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Ontario, Canada
I am a wife, mother and grandma who enjoys the many aspects of homemaking. A variety of interests and hobbies combined with travel keep me active. They reflect the importance of family, friends, home and good food.
Cook ingredients that you are used to cooking by other techniques, such as fish, chicken, or hamburgers. In other words be comfortable with the ingredients you are using.
--Bobby Flay

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Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Great Smoker Experiment (Part 2)

When I am testing a new method I like to use a tried and true food we like for the comparison.  So it was with my great smoker experiment.  Beef jerky is a family favourite that I have been making since my kids were knee high to a grasshopper.  Homemade beef jerky is a healthier version to mass produced beef jerky.  It is very easy to make requiring minimal equipment and a few simple ingredients.  I normally make beef jerky using a dehydrator and the dehydrator setting on the oven when I had the Jenn-Aire range.

prepared beef slices for jerky
Although beef jerky can be made using ground beef, I don't.  There is a higher risk of contamination using ground beef because of the increased surface area.  Beef jerky is not cooked but rather dried to 160°F/71°C which is a high enough temperature to kill off bacteria and remove moisture to preserve the meat.  I use a lean cut of beef sliced into thin strips either by the butcher shop or myself to make traditional beef jerky. 

A marinade is optional but is usually used to add extra flavour to the beef jerky.   There are numerous marinade recipes ranging from very simple to complex or a commercially made barbeque sauce can be used.  I marinated the hand cut beef strips in Sweet Baby Ray's barbeque sauce overnight.

meat slices in the dehydrator
The main purpose for this cooking experiment was to see what if any differences there were in the finished product by changing the drying method.  For a valid comparison, it was important to use beef strips that had been treated identically up to the actual dehydration process.  That would mean any differences in flavour or texture would be due to the drying method used.   I would be using my Nesco American Harvest dehydrator and the True North smoker for this cooking experiment.

The next morning I divided the beef slices into two portions.  I placed the first portion of the strips on the prepared dehydrator trays and set the temperature to 160°F/71°C.  In all honesty, I love my dehydrator and have even expanded it BUT if I were doing larger scale dehydrating, I would consider buying a dehydrator with rectangle or square racks as they are a bit more versatile.  At any rate the Nesco dehydrator works well for my needs.

meat slices in the smoker
I loaded the second portion of the beef strips directly onto the smoker racks.  The need for a drip tray quickly became apparent but that is the case with drying beef jerky regardless of the drying method.  I loaded up the wood chip pan with mesquite wood chips then set on the burner and plugged the unit in.  Once the smoking began, I removed the door to take a picture then replaced it.  The door was removed again to refill the wood chip pan a couple of times, then finally for the removal of the finished beef jerky.  Of note, when the smoker door is opened you will be greeted with a large puff of smoke meaning your clothes, hair and anything in the general vicinity of the smoker will smell like smoke!

a comparison of smoked to dehydrated beef jerky
This was a rather interesting cooking experiment.  Clearly there are pros and cons to using both methods.  A smoker can only be used outdoors whereas a dehydrator can be used both indoors and outdoors.  Both need to be sheltered from the elements when in use outdoors.

The results:   The drying time was considerably shorter for the beef jerky dried in the dehydrator, with the jerky drying in a little over half the time of that in the smoker.  In terms of colour and texture, the beef jerky dried in the dehydrator was almost identical to that dried in the smoker.  The beef jerky dried in the dehydrator may have been just a little darker.  So, either way the colour and texture is pretty much the same.  The big difference was the flavour!  The beef jerky dried in the dehydrator had a lovely flavour with just a hint of smokiness from the Sweet Baby Ray's.  By hint, it really was barely noticeable, yet a flavour element none the less.  The beef jerky dried in the smoker was heavy on the smoky flavour, over powering the Sweet Baby Ray's that became more of a flavour note.  Two weeks later, test strips of retained their colour, texture and flavours nicely.

The bottom line:  I was quite impressed with the smoker results.  I will definitely be experimenting with more smoked meats and am one step closer to buying a smoker.  The dehydrator gave consistent results in a shorter period of time with less fussing.  There was more fussing to the beef jerky dried in the smoker but I was new to the process and there was no temperature control or wood chip indicator on the basic smoker I borrowed so those were factors.  The smoke gives great flavour that can't be duplicated by the dehydrator.  If using a smoker, I think the marinade can be kept simple.  It is an easy way to get great flavour without any of the calories of barbeque sauce too. 

2 food lovers commented:

LindaG said...

Glad to hear your smoker worked out for you.
Not sure when or if we'll ever use ours again.
Until hubby lets me get a dehydrator, I'll stick to making ours in the oven.
It's worked for the last 30 some years. :-)

Have a wonderful Sunday!

Garden Gnome said...

I think the smoker is a way to expand what can be made at home rather than replacing the tried and true. Our friend's sister is using the same model to make a variety of smoked sausages and fish so I want try those as well. Her summer sausage was devine!

Have a great day :)