Smoking Beef Jerky & What Wood To Use!

Jerky lovers unite.

From near and far hundreds of dads emerge, aprons on, beef jerky in hand.

The annual smoked jerky convention is now in session.

Whether you’re new to smoking your own jerky, or you’re a veteran scouring the internet for alternative styles and flavors to try – we’ve got you covered.

Here’s a winner’s guide to smoking jerky, what the best smoking woods are to use, and some other hot tips to up your jerky game.

There are countless cuts of beef you can use for smoked jerky, but I’m going to keep it simple for ya’ll.

In my experience, the best cuts of beef to use for smoked jerky are:

    • Top Round (sometimes referred to as London Broil): lean, economical, delicious.
    • Bottom Round: a little tougher than the top round, but still amazing.
    • Flank Steak: Beautifully lean and beefy.
    • Sirloin: Top or bottom sirloin, it doesn’t matter. A lot of fat, a lot of flavor.

Slightly Freeze Your Beef Before You Cut It!

No matter what cut of beef you’re looking to use for your smoked jerky, one of the keys is cutting it thin.

If you put your beef in the freezer for about an hour before you slice it up, the meat holds together so much easier, and your able to get these tremendously thin and consistent cuts. 

You’d be surprised on how much of a difference this step can make!

It’s even easier to trim of any of the excess fat too!

Simple Smoked Jerky Marinade

When you think of jerky, you think of that beautifully savory, beefy richness that keeps us coming back for seconds and thirds (and fourths…).

Without going crazy, here’s a base of ingredients you should use in your jerky marinade:

  • 1 Cup Of Brown Sugar
  • 1 Cup Of Soy Sauce
  • Four tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce
  • 1-2 tablespoons of smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon of ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons of chili flakes (more or less depending on your spice desires!)
  • 1 teaspoon of onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon of garlic powder

Smoking Jerky Time And Temp

Alrighty, the meats prepped, now it’s time to get your smoker up to temp and ready for a fine session of smoking beef jerky.

There’s a fair bit of debate about what the prime temperature is for smoking jerky. But, debate is healthy, after all.

The common consensus is to smoke jerky at 180°F for the first 30 minutes to an hour, allowing a good helping of smoke to penetrate the meat.

But, you don’t want to over smoke the meat, after all, it’s thin with a large surface area so it takes on smokiness quickly.

After the initial smoke, reduce your temperature to 160° for a further 2 hours or so before you start checking for doneness.

When your beef jerky is rigid, but you can bend and crack it without it snapping in half you know it’s ready.

Smoking Jerky On A Pellet Grill Time And Temp

Pellet grills are less aggressive than smoking on a charcoal grill. For this reason, the process for making jerky is both easier and simpler.

Simply get your pellet grill up to 180-200°F, lay your jerky directly across the grill grates, and smoke for at least 4 hours.

After three hours you might want to do a quick check-in to see it’s progress (and to taste, right?).

Best Wood For Smoking Beef Jerky?

Beef jerky is amazing when smoked. Cutting it in thin, long strips maximizes it’s surface area. This is great for both drying it out, but also great for helping it take on that smokiness that we’re all addicted to.

Although you can kind of let your imagination go wild, there are some clear winners when it comes to what woods to use for smoking jerky.

Here are the top five smoking woods to use for smoking jerky:

Hickory Wood For Smoking Jerky

You can’t go wrong with hickory, being a world favorite for most backyard barbecuers.

It delivers that classic, rich, and savory smokiness that pairs so naturally with beef jerky. 

If you haven’t smoked jerky with hickory before then it’s an absolute must to try, really.

Apple Wood For Smoking Jerky

If you love a bit more of a subtle smoke and want to let the salty, tanginess of the beef jerky shine then apple wood certainly goes a long way.

Sure, it’s a bit milder of a smoke, but it still delivers that underlying smokiness that really elevates the beef jerky.

It’s also great for teriyaki jerky!

