Jerkiholics and meat lovers often confuse which appliance is better for jerky – A smoker or a food dehydrator.
To mention briefly, if you want to add a depth of taste and flavor to your jerky, then a smoker will be the best option. Smokers can give you juicy and tender jerky.
However, if you want to store jerky for a long time, you must go for a food dehydrator since it dries out the water from the meat and prevents it from spoiling. This increases the life of the jerky.
Stay tuned to know how both dehydrators and smokers work and their pros and cons so that you can make a smart decision.
How Does A Smoker Work While Cooking Jerky?
Food smokers use both heat and smoke for cooking meat. Because the meat is cooked by smoke instead of fire, it can take more time to tenderize.
A smoker has a separate chamber for keeping fuel and meat. This enables smoke to enter the area surrounding the meat and emit through the pipe fitted at the top, giving a smoky flavor to your meat.
While making jerky on a smoker, you begin with low heat and slowly increase it until the meat is dried. The jerky cooked in a smoker is tender enough for chewing.
How Long Should I Smoke My Jerky?
The thickness of the meat affects the time needed for smoking it. For instance, meat cut into very thin strips gets cooked for 5-6 hours. However, fattier cuts of meat can take between 8-10 hours to cook.
Also, remember that you need to keep the temperature low (around 150-155° F) while smoking jerky.
To check if your jerky is ready, look at the sides of the meat. They must look dry with a little moisture in the middle.
Moreover, you can also lightly bend the jerky to see if it’s done. Remember that a perfectly cooked jerky doesn’t break in half on bending.
Pros & Cons Of Making Jerky In A Smoker
Now that you know how a smoker works, let us also have a look at the pros and cons of making jerky in a smoker:
Some of the pros of using smokers to make jerky are:
Easy to Operate
Smokers are quite simple to operate. All you need to do is put the meat strips in your smoker’s tray and set the temperature. You don’t have to rotate the trays for cooking jerky from all sides, as the appliance will do the job for you.
In a smoker, you have control over the cooking temperature. While making jerky, you can easily set the temperature by opening /closing the lid or campers.
Enhanced Flavor & Taste
Smokers help preserve the flavor of your jerky. Jerky made in a smoker turns out tender and juicy and, thus, tastes better than jerky made in a dehydrator.
Consume Less Electricity
Smokers use very less electricity and power for making jerky. Moreover, they also have a low installation cost.
This means that smokers will be a better option for you if you have a small budget than a food dehydrator.
Now that you know the pros of smokers, let us also have a look at their cons:
Small Shelf Life of Jerky
Jerky made in a smoker will not last for a long time since it will still have some moisture in it. Consequently, bacteria will grow inside the jerky and make it inedible.
Takes More Time For Cooking
Since smokers use heat and smoke for cooking jerky and not heat, they take more time to cook. This cooking time also increases with the thickness of the meat.
While smokers cost less than dehydrators, they can have relatively more additional costs. If you have a tight budget, they will not be feasible for you.
Should Be Placed Outdoors
Smokers need an open atmosphere to function. This means that you would have to comprise the comfort of your kitchen and place it outside for making jerky.
How Does a Dehydrator Work For Cooking Jerky?
When it comes to functioning, dehydrators are different from smokers. They completely reduce the moisture and help increase its shelf life.
Dehydrators are equipped with a direct source of heating, small fans, and multiple trays. These fans help to evenly circulate the warm air and remove moisture from the meat, turning it dry and crunchy.
Moreover, multiple trays in a dehydrator help in evenly spreading the meat strips and reduce their cooking time.
What Temperature Do You Dehydrate Jerky At?
Unlike other foods, meat requires a high temperature for cooking. This temperature is necessary for killing the bacteria present inside it.
Place strips on your dehydrator drying racks and leave some for easy airflow.
You must begin by setting the temperature of your dehydrator at around 160° F and dehydrating your jerky for around 2-3 hours. At this temperature, the bacteria are killed.
Then, decrease the temperature to 145° F to prevent your meat from getting overdry. Once your jerky gets brown and crunchy but doesn’t break down, it is ready!
Dehydrator Pros and Cons
Every appliance has its pros and cons. Now that you know how a food dehydrator works, let us also have a look at the pros and cons of using it to make jerky:
Some of the pros of making jerky in a dehydrator are:
Increases Life of Jerky
Food dehydrators work by totally reducing the water from the meat. This helps to increase its lifespan since bacteria grow in a moist environment, and once the meat is completely dried, it doesn’t go bad for a long time.
Simple to Handle
Food dehydrators are smaller in size and lightweight. Therefore, you can easily place your dehydrator on your kitchen cabinet or on any firm, even surface to make jerky.
Reduces Cooking Time
A food dehydrator reduces the cooking time of jerky as compared to a smoker.
Therefore, you don’t have to worry about cooking large amounts of jerky snacks.
Dehydrators tend to have lower maintenance costs than smokers. So if you have a small budget, then a dehydrator will be the best option for you.
The drawbacks of cooking jerky in a dehydrator are:
Hampers the Taste of Jerky
Jerky cooked in a dehydrator is not as tasty as jerky cooked in a food smoker. Since dehydrators draw out the moisture completely from the meat, it becomes leathery.
Consumes More Power
Dehydrators consume more energy to function and can slightly increase your electricity bill. However, the amount of power consumed by food dehydrators varies according to their capacity and features.
Prepares Small Batches of Jerky
If you need to make large amounts of jerky, then a food dehydrator will not suit your requirement. This is because most dehydrators have a compact size, and thus, you will have to prepare jerky in many batches.
So Which One Is Better For Me – Smoke Or Dehydrator?
Now that you know how food smokers and dehydrators function, let us also help you decide which one is best for you.
You should opt for a food smoker if:
- Your goal is to make juicy, tender jerky with a smoky flavor since smokers enhance flavor.
- If you have a small budget since food smokers are cheaper as compared to dehydrators.
On the other hand, you should opt for a food dehydrator if:
- If you’re going on a camping trip or have a big event at home and need to store a large amount of meat. (We have already mentioned that food dehydrators reduce cooking time).
- If you don’t have a budget limit, then you should invest in a good-quality food dehydrator since it is costlier than a food smoker.
Can You Smoke And Dehydrate Jerky?
While a smoker enhances the taste and flavor of your jerky, a food dehydrator increases its shelf life by removing moisture from it. Now, you must be wondering if you could use both appliances to get that delicious smoky taste and flavor.
The answer is – yes! You can smoke your jerky before dehydrating it. Place thin strips of meat in your smoker. Then, set its temperature at 180° F and smoke for around 2 hours to kill the bacteria.
Once your meat is smoked, put it in your food dehydrator. Then, for 10-12 hours, dehydrate it at 155°F until the meat is fully dry. Your perfectly smoked beef jerky is ready!
Author’s Note: We recommend you cut most of the beef fat to prolong your jerky’s shelf life.
1. Do I need to refrigerate my smoked jerky?
No, you don’t have to refrigerate your smoked jerky. The reason behind this is that smoked jerky has very little moisture.
This prevents it from getting spoilt since bacteria and microorganisms thrive in a moist environment.
Just ensure that you keep your smoked jerky in an airtight container.
2. Can you add flavor to jerky after dehydrating?
Sometimes, your jerky can taste bland, which makes you wonder if you could still add flavor to it after cooking. The short answer is – Yes!
Just brush your favorite sauce on the jerky to rehydrate it. Then, dehydrate it for 20-30 minutes or until it completely dries out. Make sure that you don’t overdry your jerky.
3. How long does smoked jerky last?
According to the US Department Of Agriculture (USDA), you can store your smoked jerky for up to 1-2 months. Just ensure that you keep your jerky in an airtight container.
Otherwise, moisture will lead to bacterial growth and reduce its lifespan.
Moreover, commercially made beef jerky can last up to 1-2 weeks in your refrigerator once opened.
4. Can you fall ill from eating jerky?
Although it is completely safe to eat jerky, you might get food poisoning if the jerky has gone bad.
A few symptoms of food poisoning are nausea, stomach ache, vomiting, loose motion, dizziness, etc.
Therefore, we recommend you always check your jerky for any signs of mold growth before eating. Also, if your jerky has an unpleasant smell and taste, it means that it has gone bad.
To sum up, smokers enhance the taste and flavor of your jerky. Jerky made in a smoker turns out juicy and tender and tastes better as compared to jerky made in a dehydrator.
On the other hand, food dehydrators completely remove the moisture from the jerky, due to which it has a long shelf life. However, it will have a reduced flavor and taste.
Therefore, both appliances have different functions and use. Nevertheless, which one is better for you depends on your goals and needs.
Also, don’t forget to inform us how your jerky turned out in your smoker/dehydrator!