The ideal snack for hiking, road trips, or the fairway, beef jerky is hard to beat. Created as a way to preserve meat for long periods, the deeply flavored dried meat is still enjoyed today because it's so darn delicious. (And, for backpackers, it's so darn light.)
The basic process for making jerky includes slicing meat into thin strips, marinating it in a flavorful liquid, then drying the meat using low heat.
Using your Traeger, as oppsoed to a dehydrator or an oven, makes jerky even better by adding wood-fired flavor.
The video below outlines the process in a nutshell, but keep reading to learn more.
Though you can make jerky with venison, pork, and even salmon, beef is the most common kind. The best beef cuts include flank steak, top round, bottom round, rump roast, sirloin tip, or skirt steak.
What these cuts all have in common is they are lean, meaning that they don't have very much intramuscular fat (aka marbling). Marbling is good when you are looking for a steak to grill because the fat keeps the meat from drying out as it cooks. But when you make beef jerky, you want the meat to dry out.
We recommend slicing beef 1/4-inch thick for beef jerky. Thicker slices will take longer to dry. Thinner slices can crack or fall apart on the grill.
Having all the slices at the exact same width will give you a better final product. So, if you can, ask your butcher to slice the beef on their slicing machine. If you are slicing the beef at home use this pro tip from Traeger chef Austen Granger: Freeze the meat for 30 minutes before slicing to firm it up.
For the most tender slices, cut across the grain. If you want a chewier bite, however, you can go with the grain. Austen likes to slice flank steak with the grain to create long, fun-to-eat sticks of beef.
Either way, he rolls it up as shown below to make it easier to slice.
Marinating jerky before smoking is a step you can't skip. The components of the marinade will give the beef jerky its flavor and spice level. And the salt in the marinade, which may be in the form of soy sauce, will help keep bacteria at bay.
Jerky marinades usually include the following::
A salty/savory component like soy sauce is one of the most common ingredients for beef jerky marinades. Worcestershire sauce and liquid aminos are other options. Unless you are a prepper looking for very long unrefrigerated storage for your jerky, you can skip the scary curing salts.
A spicy component such as hot sauce, sliced jalapeños, red pepper flakes, and cayenne pepper.
A sweet component, such as brown sugar is often used.
Aromatics like garlic, ginger, lemongrass, cumin, and other spices.
Some sort of flavored liquid (beer, cola, brewed coffee) to help increase the volume of the marinade so there's enough of it to cover all the slices.
Add the beef strips to the marinade being sure they are all fully covered, then refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to 12 hours.
Once the meat has marinated, you want to dry it on the Traeger. If you want to speed the process slightly, you can pat the meat slices dry with paper towel after removing it from the marinade, but it's not necessary.
Set a rack on a rimmed baking sheet then place the strips of meat on the rack leaving room betwen each to allow for optimum airflow and for the meat to dry evenly.
The smoke is the final and probably the best component of your Traegered beef jerky.
First of all, pick your smoking wood. If you are using strong flavors in your marinade, a heavily-flavored wood like mesquite or hickory would be a good choice. If you are using more subtle flavors and don't want the smoke flavor to overpower your other seasonings, a lighter wood like apple or cherry may be the best choice.
You want to dry the meat at a very low temperature so that the result is dried but still pliable, anywhere between 165°F and 180°F works well. The jerky should take betwen 4 and 5 hours to dry out. You can test it by picking up a piece; it should feel dry to the touch but still be pliable.
Is smoking jerky better than using a dehydrator or oven?
If you like natural wood-fired flavor in your jerky, then using a smoker to make jerky is better than using a dehydrator or an oven.
Drying the wood outdoors with the smoke of slow-burning wood is how your ancestors did it, probably way back to prehistoric times. So you're not only making delicious food, you're reconnecting with a millenia-old tradition.
There is no way to replicate true wood smoke flavor when you make jerky in a dehydrator or an oven.
How many pounds of raw meat does it take to yield 1 pound of jerky?
It takes about 2 pounds of raw beef to produce1 pound of jerky.
The general rule of thumb is to expect to lose about one-half the weight of your meat during the drying process. Don't expect this rule to hold exactly as the moisture content of meat varies from animal to animal.
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