Food dehydration is one of the oldest forms of preservation dating back to the early 1900s. To think back during those times, artificial methods of cooling (refrigerators and freezers) were not readily accessible so it required fresh foods to be conserved. During the pioneered west, Native Americans would sun dry many varieties of meats including buffalo and venison to help sustain them on their long journeys. Over these many centuries, one of the best kept recipes that continues to be a best seller at most convenience stores nationwide is a good old bag of jerky.
The word jerky is derived from the South American ancestral language Quechua word ch’arki which means ‘dried, salted meat’. Because jerky is ready to eat and doesn’t normally require any additional preparation, it can be stored for months on end and doesn’t require refrigeration. At the center of good quality jerky is the meat selection. When it comes to lean protein, there are many wild game meats that live up to that name. As with all meat, the flavor is usually a product of the vegetation they consume and how the animal was field prepared. For the sake of this article, we will focus on elk meat.
Unlike beef, elk meat has very little fat content which makes for easy preparation and a much healthier option. According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, raw wild elk provides 94 calories, 1.2 grams of fat (0.5 grams saturated), 19.5 grams of protein, and 47 milligrams of cholesterol for a 3-ounce serving. With health statistics like this, it pretty obvious why elk meat is a natural selection when processing homemade jerky. In addition to that, next time you go to the store, price out how much a nice bone in ribeye steak per pound costs. If you think that is expensive, check out the price of elk meat online. On the average, elk meat is on the norm of $20 / lb. for your average cut. One mature elk can provide over 200 pounds of meat which can feed a family of 4 well over a year. Which is more reason to purchase an over the counter tag (if offered in your home state) and harvest one for yourself.
Smoked elk jerky recipes usually call for a smoker with some type of hardwood chip. Use mesquite, hickory, pecan or alder wood chips to best complement the meat. Some recipes use a dehydrator in order to start the meat off and finish in a smoker for that authentic smoke flavor. Depending on the thickness of the meat, smoking the elk for ~3 hours while keeping a low temperature of 160 degrees will impart the smoky flavor you want without overcooking and drying it out too fast. Remember: Because elk is so lean, it cooks relatively quickly so keep an eye while smoking/cooking.
Elk Jerky Ingredients:
5 pounds of elk steak (this will shrink down and make about 3-3.5 pounds of jerky)
2 cups soy sauce
3 tablespoons Hi Mountain Jerky Seasoning (darker colored)
2 tablespoons & 2 teaspoons Hi Mountain Jerky Cure (cream colored)
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tablespoon crushed red pepper
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion salt
1 tablespoon Himalayan pink sea salt
12oz Firestone Double Barrel Ale Beer or equivalent
Smoked Elk Jerky Directions:
Along the grain, cut the meat into desired lengths and widths (1/4” thick strips). Remove any fat as you slice and always allow for shrinkage during the smoking process.
Mix the spices and cure according to the mixing chart enclosed in the Hi Mountain Seasonings box.
Apply the mixed spices, cure, and ingredients thoroughly to the prepared meat. Sprinkle all sides of the meat and continue to turn and season.
Store the meat in a plastic gallon storage bag or non-metallic container and refrigerate. The seasoning should penetrate the meat at a rate of ¼” for every 14 hours. The longer the ingredients marinade, the more they will penetrate the meat and enhance the flavor. We recommend preparing this the night before you want to make your jerky.
Preheat your smoker to 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Fill the pan with water, and add your favorite wood chips. Remember, that most meat you smoke is typically 200-225 degrees, so make sure you turn down the smoker, use less charcoal, or move the meat farther away from the heat source. The goal here is to impart the smoky flavor and not overcook the meat. Below gives some information on the different types of woods and flavors they exhibit:
Apple and cherry woods add a mild and sweet flavor.
Hickory wood will add a hint of bacon and sweet.
Mesquite wood is a traditional smoking wood, but it can be strong. Add a little apple or cherry to tone it down.
Hickory is another standby wood but blending apple or cherry wood with hickory will help balance out the sweet and bacon flavors.
When placing the meat in your smoker, a little touching is fine, but don’t overlap the meat. Use multiple racks instead of forcing all the pieces of meat onto one rack. Either skewer the meat and hang the pieces from a rack, or lay them flat on the racks.
Rub some olive oil over the smoker grate and lay out all the strips evenly on a single row. If your smoker's grill grates are too far apart and the meat is falling through, don't be afraid to line the grate with foil and put the meat on the foil instead. Just make sure to put a little olive oil on the foil so the meat doesn’t stick.
Smoke at 160 degrees Fahrenheit for around 4-6 hours, or until the meat is firm. If you’re not sure if the jerky is done, take a piece and lightly shake it between your fingers. If it’s floppy or flimsy, put it back in the smoker and keep checking. Another method is to let a piece cool, then bend it in half. It should be pliable in the center but the edges should break off.
Store the jerky in a Ziplock with the bag open in a cool place. Once all the moisture has left the bag (typically overnight), you can close the bag up. If you’ve made too much, homemade smoked jerky will usually last about 3-6 months in the freezer if vacuum sealed.
I hope you enjoy our recipe. The ingredients were designed to be used with any type of game meat or beef. There are many great ways to prepare elk meat, but none rival making freshly smoked jerky.