Why is My Beef Jerky Black? What Color Should Beef Jerky Be?

It’s your first time smoking your own beef jerky, and you’re wondering why is my beef jerky black after it’s cooked? Let’s take a closer look at what it means and what color homemade beef jerky is supposed to be.

Why Is My Beef Jerky Black?

The black color can be due to the cut of beef, the spices used in the marinade, cooking time, and how it was cooked. If the whole piece is black, it’s likely overcooked. When the edges are black, it means it started to burn or the edges fell through the grates and were exposed to more heat.

why is my beef jerky black

This may sound confusing especially if you’ve never made homemade jerky before. Keep reading as we’ll be answering all your questions regarding the color of homemade beef jerky below and how to tell when it’s done.

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Can You Overcook Beef Jerky?

Yes, jerky can be overcooked and when it is it becomes tough making it extremely hard to eat. Like any other meat, it will turn black, crumbly, and inedible if cooked too long.

Your dog may not even want to eat it because it will be like his rawhide.

That said, if your jerky comes out with black edges, it likely means that the edges burnt but you took it off in time, therefore, salvaging it in time. It’s very easy to burn the edges in a smoker because the tips of the raw meat will fall through the grates, which is why some people put their beef jerky on a rack.

What Causes Beef Jerky to Look Change Color?

Cut of Beef

All dark meat contains myoglobin, also known as the Maillard reaction. Which breaks down during the cooking process and causes it to turn brown or the purple-red color you typically see on beef jerky.

When meat is refrigerated it turns brown, this is known as oxidation. As soon as you bring meat home from the grocery store, it is going to change color, even before it is cooked.

Even white meat changes color, the difference is it turns whiter when it is cooked.

This article shows you the best cuts to use for beef jerky if you’re not sure what to use.


The spices used in the marinade can also affect the color of the meat. This is why some people prefer to season the meat just before the cooking process. Salt is known to affect the pigmentation molecules of meat causing it to look old or cooked.

Other spices such as paprika, saffron, sugar and etc provide both color and flavor to processed meat products. It’s also what produces well-known characteristics to familiar meat products that are recognizable to consumers when shopping at grocery stores such as pepperoni, salami and etc.

Cooking Temperature

Beef jerky needs to be cooked low and slow, which is why some people use dehydrators. The Pit Boss pellet grill (and other brands) make it easy to make homemade beef jerky because it allows you to cook and maintain low temperatures throughout a cook.

For best results, beef jerky should be cooked between 180°F-200°F on indirect heat throughout the cook. Cooking it too fast will cause it to char become inedible.


Depending on the type of smoker you have, the grates may be too big to lay the jerky on directly. For example on the Pit Boss, the holes on the grates are shaped like diamonds.

Making it easy for the tips of the jerky to fall through. If this happens, they are closer to the firepot and have a better chance of burning.

If this happens to your jerky, you may want to consider using a smoker jerky rack.

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You place the jerky on the rack similar to a cooling rack and then place the whole frame inside the smoke chamber. It prevents the tips of the jerky from falling through the grates, thereby preventing the tips from burning.

How Should Beef Jerky Look After It’s Cooked?

Beef jerky is dehydrated meat that exhibits a firm, flexible form that can easily bend back without breaking. Once cooked, it will be completely dried out, making it harder and darker in color. In the raw state, it looks like raw meat, which is a light red or pinkish color.

The color will vary from a reddish hue to a much darker or translucent color. I’ve had some look more blackish than brown (you can see from the image above). My other batch looked more brownish, because of the different spices I used.

Some of it was dark brown with light brown spots. If your jerky has spots, it usually means that the marinade wasn’t able to penetrate all the meat.

I’ve even seen some look more purplish than brown or black. As long as the jerky is done, it really doesn’t matter what it looks like when it comes off the smoker.

As long as it isn’t overcooked.

How Long Does It Take to Cook Beef Jerky?

Homemade jerky will take 1-3 hours to cook on a pellet grill. Cooking times will vary depending on the amount of jerky, grill temperature, and ambient temperature. Unlike other meats, there is no set standard for “done.”

The meat is sliced so thin, it’s impossible to use a thermometer. That’s why most people bend and chew to test the jerky.

Bend Test

When the meat has been on the smoker for a while and it no longer looks raw, grab a piece and bend it gently at about a 90-degree angle.

If any moisture squeezes out, put it back on the smoker to cook longer. On the other hand, if it cracks and breaks, you’ve smoked it too long and it’s past the point of the best texture and flavor. It’s still edible, but it won’t be as good as it could be.

Chew Test

It will exhibit a pliable leather-like texture that will crack and fray slightly at the bending point. At that point, you’ll want to remove the jerky from the smoker and set it on a cooling rack. After about 5-10 minutes, and it has cooled, you can take a bite.

The jerky shouldn’t crack, crunch, or be too tough to chew or tear apart. If it’s tasty and doesn’t taste like “fresh meat” then it’s ready to be pulled off the grill.

Final Word

Smoked jerky will vary in color, and it’s not uncommon for it to turn black, reddish-brown, or even purplish-colored after it is cooked. If the edges are black, it’s likely the tips fell through the grill and got exposed to more heat, but it’s still edible.

As long as it passes the doneness test, it’s fine and should taste great.

Smoking your own beef jerky is not only tastier than the store-bought variety. It’s fun seeing what color it comes out.

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