Snack Stick Questions
Just did my first batch of snack sticks last night. They came out pretty well, but there are some issues I need to fix and would appreciate any feedback.
First, I used 80/20 ground beef for this test batch of Jalapeno Cheddar Beef Sticks. My recipe for 10lbs included seasonings (Walton’s jalapeno mix), 1/2 cup powdered milk (Nestle’s “Nido”), 1/4 oz pink salt, liquid smoke, 1/2 lb high temp cheese, 1 cup fresh roasted jalapenos, and 1 oz of encapsulated Citric Acid. The end product was way too tart for me and overpowered the jalapeno and cheese. Should I eliminate the citric acid completely? Maybe cut it in half? Is it even needed? I like a little tart taste, but this was too much.
I used my Weston’s 48" smoker for the first time as well…seasoned it as per directions. I could not get the temperature to stay below 150 degrees without cracking the door open for the first 3 hours. I could get it to 125 degrees but the door was literally 1 inch open. Is this normal? I had the temp set on “low”, but it kept climbing too high, even after I tinkered endlessly with the dampers. Also, the temp guage on the smoker and the temp readout on my ThermPro were much different, and I went with the ThermPro as the correct temp. The only time I closed and latched the door was after the 125, 140, and 155 cycles (4 hours). I left it on low and latched the door, when I returned and hour 1/2 later the internal meat temp was around 160, but a couple of casings had burst and leaked fat and I had a nice bonfire in the smoker to deal with. I removed sticks, ice bath for 10 minutes and left out to dry till following day. I did use mesquite chips for the 140 and 155 cycles, and got good smoke. I didn’t use any water in the smoker at all (mistake?).
As I said, they are not bad, but could use improvement. My first smoking experience was disappointing as well, because I had to babysit the smoker for almost 6 hours.
What can I do to improve my product and efficiency?
I forgot to mention that I mixed the meat for 8 minutes in my new Weston’s 44lb mixer…and found out that it doesn’t really mix the meat too well after it starts to get tacky. It more or less clings to the bottom of the hopper and I had to “unstick” it with a wooded spatula several times to keep mixing. I was expecting it to do all the mixing, but I ended up mixing in the cheese and jalapenos by hand in a bowl since the mixer wasn’t cutting it…
With Encapsulated Citric Acid, 1 oz for 10 lb of meat is definitely not too much. We typically recommend up to 4 oz per 25 lb of meat, so that would be 1.6 oz for 10 lb. Some people just don’t like the tangy flavor though, and it is not a required ingredient. If you would prefer to not use it, you can definitely leave it out. 1 big reason to use it is that it can function as a cure accelerator, so if you don’t use it, either use another cure accelerator like Smoked Meat Stabilizer so you can immediately smoke the meat snacks, or hold the sticks overnight in the fridge and smoke the next day.
Did you wait to mix the Encapsulated Citric Acid in until the end when you mixed in the cheese and jalapenos? If the citric acid encapsulate breaks, or a product is cooked too hot too fast, and the citric acid releases into the meat too early it can cause a break down of the proteins and meat bind in your product, which can then lead to the fat not being properly bound in the meat, and then potentially the sticks can “fat out”
If you were leaking fat, does it look like the product actually “fatted out”? (there would usually be visible fat collected between the meat and casing). One of the first things I usually guess if this happened is that maybe there wasn’t enough protein extraction (where the meat is really sticky). Sounds like you went down the correct avenue of using a meat mixer though. Check out this video for what a fatted out snack stick looks like:
I’m not really sure what the lowest temperature on the Weston Smokers should be, but we’ve got one here we test with. We will fire it up today and see what the temperature can hold at on the lowest setting.
In a smoker like the Weston Vertical Smokers though, I would always use a water pan placed in the bottom to help keep the humidity up though.
I’ll respond again later after I can test our Weston smoker and see how low we can get the temp to hold at…
@Bobmead Hi Bob, I did some testing this morning with the Weston 30" vertical smoker that we use in here occasionally. When I had the dampers open on the sides and the top I was able to get it to around 145° F according to the thermometer on the front of the unit. I rarely trust those thermometers though, so I used the Grilleye Smart Bluetooth thermometer (and the clip that makes the probe an ambient thermometer) and I was reading pretty much at 160° with a few degrees variation from the top to bottom.
So if you have a smoker that will not get down to 120° the best thing to do is to set it as low as possible and monitor the internal temperature. For example our snack-stick recipe calls for 120° for an hour, then 140° for an hour and 155° for 2 hours. If the lowest you can get is 160° then set it to 160° and keep it there for around 2-3 hours once the temperature starts climbing around 130ish° raise it to the next level.
We list such exact temp instructions to allow people with the ability to be that precise to follow what a professional processor would try to do. That doesn’t mean you can’t end up with a great product if you can’t smoke at exact temps. We just try to give as much information as possible.
One other thing that caught my eye was the Nestle’s powdered milk. The milk based binders for meat processing are designed to be used at high heat and normal powdered milk usually isn’t. My fear would be that it would bind to itself more than it would bind to the meat and you might be left with “pellets” in your snack sticks of powdered milk.
I hope this helped, let us know if you need anything else!
@Jonathon Thanks for all of the information, I will certainly incorporate it into my next batch! I was using my ThermPro probe to measure ambient temps inside the smoker unit, but your explanation leads me to believe it may have been inaccurate since it’s a probe. I’ll get an ambient thermometer and try it again!
@Bobmead Sounds great, good luck and let us know if you need anything else!
