How to Smoke Meat and How to Make Meat Jerky
Copyright © May 1, 2012 by Robert Wayne Atkins, P.E.
All Rights Reserved.
The following information is Chapter 40 of my 166 page book: How to Tan Animal Hides and How to Make High Quality Buckskin Clothing.
If you would like some additional detailed information about my book then please click
There are some major differences in the methods that are used to smoke meat for immediate consumption, and to smoke meat to extend is useful shelf life, and to smoke hides to create buckskin clothing. If you are aware of these differences then you will be less likely to make the mistake of trying to smoke everything the same way.
The variables of smoke, moisture, and heat need to be controlled differently for each of the following three applications:
In this article we will be describing how to smoke meat for long-term storage so we will be trying to produce a reasonable amount of smoke, but no moisture, and just the right amount of heat.
- Smoking Meat so You can Eat it Now: Requires some smoke, some moisture, and good heat.
- Smoking Meat for Long-Term Storage: Requires some smoke, no moisture, and less heat.
- Smoking Animal Hides: Requires thick smoke, no moisture, and almost no heat.
Instructions for Smoking Meat for Long-Term Storage
- Slice the meat into strips in the same direction as the muscle. Each strip should be about one inch wide and 1/4 inch thick. The length isnít important. Trim off all the fat because the fat won't cure properly and it will spoil the meat.
- Optional "brine" solution of salt and water -- If you wish you may soak the meat strips in one quart of water that contains 1/8 cup salt. Soak the sliced meat in the salt solution for 30 to 60 minutes, depending on the thickness of the meat strips. Stir the meat strips inside the salt solution every 15 minutes to achieve a good distribution of the salt mixture onto all the surfaces of the meat. Several pounds of fresh thin meat strips can be processed in the salt and water solution at the same time. If your only objective is to preserve the meat then a salt brine soak is a very good idea because the salt and water solution will saturate into the meat and help to protect it. After removing the meat from the salt bath you may add your favorite seasoning to the meat, if you wish. However, seasoning is not needed if you smoke the meat because the smoke will overpower the seasoning.
- Optional "string of meat" -- If you wish to create a string of meat, then push a clean thin wire, or a needle and some strong nylon thread, or a needle and some strong fishing line, through one end of each piece of meat. Each piece of meat should not touch itself or another piece of meat on the string of meat.
- Dry the raw meat using any one of the following four methods:
- Sun Drying Method: Dry the raw meat using the heat of the sun, but not in direct sunlight. Support the meat by hanging it over a clean straight pole. Or hang a string of meat between two poles. Protect the meat strips with cheesecloth or screen wire so the birds canít eat them and the flies canít lay eggs on them. This is the method that was used by some Native American Indians. This method takes the most time and it does not put a protective smoke coating on the meat and it does not add the aroma and the taste of the smoke to the meat.
- Fire Pit and Smoke Method: Dig a hole in the ground and start a fire in the hole. Or use some cement blocks or bricks to create a temporary small fire area that is protected from the wind. Put a metal grill on the blocks to support the meat. If you don't have a grill surface then support the meat by hanging it over a clean straight pole. Or hang a string of meat between two poles driven in the ground. Don't burn soft wood such as pine because the pine pitch will taint the meat. When the fire has burned down to hot coals then place the meat above the hot coals. The air should feel hot to your hand but it should not burn your hand. You do not want to cook the meat. You only want to dry the meat. Add some decayed wood or sawdust to the coals to make smoke. The smoke will put a protective coating on the meat. The heat and the smoke will keep the birds and flies away.
- Smokehouse Method: Hang a string of meat between the two sides of the smokehouse. Start a fire inside the Dutch oven in the smokehouse following the instructions in Smokehouse Article. Add some decayed wood or sawdust to the coals to make smoke. Maintain the heat inside the smokehouse at a temperature between 170 to 185 degrees Fahrenheit (77 to 85 degrees Centigrade) for 6 to 10 hours. The smoke will put a protective coating on the meat. The heat will destroy any harmful microorganisms in the meat. You do not want to cook the meat. You only want to dry the meat.
- Oven Method: Spread the meat strips evenly and separately on aluminum foil on a cookie sheet and dry the sliced meat inside an oven at a temperature between 170 to 185 degrees Fahrenheit (77 to 85 degrees Centigrade) for 6 to 10 hours. The heat will destroy any harmful microorganisms in the meat. You do not want to cook the meat. You only want to dry the meat. Turn the meat strips over every two hours so they will dry evenly on both sides. This method does not put a protective smoke coating on the meat and it does not add the aroma and the taste of the smoke to the meat.
- Periodically bend the meat jerky strips to test for dryness. Properly dried meat jerky will crack or snap when bent. If it bends without cracking then it still contains too much moisture. If it crumbles then it is too dry. It will still be edible but it will have lost some of its nutritional value.
- Store the dried meat jerky in a container to protect it from insects. Properly dried meat jerky is safe to eat for up to one year. It may be eaten dry but it tastes better if it is dipped in water for a short time just before eating. Or use the meat jerky in a stew.
How Much Time is Required to Dry The Meat?
It is not possible to predict the amount of time required to dry the meat because there are four different methods that can be used, and there are too many different variables that impact the actual time that will be needed.
Therefore to determine if the meat is done you must bend each strip of meat. If it cracks or snaps it is done. If it bends easily it is not done.
- The thickness of the meat strips.
- The amount of moisture in the meat strips.
- The size of the original fire, if drying above a fire.
- The type of wood used to build the original fire, if drying above a fire.
- The distance the meat strips are placed above the coals of the fire, if drying by a fire or in a smokehouse.
- The amount of heat generated by the red hot coals in the fire pit or in the smokehouse.
- The air temperature ten feet away from the fire or outside the smokehouse (30ļ F, 70ļ F, 105ļ F, etc.).
- The normal humidity in the air about ten feet away from the fire, if drying above a fire.
You will probably discover that you will not be removing all the meat strips from above the fire, or from the smokehouse, or from the oven, at the same time. Instead you will be selectively removing specific meat strips as they become dry enough and you will be leaving some of the other meat strips above the fire, or in the smokehouse, or in the oven, for a slightly longer period of time.
- The meat directly above the very center of the fire will usually dry faster than the meat near the outside edges of the fire.
- The meat near the outside edges of the fire will usually take a little longer to dry properly.
- The thinner meat strips will usually dry a little faster.
- The thicker meat strips will usually take a little longer to dry properly.
The above information is Chapter 40 in my 166 page book "How to Tan Animal Hides and How to Make High Quality Buckskin Clothing."
If you would like some additional detailed information about my book then please click here.
Note: Approximately 1/2 of the above information is also in my book "Grandpappy's Recipes for Hard Times." But my Recipe Book does not include all of the above information because some of the above information applies specifically to smoking meat inside a smokehouse instead of over a fire pit.
Click on www.grandpappy.org for Robert's Home Page.
Grandpappy's e-mail address is: RobertWayneAtkins@hotmail.com