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How to Make Beef Jerky

How to Make Beef Jerky

The ideal snack for Old West cattle drives and modern-day road trips, beef jerky is easy to make at home on a Traeger.

Beef jerky is thin strips of beef that have been seasoned and then dried.

The basic process:

  1. Slice the beef into thin strips.
  2. Marinate the beef.
  3. Smoke the beef.

Here's a preview of how to make beef jerky on a Traeger. We'll talk in depth about each step.

Choose Lean Meat

These cuts are the best for making beef jerky: top round, bottom round, rump roast, sirloin tip, flank steak, 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're trying to dry out the meat. Intramuscular fat won't dry out and will lead to chewy, undercooked jerky.

When you buy meat for your jerky, turn yourself into a marbling cop. Among the different cuts we've listed above, the amount of marbling will vary depending on the animal the meat came from. Don't be shy about rifling through the packages in the meat section to look for the one with the least marbling.

Slice Your Strips

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.

Slices should be cut against the grain, which will make the final product more tender.

If you're slicing a full cut at home, put it in the freezer for about one hour, or until the meat feels slightly firm. Firmer meat is easier to slice accurately.

As a final step, trim away excess fat from the edge of the slices.

Marinate the Jerky

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 will help kill any bacteria that could form during the long cooking process.

Marinades usually include:

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.

A spicy component such as hot sauce, sliced jalapeños, red pepper flakes, and cayenne pepper.

The sweet component of brown sugar is often used.

Aromatic components of garlic, ginger, lemongrass, and cumin — choose the flavors you like.

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.

The final step is to coat every single little corner of every slice of beef with marinade. The best way is to put the slices in a zip top plastic bag, then massage the meat through the bag.

Place the bag in your refrigerator on top of a plate or in a large bowl, to prevent spills. Every few hours, take the bag out of the fridge and gently massage it to further coat the pieces.

Marinate for at least four hours -- for the best results, overnight.

Prepare the Jerky

The entire goal of the smoking process is to eliminate moisture from the beef slices after they’ve been sitting in liquid marinade for several hours.

So before you smoke, place the pieces between two sheets of paper towels to help draw away some of the moisture. Drying the surface moisture could cut down the cooking time (and make less of a mess in your Traeger), but it's an optional step. Your Traeger is powerful enough to smoke away all the moisture eventually.

Smoke the Jerky

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.

The longer you cook the jerky, the more smoke flavor it will get.

Low and slow is best. We suggest smoking beef jerky at between 165- and 180-degrees Fahrenheit for 4 to 5 hours.

Is Smoking Jerky Better Than Dehydrating or Baking in Your Oven?

If you like natural wood smoke 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 Meat Does It Take to Get a Pound of Jerky?

About 2 pounds of beef will produce one 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.

Beef Jerky Recipes

These recipes can provide a starting point for creating incredible beef jerky. As you'll see, making beef jerky gives you the chance to experiment with a huge variety of flavors -- from Tex-Mex to Thai, and more.

Teriyaki Beef Jerky

Cook time: 5 hours

Serves: 8


3 cups soy sauce

2 cups brown sugar

3 cloves garlic

1-inch piece ginger, finely diced

1 tablespoon sesame oil

4 pounds skirt steak

Chimayo Beef Jerky

Cook time: 4 hours

Serves: 4


5 medium limes

1 whole chipotle pepper in adobo, plus 2 teaspoons sauce from can

2 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped

1 bottle (12 ounces) Mexican beer, such as Corona

1/3 cup soy sauce or Bragg Liquid Aminos

1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce

2 tablespoons Morton Tender Quick Home Meat Cure or 1/2 teaspoon pink curing salt (optional)

1½ teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 pounds beef top or bottom round, sirloin tip, flank steak or wild game, trimmed

Spicy Chili Beef Jerky

Cook time: 4 hours

Serves: 4


1 cup chili sauce

1/3 cup beer

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

2 tablespoons Morton Tender Quick Home Meat Cure

1 tablespoon minced pickled jalapeño peppers

2 pounds flank steak, cut into 1/4-inch slices

Jalapeño Beef Jerky

Cook time: 4 hours

Serves: 4


2 jalapeños, stemmed and seeded (or leave seeds in for a hotter jerky)

1/4 cup lime juice

1/4 cup soy sauce

4 tablespoons brown sugar

1 cup Mexican beer

2 tablespoons Morton Tender Quick Home Meat Cure

2 pounds beef top or bottom round, sirloin tip, or flank steak

Coffee Break Beef Jerky

Cook time: 5 hours

Serves: 4


1 cup brewed strong coffee or espresso, chilled

1 cup cola

1/2 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce

1/4 cup brown sugar

2 tablespoons Morton Tender Quick Home Meat Cure

1½ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon hot sauce

2 pounds trimmed beef top or bottom round, sirloin tip or flank steak

Vietnamese Beef Jerky

Cook time: 4 hours

Serves: 4


2 large garlic cloves, roughly chopped

1 stalk fresh lemongrass, trimmed and white parts thinly sliced

1½-inch fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped

1/2 cup soy sauce or Bragg Liquid Aminos

3 tablespoons water

3 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons fish sauce

2 teaspoons red chile flakes, or more to taste

1/2 teaspoon pink curing salt (optional)

2 pounds lean bottom round, rump roast or sirloin

Peppered Beef Jerky

Cook time: 4 hours

Serves: 4


1 bottle (12 ounces) can or bottle dark beer

1 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce

3 tablespoons brown sugar

1 tablespoon Morton Tender Quick Home Meat Cure

1/2 teaspoon garlic salt

4 tablespoons coarse ground black pepper, divided

2 pounds beef top or bottom round, sirloin tip, or flank steak

Paleo Beef Jerky

Cook time: 4 hours

Serves: 6


3/4 cup coconut aminos

1/2 tablespoon fish sauce

1 tablespoon onion powder

1 tablespoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2½ pounds flank steak

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