Mesquite Wood For Smoking Jerky

Mesquite isn’t for the faint of heart.

It’s amazing at producing that distinct oomph of smokiness.

Because jerky takes on smoke so well, you only really need 30 minutes of smoking with mesquite to meet your mark.

It’s one of my favorite smoking woods for brisket as it can develop all the smokiness you need in the first few hours of the smoke, the same goes for jerky. 

Oak Wood For Smoking Jerky

Not as intense as Mesquite, oak wood offers a medium smoky flavor that’s not as direct, so you’re less likely to over smoke your jerky!

It’s a good medium to allow for some smokiness without overpowering any of the beef jerky flavors.

Oak is my personal favorite for smoking chicken wings.

Cherry Wood For Smoking Jerky

Fruity, mild in flavor, and works with almost any meat in the smoker, cherry wood is wonderful for those looking for something smooth and an allrounder.

Cherry wood is great for smoking wild game too, like when smoking venison jerky or elk jerky.

What Woods Should I Avoid When Smoking Jerky?

Knowing which smoking woods to avoid when smoking jerky is probably even more important than trying to find which ones are best.

When you’re smoking meat, including beef jerky, always avoid using cedar, pine, greenwood, scrap lumber, wood pallets, elm, eucalyptus, fir, spruce, or any other softwood in general.

If you’ve used them once you’ll know, but these types of woods give off “dirty smoke”, which not only tastes putrid, but also ruins the texture and taste of the meat itself.

Don’t be tempted to use just any old wood you’ve found. Stick with properly processed and seasoned smoking woods.

Smoked Jerky Came Out Tough?

Beef jerky is supposed to be tough and chewy. But there’s a limit, right? When it’s too tough it turns from a tasty chewy treat to something that’s almost inedible.

Identifying what went wrong is the easiest way to ensure your next batch comes out just that much better.

Here are the two most likely causes your smoked jerky came out tough:

  • Wrong cut of meat: You can’t just make any cut of beef into jerky. Well, you can, but results will certainly vary. Don’t try and use cuts that are full of connective tissue or are too tough naturally. Although flank steak can be great, avoid skirt or hanger steaks.
  • Overcooking the jerky: This is the most common reason behind tough jerky. It can be hard to judge the doneness of your jerky based on color, which is what a lot of beginners try to do. Instead, use the “bend’ test for doneness.

    If it bends and cracks then it’s done, but if it starts snapping then it’s become too dry, tough, and overdone.

Smoked Jerky Too Salty?

The saltiness of the jerky can be quite overpowering already. So, when your beef jerky is too salty, it REALLY IS too salty.

To combat this I usually don’t add any salt into my marinade, as generally the soy sauce and Worchestershire sauce have enough salt and savoriness to carry these flavors on the jerky.

If you’re salt conscious you may want to even dial back these ingredients and add more spicy or sweet ingredients into your marinade instead.

Storing Smoked Jerky

A crucial step often missed when smoking jerky is leaving it to rest and “dry” after cooking.

Immediately after cooking, the meat’s juices will likely still be running. If you leave it rest and expel some of it’s moisture then you’ll get the more classical texture of jerky.

Once it’s dry, it’s also best to store it in vacuum-sealed bags to preserve it and prevent it from reabsorbing moisture. Too much moisture can change the texture, and also encourage bacterial growth, so it’s best to properly store it in a dry location.

Final Smoke

Smoking jerky shouldn’t be a daunting task.

Take your time during every step and I guarantee you’ll be pleased with your end product, whether you’re new or it’s your tenth time making jerky.

Start with a classic piece of top or bottom Round, a simple marinade, and hickory for an all-rounded smoke.

Don’t over smoke it! 30-60 minutes is sufficient to deliver that amazing smokiness.

If you have any secrets to smoking beef jerky, let us know below. No matter how experienced we are, we love learning from fellow barbecue lovers here at GrillSimply. 

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