For beef jerky and other dried meats, cooking it in a smoker is best. A smoker seals in the flavor, and flavorful jerky just cannot be beaten. Using a smoker has more advantages than a dehydrator, and the meat tastes better too.
We’ve all been there, where you are on a long road trip. You duck into a convenience store for a bite, grab some beef jerky, and then get back into the car. Once you open the packet and take a bite, you grimace. This isn’t jerky; it’s a bit of old shoe leather that someone slathered in spices and called food!
Most store-bought jerkies and other dried meats are dehydrated and then loaded with preservatives to keep their shelf life up. This tends to sap the flavor quite a bit, so while it is something to chew on, it isn’t very delicious.
What Is A Dehydrator Used For?
Most jerkies are dehydrated using a dehydrator. This machine draws the water out of food using hot air, and what’s left is dried out. A dehydrator can make foods such as banana chips, jerky, dried apple chips, and even some healthy potato chips.
The dried food can last much longer than its water-filled counterpart, and they are a great way to get a unique taste to some of your favorite foods. However, beef jerky is not one of the foods that benefit from a dehydrator. If you are comparing it to a smoker, then there is no comparison.
Can I Use My Smoker As A Dehydrator?
You can use a smoker as a dehydrator because the principles are the same. Your smoker produces a lot of hot air, which can dry out the water in the meat. But there are some things to be aware of. First, meat is around three-quarters water, and you need to control the temperature.
There is a fine line between dehydrating your meat and overcooking it, and you don’t want to cross it. To dehydrate effectively, you need indirect heat with a 2-zone grill setup. A 2-zone setup has one side of the grill be very hot, while the other side is cool. Since heat likes to spread from high to low concentration (remember your science?), it moves to the cooler side to indirectly heat the meat.
You also need to keep an eye on the temperature and realize that this is a long term and fuel-consuming process.
What Are The Benefits Of Using My Smoker To Dehydrate?
The most significant benefit is that you control the food. Most dehydrated items in stores are loaded with preservatives and additives to keep up the shelf life. If you dehydrate using a smoker, you can control what goes into your food and keep everything natural.
You also have a say on the flavor. Most dehydrated meats are old, cracked, and generally tasteless. But you can season your jerky with anything you like, as long as you don’t go overboard with it. Salt, pepper, chill, and garlic are some of the best flavors. As the grill smokes the meat, all that taste gets sealed in.
Can I Use Both?
A smoker’s temperature to become a dehydrator needs to be very low, under 200 degrees Fahrenheit. You can achieve this temperature by having proper airflow and using indirect heating. However, you might find that your grill just isn’t cooperating, and when that happens, you can use both devices to dehydrate your meat.
Most people recommend that you season your meat and make sure that it goes on the grill for around an hour. The extra heat helps remove any germs and microbes in the meat while also helping to seal in the flavor. Then you can move the meat to a traditional dehydrator and finish the job there.
This method should be a last resort, but if you can’t get your grill temperature down, it can help you dry out your meat.
Are Dehydrator’s Healthy?
Dehydrated foods are pretty fun to make once you get the hang of them on the grill. However, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that all dehydrated and preserved foods are healthy. One of the biggest problems with dehydrated food is the ‘water weight.’ We get about 80% of our daily needed water from drinks, with the other 20% from the water in our food.
Most people drink less than the 11-15 cups recommended by the health experts, and increasing the intake of dehydrated food can only widen this gap. While eating dehydrated food won’t kill you, you do need to be aware. Make sure to keep on drinking water, mostly when you snack on your jerky!
Smoker or Dehydrator?
If you want more flavor, more control over the meat, and a better taste and texture, then a smoker is the best bet. It can have a bit of a learning curve, but you might never want to purchase store store-bought beef jerky again once you figure it out!