If you haven’t already invested in a dual probe thermometer I’d put it on your Christmas list they are a life saver. temp gauage on smoker boxes are notoriously unreliable at best. Monitoring the box temp and the meat temp is critical. I’m also not a fan of using liquid smoke if you are smoking the meat and I’ve never used the citric acid either-just not a fan of that flavor. You have a lot going on with everything you put in there. Start simple use the Walton’s jalapeno mix, build a good base with a consistent product, then let the experimenting begin. Learning your smoker is an art. Outside temp, wind, wood choice, load, will all vary your smoker temp. Just run the smoker a few times with nothing in it, keep a data log-find one on the internet every 15 minutes, saves you the agony of ruining product. Door open isn’t an issue as long as it’s not blowing open. I also like to warm up the smoker up, hang the sticks and dry them just a bit so no moisture is on them, then put the smoke to them. Give a nice firm bite to the sticks. Good luck!!
@Parksider Thanks for the reply and advice, I will get the dual probe thermometer you mentioned and give it another try. There is definitely a learning curve here, but I am not discouraged, in fact, I am excited to make the changes and try it again! Thanks for your help!
Weston’s 48" smoker
One more note about the smoker…you may want to get a needle valve and replace the hose on the smoker. It’s has a lot more control and may let you cut the gas back to get it to run colder but they are very sensitive. I got one from Amazon.
@Parksider Ok, I’ll take a look and see if I can find one. Thanks!
@Austin can I use dehydrated to make snack stick
@Austin can I use my dehydrater to make snack sticks.
@Orvil If the dehydrator got hot enough, in theory, it’d be possible to use. However, most dehydrators won’t get hot enough, and you don’t want to dry out snack sticks as much as jerky, so I wouldn’t recommend it. I would suggest in this scenario to just use an oven instead (assuming a dehydrator is used for lack of a smoker). If you need more space in an oven, just get some of the 3 Tier Jerky Racks to maximize space.
Long story short, yes it could be possible, but wouldn’t make an ideal final product and I definitely wouldn’t recommended.
Let me know if I can help or expand any further!
@Austin my dehydrated heats up to 175 I would to just do it in the oven what temp and for how long . I’m get a smoker here soon my freezer is full need to get rid of some of this meat now have 2 more deer coming this week. Thanks for the help O
If you read about how the dehydrator actually works it cycles up and down the temperature it doesn’t hold a consistent 175° the easiest way to do this is put them in the oven and set it to warm and stick a wooden spoon in the door to let the moisture out. Jerk
y will be just fine that way.
Parksider is right on with how the dehydrators typically work.
For temp and length of time in the oven, 170 to 200 degrees is as low as most ovens go, so as low of a temp in there as you can reach. Then, you want to hit an internal temp of 160 on snack sticks which will probably be several hours in the oven, really just depends on what size of snack sticks you’re making. Really small sticks may be 2-3 hours, or larger sticks could be 4-6 hours. Just throw in a thermometer probe, and when it hits 160, take them out and start cooling.
Just an FYI, everybody that received snack sticks for Christmas last year loved them… I just ordered another batch of Willie’s Snack Stick spice blend to do it again this year!
Jonathon, I have to agree that 275 is too hot… If you have the time I’d shoot for 225, but if it needs to be “done”, then 250 would be the max I would do…
I have always filled the water pan for everything I smoke… 2 reasons, first it does tend to add moisture during the long cook thus keeping the bark from turning to shoe leather… and second because the water pan acts as a heat sink and helps maintain the temperature (in my vertical propane smoker) a bit more accurately… I’ve heard folks tout using apple juice in the water pan to impart a sweeter flavor, but I’ve never tried it…
On the other hand, my dad smoked for years, mostly in a converted fridge with an electric hotplate in the bottom… he never used a water pan and never had an issue with dry meat…
As for the type of wood to use, that’s just a trial and error, personal preference thing… I happen to like steaks cooked with oak… that may be too strong a flavor for your taste (my GF hates it)… Recently I have been using a lot of maple for NC bbq, chicken and even cheese… I like the maple for the meats, but next batch of cheese will go back to the hickory / cherry mix that I was using…
I followed the instructions on the video. It may have something to do with the sausage not getting as firm as it should. I used the cotto salami on duck breast with pork fat. It sure tastes good. But it’s a little soft.
I’ve done a lot both ways. I would highly recommend a stuffer and I have the Weston grinder with the auger stuffing attachment. It’s slow, but if you’re doing 5# or 10# batches, it’s not that bad. I’ve had small 5# stuffer, old school cast iron Enterprise, 11# vertical and now a 35# hydraulic. Don’t get me wrong I wouldn’t trade the hydraulic but the 11# vertical I got on amazon had a lot of versatility. I think your bigger decision should be what type of stuffer should I buy. I would recommend the taller, smaller diameter instead of the large shorter one. The smaller diameter allow for a higher pressure for doing sticks with cure in them. The large short ones would be great for doing pork sausage or larger diameter casings, not 19-22mm sticks with cure. It would be fine as long as you’re doing fresh like breakfast or something like that. If you go the stuffer route I’d get it from Waltons and get the Weston-they stock parts, other no name from amazon is a one shot deal, once ours broke couldn’t find parts. Plus they have so many tube sizes now and Walton’s does a great job helping with casing and stuffing horn sizes, they carry them all.
I purchased a stuffer off Amazon for under $100 and would never go back to using the grinder. With the grinder, it was always a two man job and took forever. The stuffer is much faster and have no problems doing it all by myself. Plus with a hand crank stuffer, no electricity usage and wear and tear on your grinder.
Thank You Sir: