Ahh spring. That magical time of year when a young man's fancy turns to thoughts of beef jerky. Of course, The problem with beef jerky, is that it costs about as much as really good scotch. So I decided to make my own. Besides, every man should possess a wide range of fire based cooking skills, because fire is awesome - and cooking with fire is even better. Take away the machismo and the fact remains that I want a bucket of beef jerky that I made with my own hands.
So my roommate and I went and bought a vertical charcoal smoker, and a big food service sized sack of "special trim" beef. "What's special trim beef," you ask? I don't know. No one knows. The best definition I found is that special trim is any part of meat left on the carcass after the primal cuts have been removed. They are required to remove the tendons and lymph, and a certain percentage of the fat. So it's beef scraps. But it is USDA Choice beef scraps. Next time I'll spring for the 9 pound tenderloin, but for now scrap meat will work wonderfully. Because we have no idea what parts of the cow we're dealing with, we wanted to make sure the meat was adequately tenderized.
We made a marinade of Worcestershire sauce, lime juice, garlic, Montreal steak seasoning, black pepper, salt and some cayenne pepper. This will serve both to tenderize the meat, as well as provide some flavor in the finished product. The acidity in the lime juice will also cook the beef some, ensuring that if I screw up the smoking process somehow, we don't get food poisoning.
I did a lot of research (guess how I found this site...), and the overwhelming advice was to use an electric smoker (too late), don't use a charcoal smoker, and if you absolutely must use a charcoal grill, don't add wood chips, because the charcoal is smoky enough. Finally, the target temperature is 150, for at least 4 hours. I decided to skip all of this advice, since I already had a charcoal smoker and because I like the flavor of mesquite smoke, and because I had no way to restrict airflow. The temperature got away from me, and I had to pull the meat out of the smoker at 1 hour and 45 minutes.
It turned out to be the best jerky I've ever tasted. The jerky was very flavorful - smoky with a very spicy kick - held in balance by the lime juice, and not at all sweet. Somehow the smoking process seemed to concentrate the flavors of the marinade.
If anyone is interested, I documented the process.