This morning I went out to the garage to get some meat out of the freezer for our cookout. When I got there, the freezer door was open and had been all night. I'd sent the six year old out to get some butter yesterday and I guess she didn't shut the door. The vegetables were mostly thawed and some of the meat. What to do? Cook it and re freeze it for future use, or eat steaks instead of ribs for our bbq. I wasn't in the mood to cook all the meat and everyone was sad and looking forward to ribs. Then I had a great idea. I'd make all the meat into something that would keep and that we all enjoy. Jerky. That's the answer. Yep, who doesn't like jerky?
I decided to try kippered beef nuggets this time so the first thing to do is cut up all your meat into chunks, add your seasoning and refrigerate for at least four hours. I had some jerky seasoning but you can make your own.
Set your Traeger Smoker to medium. Then place the meat on some cooling racks and put them in your smoker.
Place an oven safe meat thermometer in a chunk of meat or wrap a larger piece around it. Drive the internal temperature to 140 F. This kills any harmful bacteria. After it reaches that temperature, about 20 minutes depending on thickness and smoker temperatures, turn the unit down to "smoke". Now you will just dry the meat. Once again timing will depend on thickness and smoker temperatures. You should rotate racks or screens several times, but I don't because my Traeger is hotter on the edges than in the middle, so everything on the outside will be done quicker. They turn out just fine. I remove those that dry faster, and leave the others on longer. If you rotated they'd probably all get done around the same time. If the "smoke" temperature isn't hot enough you can turn it up to medium for a while again. You can also do the entire process in the oven. Set the temperature around 250 degrees F. Drive the internal temperature to 140 degrees F, then lower the temperature to around 175 and continue to dry it out.
How do you know when they are dried enough? Jerky shouldn't be rubbery or spongy. Nuggets will not be as dry, but not soft and squishy either. When it's done is should break slightly and reveal white connective tissues when bent. Mine took close to two hours. It does take some time, but so worth it!
Finished jerky should be sealed in a plastic bag in the fridge over night. "This will allow the moisture to equalize between pieces of jerky, creating a more pliable product." At least that's what it says in my directions. After that, cured jerky can be stored in airtight containers, resealable bags, etc in a cool dry place for a couple months. If it is not completely dried or cured it should be stored in the refrigerator or freezer. I keep mine in the fridge no matter what, cuz I'm a little paranoid sometimes. Not that it ever lasts very long around here! But I don't worry if it's been sitting in my saddle bag all day either.
Maybe leaving the freezer open over night wasn't such a disaster after all. Although I don't recommend it. I need to completely defrost the freezer now because it looks like its full of Christmas snow!