently contact or react with dry food.
Step 1: Meat Preparation
Jerky is very lean with almost no fat, this is because fat will cause the jerky to spoil faster since it can't be dried as effectively as the meat.
You can make jerky out of any lean cut of beef, but flank steak that you find at your butcher is already prepared nice and thin, so that's what I use. I'd advise against pork and wild game jerky until you're comfortable with the process, since the risk of trichinosis is a thing.
Although flank steak is already a lean cut, there may be some fat on your steak, so use a sharp knife to remove as much fat as possible from each cutlet.
There's debate on whether to cut the steak strips with the grain or against it. Cuts with the grain will produce longer strips, but cuts against the grain are easier to chew. I suggest trying both to determine your personal preference.
You want a thin cut of steak with almost no fat. Next the beef needs to be cut into strips. It's up to you how wide to make the strips, but I would stay below 1/2" so you have smaller strips that can dry faster.
Before we can smoke the steak we'll need a marinade. As with the smoked almonds, there's no wrong way to mix up the ingredients, and it will depend on your personal tastes. Here's a basic jerky marinade:
Smoked Beef Jerky:
- Flank steak: about 2 lbs
- Honey: 1 tbps
- Garlic powder: 1 tbsp
- Soy sauce: 3/4 cup
- Worcestershire sauce: 3/4 cup
- Salt + pepper: a generous amount of each
I find it easiest to add all the ingredients to a large resealable plastic bag with the cuts of meat, seal the bag up and coat the steaks with the mix. Place in refrigerator and leave to marinate overnight.
The next morning your steak strips have marinated for a few hours and are now ready for the smoker.
Step 2: Smoke That Meat
Ensure your smoker has plenty of wood chips loaded and a very small amount of water in the reservoir. Bring the smoker up to temperature at 120°F, lay the beef strips across the grill with space between each strip to allow smoke and air flow.
The most important thing to know when smoking is patience; once food is inside the smoker resist the urge to open the unit for an inspection. Opening the smoking chamber will drop the temperature immediately and release all the smoke, thereby defeating the point of smoking and causing your smoking to take even longer.
Step 3: Enjoy!
My strips of jerky were thin, so took only about three hours to turn from raw meat to jerky. The jerky is edible immediately, or can be stored in an airtight container for about a month. If there's any fatty pieces that you couldn't trim for whatever reason these will be the first to turn and go bad, so be mindful.
Smoking meat does take some preparation and dedicated time to monitor the smoker, but the results are unlike anything else. As with all skills, learning your particular smoker and refining the technique may take some trial and error, but it's really easy once you understand that the key to smoking is low and slow; if you do that you really can't go wrong!
For more on smoking, check out this my Smoker Class!
Share a picture of your smoky, slow cooked things in the comments below. I want to see all the delicious things you make and will try on my smoker, too!