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.
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.
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.
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.