Pellet smokers are extremely versatile, and their low temperature settings and constant airflow allow them to function just like dehydrators. That means they are perfect for jerky, with natural smoke flavor from pellets being an added bonus. This article will describe each step of the jerky-making process in detail and finish off with a basic starter recipe. Next time you’re camping, fishing, or just driving for more than a couple hours, try making some to take along on your journey!
Choosing Your Meat
When choosing a cut for making jerky, the #1 rule is to avoid fatty cuts. Fat doesn’t preserve and will go rancid. With that being said, every cut will have at least a little bit of fat, so be prepared to do a little trimming.
Pictured above is a flank steak, which is a lean cut that produces thin, long strips when cut against the grain. It also has great beefy flavor. Top round (London broil), bottom round, and eye of round are also popular choices for jerky.
Slicing the Meat
Want to know the secret to getting perfectly even, super thin slices? Have your butcher do it for you! If that isn’t an option, you can put your meat in the freezer for 1-3 hours before slicing. The goal isn’t to completely freeze your meat, just to stiffen it up. Also, it’s easier to make consistent slices from a thin piece of meat, so you may want to divide your meat in halves or quarters before cutting it into pieces.
Making a Marinade
The recipe below is a pretty standard jerky recipe, and you can feel free to customize it to your liking with different sauces and spices. Make sure you keep a decent amount of sodium, as it helps preserve the jerky by fighting against bacteria. Worcestershire sauce is common in jerky marinades as it boosts umami and adds a general depth of flavor. You’ll also want some sweetness, so add some brown sugar, honey, or whatever else you have in your pantry. Lastly, if you like heat, add some sriracha, cayenne, or red pepper flakes.
Smoking the Jerky
You’ll want to set your pellet grill to its lowest temperature setting, which will be between 175 and 225 degrees depending on your model. While this temperature range isn’t as low as a typical dehydrator it will still produce amazing jerky. You’ll want to put your meat on a baking/cooling rack over a pan. You can also use your grill grates, but it’s messier and you risk dropping your meat through the grates.
It can be tough to nail the perfect doneness your first time, and it’s common to over-dehydrate jerky. While the meat should be firm and dry on the outside, it should still be slightly pliable. And if you know you’re going to eat all your jerky in a day or two, you don’t have to obsess over getting every bit of moisture out.
Now that you have an overview of the process, here’s a basic recipe that will work great for your first batch.
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 pounds flank steak, or another lean cut of beef
Mix together the soy sauce, Worcestershire, brown sugar, paprika, garlic powder, and pepper in a bowl and set aside.
Slice the meat into 1/8“ – 1/4” strips and place them into the marinade, making sure they are completely coated.
Place the meat in your refrigerator to marinate for at least 4 hours, or overnight.
When you’re ready to smoke the jerky, set your pellet grill to its lowest temperature (~200 degrees Fahrenheit).
Place the strips of meat on a rack that allows air to circulate around them.
Smoke the meat for a total of 2-4 hours, flipping them over at roughly the 90-minute mark. The amount of time required depends mainly on your smoker’s temperature and the thickness of the meat.
Remove the meat when the exterior looks dry. It should be mostly firm but still slightly pliable. If the meat is floppy, give it more time.
After removing the jerky from your smoker, use a paper towel to dab away any oil spots on the surface.
Store your jerky at room temperature in a plastic bag for up to 1 week. You can refrigerate or freeze it to lengthen its lifespan if necessary.
Let us know if you try this recipe and how it goes! Happy Pellet Grilling!