Deer Camp Favorites- Venison Jerky Challenge: The Smoker vs. The Dehydrator
A recipe contributed by Justin Townsend of Harvesting Nature
Since I was a young teenager and began hunting on my own, I always appreciated the taste and functionality of venison jerky. Keeping with many traditions, my family either made jerky or snack sticks with much of the venison we harvested.
Now, as an adult, I have an absolute addiction to venison jerky. I won’t settle for the store-bought strips though. I only want the homemade variety. This recipe is my new “go to” recipe. I did try two preparation methods because I know some people don’t have both a smoker and a dehydrator (although I highly recommend having both to use in cooking).
This article pairs the two against each other using the same recipe. I compared time, texture, and overall flavor of both. I passed the pieces out to some work colleagues for a blind comparison.
The Smoked Jerky: It was smoky and chewy, but not too chewy like gas station jerky. I used alder to smoke the meat and the flavor of the wood complemented the citrus of the orange, lemon, and IPA I used in the marinade. The edges were crunchy and the center very tender. I like black pepper so I added a good amount before smoking. I think that the coarse pepper grinds held some extra flavor. I smoked the jerky for 5 hours at 180 degrees. I was afraid that the meat was burnt when I pulled it off of the smoker, but I never tasted the bitter burnt taste. The darker spots were just crispier than other areas.
The Dehydrator Jerky: The dehydrator jerky was cooked much longer. When I pulled the smoked jerky off of the smoker, the dehydrator jerky was still raw. I let it cook overnight which created a completely different texture and flavor profile. I found the dehydrator jerky to be drier and more rigid, but still tender after you bit into the meat. I did not find the smokiness of the smoked meat, a natural assumption because it was not smoked. The flavor was still there and the black pepper lingered well after I chewed all of the meat. On the downside, I did find the dehydrator jerky to be more salty even though I applied a uniform amount of salt to all of the meat from both batches.
In the end, I like the smoky flavor and the tender chewy texture of the smoked jerky, so that method is my winner.
Notes From the Kitchen: Justin uses a pellet smoker and indicates he prefers using alder wood pellets for smoking the jerky. Also, a hint to get your venison meat sliced evenly is to have it near freezing temperature when you cut it up.
4 lbs of thinly sliced venison meat
3 oranges, juiced
1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ cup oil
6 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon Herbs de Provence
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon agave nectar
1 (12oz) IPA beer
**Additional salt, pepper and garlic powder (for seasoning the meat before smoking_
- Mix all ingredients, except the venison in a blender and puree until smooth
- Place the sliced venison in a large bowl, cover with marinade, and chill for 24 hours
- The next day, remove each strip from the marinade and let excess marinade drip off
- Place each piece flat, in a single layer, on a baking sheet
- **Amply season all pieces with ground black pepper, salt, and garlic powder
- Place the meat in a smoker to cook at 180 degrees for 5 hours – OR – Place the meat in a dehydrator and let it cook overnight or approximately 8 hours.
About the Chef: Justin C. Townsend has been a hunter and angler since he was a child. After moving away from home to college where he was able to tune his culinary skills as a professional chef, Justin combined his passion for the outdoors and his love for food to create the online publication, Harvesting Nature, for which he serves as the editor-in-chief.
He is the author of the cookbook Eat Wild Game, which was written with the hunter and home cook in mind. You can purchase his cookbook and get more information at HarvestingNature.com