Sunday Smoking Beef Jerky

This isn’t my first attempt doing jerky on my tiny little Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker but it’s the first one that I’ve taken the time to consider writing a post about it. My first attempt was…oh, let’s just call it…a trial run, and it didn’t turn out quite as I had hoped. I have the smallest version of the WSM and rack space is very limited. Jerky takes up a lot of space if you’re relying on rack space so for that first run, I only sliced up about a pound of marinated flank steak and that pretty much covered the entire top rack. I figured it would be safest to avoid using the bottom rack at the time thinking it would be too close to the heat source despite the empty water pan in place as a heat shield.

What I found was that I had a hard time keeping the temperature low enough to do a slow low cook. Sure, water in the pan might have kept the temperature down but that’s sort of counter intuitive to the fact that you need to dry the meat. Anyway…the temp was higher than I hoped for and that made the rack quite hot, especially around the outside edge, and that caused some of it to burn. I salvaged what I could, and admittedly, it wasn’t the greatest. On the other hand, it wasn’t awful either.

What did I learn? Well, first, I determined that i have to get used to the idea of starting with less fuel for a cook like this. Doing ribs and pork butts requires a little more fuel for a long, steady burn. In the future I can probably re-purpose partially spent coals and just get that going with a very small starter chimney. That should keep the temperature under control. Secondly, I figured out out a way to cook even more than a mere pound (after all, once done, a pound of beef will be less than a half pound of jerky and that’s not even worth the hassle) by hanging strips from the underside of the rack using toothpicks rather than laying them out flat on the rack itself. Smart, huh? Another thing I learned was that it really does help to really pat dry the strips of meat after marinating, especially if the marinade is high in sugar. Sugar burns easily and if there’s excess on the meat, it’s going to ruin it under high heat.

Two pounds of jerky hung with care

Two pounds of jerky hung with care

So now…the second attempt. I avoided the urge to test my theory fully by hanging three or four pounds of meat from the underside of the rack. I knew better. I didn’t want to bury myself with an assumption. When it comes to this stuff, I’m nothing if not cautious. I need to advance with baby steps unless I’m really feeling confident. So, this time around, I doubled my batch…well, actually I doubled the amount of meat but prepared two marinades the night before. I’m not yet crafty enough to have my own marinade recipes figured out. Hell, this is only my second attempt at this. What do you want from me? For one of my marinades, I used one ingredient…this stuff. I love that stuff. I use it with a lot of stuff, most often with white rice and ham. If I had the patience to make home made eggrolls, this would be the stuff I’d have with it.

The second marinade was a little more complex. I scoured the internet looking for something that jumped out and this one was it. It involved Dr. Pepper and jalapenos. Interesting, no? I thought so. Briefly, it warrants me mentioning that I’m not sure whether or not I cared for it. I mean…I liked how it turned out but I didn’t get much jalapeno and I got no Dr. Pepper at all. That being said, it could just be a source of sweetness to counter the heat that was intended in the recipe. Perhaps the actual soda flavor isn’t meant to be picked out. Also, I included the sliced jalapeno in marinade as I was reducing it according to the recipe but I can’t help but wonder if perhaps I would have got a little more heat if I reduced the mixture and then added the fresh sliced jalapeno to it along with the meat.

Anyway…these are things to try and try again.

As you can see in the picture above, the toothpick hanging technique worked rather well. That’s about two pounds of meat on that little smoker, which is twice as much as my first attempt. If I was feeling saucy (pun intended?) I might shoot for three or even four pounds next time. It depends on what recipes I decide to use. As you can tell, the two marinates colored their respective meat in their own ways and the was no mistaking one batch from the other. Once cooked…yeah, they were a little closer in color but still quite distinguishable from one another. If I do add multiple batches of differing marinades in the future, I suppose I can always color code the toothpicks. The big selling point of this method, even though it was a bit of a pain to prepare for, is that barely any of the meat touches the metal and everything is sort of just evenly open to the source of the heat with very little overlap. The ones on the edge would probably cook faster but it would be manageable.

The Dr. Pepper/jalapeno jerky is the darker of the two batches

The Dr. Pepper/jalapeno jerky is the darker of the two batches

I used a couple small pieces of apple wood for the smoke, set up a remote temperature probe, started my timer and spent a little time with some other chores while I waited. I avoided peeking until around the ninety minute mark. I would have tried waiting until at least two hours but the temperatures were getting pretty high. I had to protect my investment. Everything looked good but it still needed time. I closed up the vents some to try to dampen the heat. In retrospect, the heat was already there so I probably should have cracked the door or lid a bit to let some cool air circulate in and lower it. But…at around three hours, I had a nice couple batches. Some came off quicker than the rest but it was all fairly consistently cooked thanks to the hanging method.

That was my experience this time around. I’m trying hard not to eat it all in a day or two. It’s not easy, but I’m trying. Without preservatives, it shouldn’t hang around for more than a week or more in the refrigerator. If I do more than two pounds, I might consider freezing some for a rainy day.


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