Jerky: 202 Smoked Vs. Dehydrated Jerky
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Jerky in Oven
Which is Best?
There are plenty of different opinions on the best way to cook and dry jerky. Some people prefer using just an oven, some just a dehydrator and some just a smoker. Each way has its benefits but we think some are better than others depending on the equipment you have available to you. If you have a smokehouse that is able to control the relative humidity then starting and finishing in the smoker is going to give you the most consistent and the most tender piece of jerky. The problem is that most people just don’t have that available to them, so we are also going to show a way to use an oven and a dehydrator to make tender jerky.
Slicing & Mixing
The first thing is first we have to slice this into useable pieces. We have trimmed and partially frozen our meat so make slicing them easier. We are cutting 1/4 inch pieces against the grain because this will make the bite and chew of the jerky better than cutting along the grain.
Now we are going to mix our seasoning with our cure and lay it out on a plate. Then, we are going to drag the pieces through this mixture making sure we coat both sides. After we have done everything we are going to place it in a bag and add JUST enough water to cover all of the meat. Then we are going to let it sit overnight to allow the seasoning and cure to fully penetrate and work in the cure. Vacuum packing will help the meat pick up a little more of the seasoning and if you can vac pack it and then massage the meat every few hours it will work even better. This is going to relax the muscle fibers and allow the solution to penetrate further and faster.
If you have a vacuum tumbler you can simply dissolve all of your seasoning, cure and any other additives in the water you will use, add it to the tumbler and tumble until the meat has picked up all of the solutions.
I am also adding 18% of the weight of the product in brown sugar and 20% of the weight in water. I am adding this sugar as it will bind with the water in the meat and make it unavailable for microbial growth, so I can have a perfectly safe jerky that is still nice and tender. To verify this you need a water activity meter though and as most people don’t have one of these you need to treat this jerky like it is not shelf-stable and refrigerate it. If you want to do this you need to make sure your brown sugar was 100% dissolved in the water, if not you are going to end up with some seriously sticky jerky. Also, a tumbler is almost essential here, I have tested vacuum packing it with the added sugar and water in the past and while it works it just won’t accept as much of the solution as it will with a tumbler.
The Weston 6 Tray Digital Dehydrator is an inexpensive ($80) dehydrator that will get up to 160° and can run for over 24 hours at a time. This should give you all the functionality you need to make quality jerky.
Now that the meat has picked up as much of the cure as it will we are going to do the thermal processing. I split this into two batches to see what the difference is in product loss and tenderness when done in a smoker verse an oven and a dehydrator.
I took 4 lb and laid it out on the jerky screens and cooked it at 325° until the internal temperature is 160°. This jerky has been cut 1/4" thick so it only took 12 minutes. Once that was done I transferred it to a dehydrator and ran it at its top temperature, which in this case was 160°. After 1 hour the water activity was .98 which would not be shelf-stable, after 2 hours is was .89 so still not shelf-stable, after 3 hours is was low .8s to high .7s, after 4 hours in the dehydrator the water activity was .71 which is what we would want from our jerky.
The other batched I cooked in our commercial smoker with careful attention to the relative humidity. My first stage is at 110° for 20 minutes with no humidity and my dampers wide open and my fan on and no smoke, next I went for 30 minutes at 135° again with no smoke or humidity, then 140° for 10 minutes with no smoke and no humidity. Now I cooked it at 150° for 30 minutes and I closed the dampers and set the relative humidity to 50%. Then I upped the temp to 155 for 30 more minutes with 50% relative humidity. For the final stage, I cooked it 175° with a 60% RH until the internal temp was 160
$500 Budget for Equipment
In my opinion, I would spend the majority of my budget on a slicer, the Weston 10" Slicer has a hefty price tag of $400 but it will cut evenly and can also be used for so much more than just jerky, the Walton’s 8.7" is a little more affordable at $300 and in our mind is at least as good. Then I would spend the remaining amount on the 6 Tray Digital Dehydrator. Now, another, and equally valid way to go would be to spend the bulk of your money on a Weston 80L Pro Series Dehydrator ($350) and then buying a Weston 9" Slicer, don’t let the 1 " difference between these slicers confuse you though, the Weston 10" and Walton’s 8.7" are extremely well built and could be used in a semi-commercial environment whereas the 9" is only for home use.
Other Equipment Or Supplies
will give you a lot more versatility and can obviously be used for so much more than jerky.
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