Whether you're on a road trip, hiking in the mountains, or just need a quick protein boost, beef jerky is the perfect snack to satisfy your hunger and keep you going. It's a great source of protein, low in fat, and easy to pack for on-the-go snacking. Plus, it's a healthier alternative to other processed snacks.
Beef jerky actually has a rich history. It was originally created by Native Americans in the Andes mountains in modern day Peru as a way to preserve meat for long periods of time. They would slice the meat thin, season it with salt and other spices, and then dry it in the sun or over a fire. This process allowed them to have a source of protein that would last for months, even in the harshest of conditions. The Quechua, a South American tribe, called it Ch’arki, so you can see where the word jerky comes from. The Quechuan word translates into “to burn meat.”
One of the things I love about beef jerky is its versatility. You can find it in a variety of flavors, from classic teriyaki to spicy jalapeno. And if you're feeling adventurous, you can even make your own at home with just a few simple ingredients.
For the meat, you want to choose a lean cut and trim off any fat. For one batch, my butcher had pre-cut thinly sliced beef so I used that. They were out when I made the second batch, so I used a beef eye of round roast. You could also use a sirloin tip roast or flank steak. Be sure to trim off any fat as that can become rancid fast. Wrap the meat in plastic wrap and place in the freezer for 1-2 hours to partially freeze so you can slice the meat consistently and easily. Slice against the grain at around 1/8" to 1/4" thick.
Here's my favorite marinade for beef jerky.
Beef Jerky Marinade
1 pound beef, sliced very thin
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup Worcestershire
1 Tablespoon liquid smoke (omit if you will smoke the beef jerky)
1 Tablespoon sriracha
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon fresh garlic, minced
1 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1. Mix all ingredients together and submerge the meat in the marinade in a plastic zip-top bag, and let sit in the fridge overnight for 12 hours.
Once your meat has marinated overnight, it's time to select your cooking method. Here is where I experimented a bit.
First, I used my Mealthy CrispLid attachment with my Instant Pot. It's basically a lid that transforms your Instant Pot into an air fryer. Although this particular appliance is no longer being produced, if your air fryer has dehydrating functionality, you can follow these same instructions.
With one pound of meat, the jerky was done in three batches using the deep basket. I cooked each batch of beef at 155 degrees for 53 minutes, flipping it halfway through.
I was surprised at how quickly the jerky was done with this method which is a huge plus, but the downside is that the Instant Pot basket isn't very big, so you have to work in small batches. I was pleased with the texture and flavor of the air fried jerky.
I saw this wooden skewer method in a Crisplid Facebook group which could definitely improve the volume of meat cooking at once in the air fryer, but I haven't tested it myself yet. Genius!
If you want to cook a larger quantity of meat at once, you can use an old school dehydrator. I personally don't own this appliance but a good friend of mine does and his beef jerky is delicious and always in high demand by family and friends.
He simply marinates his beef jerky in Dale's Steak Seasoning and Sriracha and dehydrates the meat for 8 hours at 135 degrees. The beauty of this dehydrator is that you can set it and forget about it. There's no babysitting needed!
This beef jerky is going to be the most similar to store-bought with a nice crisp texture. But since I continue to be obsessed with my smoker, I definitely wanted to try a batch of beef jerky smoked on the Weber Smoky Mountain. There are a lot of resources online, but regardless of whether you are using an electric smoker, a pellet smoker or a charcoal/wood smoker, you can omit the liquid smoke from the marinade recipe. The smoke flavor will be naturally infused depending on what type of chips you use!
Dry the jerky strips on paper towels to remove any excess marinade. Try to get as much moisture off the meat as you can.
Prepare the smoker using a combination of charcoal and wood chips. I use a chimney to get mine started easily.
Once the smoker is at the proper temp (150-175 degrees), put the meat on the smoker and give it a healthy dose of freshly cracked black pepper. The meat can touch because it will shrink as it cooks, but it should not overlap. Keep in mind this temperature range will be lower than the usual smoking temp you use for other foods.
Although it may be tempting to add other meats to the smoker, I would highly advise against this. I tend to fill my smoker completely full whenever I fire it up to maximize the fire and my time. However, the first time I tried beef jerky, I also smoked some spatchcocked chicken and the jerky over-smoked because I had to keep the temperature higher than it should have been in order to cook the chicken to the proper temperature. So, lesson learned: fill your smoker with as much jerky as you can fit on it and maintain the lower temp. Don't try to do multiple things at once!
Smoke at this temperature for 6 hours. There is no need to flip the meat.
When the jerky is done, it should bend and crack but not break in half. White fibers are also a good indication that the jerky is finished drying.
Make sure the beef jerky is completely cooled before storing it. It will give off some moisture as it cools, and you don't want any condensation in your stored jerky. You can purchase a food-grade oxygen absorber and a vacuum sealer if you want to make a lot of jerky and have it last a long time. If not, just store in a sealed container or plastic zip-top bag. It will last about a week in a cool, dark place but up to two weeks in the refrigerator.
Whether you choose to smoke, air fry or dehydrate your beef jerky, making it at home allows you to control the flavor as well as the level of sodium, which can be high in store-bought beef jerky.
If you want some practice smoking with charcoal and wood, join us for a hands-on grilling class where we fire up the Big Green Eggs (and gas grills too). Here are just some of my favorite grilling classes that are coming up soon:
- Hands-On Shellfish on the Grill Friday, June 23 6pm
- Hands-On Date Night on the Patio Friday, June 30 6pm
- Hands-On Regional Street Tacos on the Patio Friday, July 7 6pm
- Hands-On Vegetarian Tex Mex on the Grill Saturday, July 8 6pm
- Hands-On Parisian Grilling on the Patio Friday, July 14 6pm