You want to make some beef jerky, and you’re wondering about doing it the natural, old-fashioned way. What equipment and ingredients do you need, and can you make it without liquid smoke?
Can You Make Beef Jerky Without Liquid Smoke?
To make beef jerky without liquid smoke, you will need to use a pellet smoker, offset smoker, or smoking gun to impart the smoke flavor of your choice. Beef jerky is traditionally made in a smoker so that the smoke from gently burning wood is what dries the meat and imparts a smoky flavor.
You may be looking to experiment with various flavors from natural wood smoke, or you want to cut out the chemicals that manufacturers sometimes add to liquid smoke.
Whatever your reason, we’re here to tell you how to make beef jerky without liquid smoke.
What Is Liquid Smoke Anyway, And What Are The Alternatives?
Liquid smoke tastes like smoke because it is made from smoke.
Manufacturers burn chips or sawdust from various hardwoods and collect the smoke particles in condensers. They then concentrate and bottle the resulting liquid.
Some brands add sugar, seasonings such as MSG, molasses, vegetable protein, artificial colorants, and potentially carcinogenic preservatives, which you may not want in your jerky.
Whether it is for flavor reasons or food sensitivity, avoiding these ingredients is a good idea.
People generally think of smokers as barbecuing tools, yet you can also use them for making jerky. A comprehensive look at smokers is beyond the remit of this post, so we will briefly consider the types of smokers most useful for a beginner.
If you’re in a hurry, check out my recommended smokers page that will fit all budgets.
Types of Smokers to Consider
You don’t want something too pricey, too complex, or too big if you are starting out. A kettle-style charcoal grill such as a Weber or a water smoker may fit the bill. To impart an authentic smoky flavor to jerky, you will want to enhance them with wood.
You can also use a small pellet grill or an upright barrel smoker.
Burning hardwood of a particular type, such as apple, hickory, or mesquite, releases wood smoke with unique flavor chemicals that infiltrate your beef jerky and give it delicious flavor as well as curing it.
If you live somewhere where outdoor smoking is illegal, or at best, impractical, you will want to use a stove-top smoker or a handheld smoker, such as a smoking gun. The latter is a valuable tool for general kitchen use, so you may want to invest in one anyway.
The gun has a chamber for wood chips and a long tube projecting from the barrel. Using it is as simple as loading it with wood chips, switching on the fan, igniting the chips with a flame source, and pointing the tube toward the item you wish to smoke.
You can then use this with a dehydrator to make smoky beef jerky. It doesn’t give the same authentic flavor as a backyard smoker, but it’s a pretty convenient alternative.
How To Make Smoky Beef Jerky?
Now that you’re ready to make some smoky beef jerky, let’s look at a few tips:
- Use a lean cut of beef and trim all visible fat, as the fat will not dehydrate and go rancid. Recommended cuts are top round, bottom round, top sirloin, sirloin tip roast, London broil, or for a deluxe option, flank steak.
- Tenderize the meat with a mallet for a less ‘woody,’ more tender end-product.
- Partially freeze the meat (1-2 hours) before slicing it to make it firmer and more suitable for cutting into perfectly even, thin strips.
- Slice the meat with the grain for a chewy texture, or slice the meat against the grain for a tender texture.
- Slice the meat into ⅛ to ¼ inch thick slices.
Smoked Beef Jerky Ingredients
- 2 pounds lean beef
- ¼ cup soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon meat tenderizer (optional)
Preparation Instructions For Making Smoky Beef Jerky
- Thinly slice the beef and remove all visible fat.
- Lightly tenderize the slices with a mallet until they are a uniform thickness.
- Place the beef slices into a Ziploc bag, mix the remaining ingredients, and pour over the beef.
- Close the bag, and massage and shake it to ensure even coating of the beef.
- Marinate the beef for 12-36 hours. Repeat shake a few times during this time.
Method For Making Beef Jerky In A Smoker
- Use a low temperature and only a little smoke: don’t use extra smoking chips.
- Maintain the temperature just under 150 °F.
- Skewer the meat and lay the skewers flat, or hang them from a rack.
- Do not overlap the meat; create space between the slices by using multiple racks.
- Smoke your jerky until it is done; depending on your smoker and your climate, this will take between 12 and 72 hours.
Method For Making Smoky Beef Jerky In A Dehydrator
- Preheat the dehydrator to 160 °F.
- Arrange the marinated meat onto the racks, ensuring that no pieces of meat overlap
- Place the trays of meat into the dehydrator.
- While the meat is drying, smoke it with the smoke gun. You may have to do this a couple of times to get good penetration of smoky flavor.
- Total drying time depends on how big a load you are drying, the thickness of the beef, the ambient humidity, and your dehydrator – be sure to refer to your manual.
- As a general rule of thumb, jerky will take 4-6 hours to dry. Test a cooled piece by bending it: it should crack but not break.
- Now and then, blot away any fat with a paper towel, and move the trays around if needed to ensure even drying.
Additional Notes About Making Beef Jerky Without Liquid Smoke
An alternative way of adding some smoky flavor to your jerky is by substituting a teaspoon of hickory smoke-flavored salt for a teaspoon of regular salt.
Your jerky will keep up to a week with little care except for keeping it away from air and direct light. To keep it for a month, use an airtight container.
To keep it longer, vacuum-seal it and store it in the fridge or freezer.
Homemade beef jerky is a delicious, healthy snack. It is entirely possible to make it without liquid smoke, either by introducing smoke from a smoke gun into a dehydrator or by using a smoker to lock smoky flavor into your jerky.