Jerky is a cut of lean meat that has been dried. It has been popular for thousands of years, especially for people who need to preserve their meat for carrying or traveling, such as hunters and explorers. Jerky is popular today because it is easy to make, high in protein and usually low in saturated fats. While recipes vary according to type of meat, seasoning and drying times, utilizing a propane smoker is a relatively simple way to make jerky.
Cut the beef sirloin (against the grain) into 1/2 to 1 inch strands. The size of the strands is somewhat up to you, depending how thick you want your jerky to be. The thinner the strands, the more easy it is to eat, but you can certainly make the jerky pieces larger if you prefer. You can use a variety of meats for your jerky, but make sure that you use something that has very low fat. Fat will spoil your meat, over time, so try to choose something like beef sirloin or wild game meat.
In a large bowl, combine the beef strands with a marinade of your choice and place the bowl in a refrigerator overnight. Teriyaki sauce is a good marinating option, as it adds flavor and moisture to your jerky and you can find a bottle in the salad dressing aisle of your grocery store. You can use any marinade that you want, just avoid marinades that contain fat. Again, adding fat to the meat will cause it to spoil once it is smoked and dried. If you do not wish to add a marinade to your meat, simply salt and pepper the meat thoroughly and proceed to the smoking process. Do not let the meat rest in the refrigerator overnight.
Light your propane smoker and set the temperature to low heat (175 to 200 degrees Fahrenheit). Lightly grease the grate of the smoker with the grilling spray. Don’t add additional wood chips to your propane smoker. The meat will generate enough smoke on its own and additional wood chips may negatively affect the taste of the meat.
Place the meat onto the smoker grate. Do not overlap the meat. It’s okay if the smoker is crowded, as long as the meat does not overlap. You want the meat to cook evenly.
Cover the smoker and allow the meat to cook for eight hours. The cooking times will vary depending on your smoker and the outdoor climate in your region. The meat should be done when the edges look dried and the centers are still slightly moist.
Remove the meat from the smoker with grill tongs and lay them on a baking sheet or plate. You should allow the meat pieces to fully cool and dry (preferably overnight) before tasting the jerky.
Store your jerky in an airtight container or bag. If you wish to keep your jerky for longer than one week, then you should refrigerate it. If you wish to keep your jerky for longer than one month and up to a year, it is recommended to freeze your jerky for preservation.
Make sure that you have enough propane in the tank to last at least 12 hours. You don't want your smoker to run out of propane half way through the cooking process.
Always use your smoker outdoors. Indoor use could cause fire or significant damage to your home.
Jessica Jewell is a writer, photographer and communications consultant who began writing professionally in 2005. Her chapbook, "Slap Leather," is forthcoming from dancing girl press. Her recent work has appeared in "Nimrod," "Harpur Palate," "Copper Nickel," "Rhino," "wicked alice," "Poetry Midwest" and "Barn Owl Review." Jewell was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She earned her Master of Fine Arts from Kent State University.