We absolutely love jerky in this house. We usually take some of the venison we harvest and turn it into jerky each fall. Typically we use a dehydrator and the same tried and true recipe, but I decided to try something a little different this time. And that is how smoked jerky was born.
The object of making jerky is simply to remove the moisture from the meat. You can do this in multiple ways. A lot of people use a dehydrator or an oven. But, I even have friends who simply hang theirs out in the sun to dry (which will definitely work). We haven’t used our smoker near often enough since we got it, so we tried it out for our first couple batches of venison jerky this season and I’m so glad we did.
This stuff is amazing. It is one of those things that justifies a smoker on the homestead whether it’s a homemade smokehouse one, an electric one, a regular charcoal one or a propane one. You’ll be so glad to have one. I can’t wait to roast one of these roasts in the freezer here soon and make some delicious summer sausage… mmmm. Everyone needs all forms of smoked meat in their lives, I’m telling ya. Be forewarned… lots of venison and smoking recipes are coming your way.
Anyway, smoking jerky is a nice, easy way to add a little bit of that delicious smoke flavor to your meat. It does tend to dry out a bit faster than using a dehydrator (and obviously a lot faster than using the sun) and the flavor cannot be duplicated. Liquid smoke has nothing on this stuff.
What Cut of Venison is The Best to Make Jerky?
If you look at any beef jerky recipe, it simply says to use a piece of lean meat. Well, all venison is lean and any cut will work to make jerky with. But the best cut to make jerky with from your deer is top round. Any large roast from the rear leg will work fantastically, but we usually preserve one of the top rounds or a rump roast to make our jerky with.
These roasts have the grain all running in the same direction and allow you to make large cuts of jerky pieces without struggling to do so.
Should You Slice Jerky With or Against The Grain?
The jury is out on the best way to slice jerky whether it’s with the grain, against it, or even at a 45 degree angle (the best of both worlds?). I generally cut with it, but this is absolutely a personal preference.
When you slice jerky with the grain, it’s more difficult to get a little crumb off and chew it. Instead, you’re going to have a big section rip off and have to take a while gnawing on it. This is how I prefer it. I find this a bonus instead of a penalty. I like how long it takes to enjoy and to be able to savor the flavor.
When you slice against it, it’s easier to bite off small chunks. Some people prefer this. It’s really entirely up to you.
The truth is, there really isn’t any right or wrong way. You can slice a batch into all three if you want. Do 1/3 with, 1/3 against, and the last 1/3 at a 45 degree angle. It’s really up to you.
How to Slice Your Jerky
A trick to make it easier to slice your jerky is to partially freeze the roast first. If you freeze your roast for about an hour and a half, it will be easier to make even cuts whether you’re using a knife or slicing with a slicer.
We upgraded to a meat slicer this year because my husband kept asking and asking. Since we’ve been processing so much meat the last couple of years ourselves, I gave in and we did wind up purchasing one. And I love it. But, it’s still easier to partially freeze the meat before slicing.
We cut our jerky into 1/4″ thick strips. This seems to be just the right thickness to dry out in a timely fashion without risking over-drying it. Some say even thinner, but we like about 1/4″ thick, so that’s what we always slice it into. It is definitely easier to get even cuts with a slicer versus a knife. But, you can begin removing pieces as they dry if you have some that are really thick.
Regardless, the object is going to be to try to make the pieces as evenly cut as possible so that they all dry at the same rate.
Another thing you want to make sure of is to remove all of the silver skin off of your meat and remove any fat. Those bits don’t taste good when dried and will give you a very unpalatable piece of jerky.
What Wood Should I To Smoke With?
There are so many different choices and options to use! These four are the options we have tried and enjoyed using on our big game (and other things). There are blends, other hardwoods like oak, even jim beam whisky barrel chips. The sky is the limit.
When we made these batches of jerky, I soaked them all in the same marinade, but smoked them separately in different woods to get different flavors in the meat. You do not need to pre-soak your chips or add water to your pan to make jerky. It just adds moisture and takes away from that smoke flavor you’re after to begin with.
Hickory is by far our favorite wood to smoke jerky with. It kind of gives it a little hint of bacon, but it’s not overly strong. To me it provides a more traditional smoked flavor to the meat. If you don’t care for it, you can add a little bit of applewood to balance it out.
Mesquite was the second type of wood we tried. I’ll be the first to admit, I find the flavor very strong and didn’t like this batch near as well. Still good, just not as good. Using cherry wood will help calm the flavors down.
I love using applewood in our smoker. This was the first wood we ever used in our smoker. It provides a very mild, sweet flavor and is a great wood to use for jerky (and bacon). A lot of people love it when smoking pork and chicken, but I find it just as nice for venison jerky, personally.
Cherry is a favorite for big game smoking. It has an amazing sweet, full-bodied flavor that is a little more strong than applewood. It is also a great way to balance out the flavors of the more traditional hickory or mesquite.
Smoke your wild game or domestic meat in a smoker after using this homemade marinade for a delicious jerky.
- Slice your roast into 1/4" slices. To make this easier, partially freeze the meat for about an hour and a half first.
- In a large, non-reactive bowl combine organic soy sauce, worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, onion powder, maple syrup, black pepper and apple cider vinegar using a whisk.
- After your marinade is mixed, you can place the meat in the bowl, stirring it around to coat. Cover the bowl and place it in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours. The longer it marinades, the more flavorful the meat will be.
- Heat your smoker up to 180F using the wood you prefer and drain the marinade off of your jerky. Do not rinse. Carefully lay the jerky slices across the racks.
- Smoke your jerky for about 2 hours and begin checking after that. You want it pliable and chewy, but not a rock. For our 1/4" venison slices it took about 3 hours. It should take no more than 4.
- As pieces become done, you can carefully remove them from the smoker and allow the other to finish drying.
- Allow jerky to completely cool before storing in a tightly closed container for up to 2 months.
If you'd like your jerky to keep longer you can add morton tender quick at a rate of 1/4 teaspoon per pound. You could also utilize food grade oxygen absorbers. But know that homemade jerky does not keep as long as the store-bought stuff. But it tastes so much better.
Making jerky in a smoker is definitely the only way we will be making it in the future. I can’t believe the amazing taste difference we got out of it. We will definitely be using our dehydrator for some other things (apple chips, anyone?). But smoking meats is a tradition I’m glad we have… just like our ancestors.