Jerky is a healthy meat snack commonly made from lean cuts of beef, chicken, bear or venison, although the possibilities are endless. Jerky is not cooked, but is dried at a low temperature over a long period of time. Jerky is a popular food among hikers and campers because it is a good source of energy and won't spoil like other meats. You can make jerky in a conventional oven or food dehydrator, but the best method is to make it in a smoker so the meat has an authentic smoky flavor.
Cut lean meat into 1/4-inch-thick strips, or grind lean meat scraps and form them into strips.
Mix your choice of seasonings together, such as pepper, garlic, salt, Worcestershire sauce or vinegar. Salt is almost always used in jerky because it helps to cure the meat by drawing the moisture out of it.
Sprinkle the seasoning over the meat strips or mix it into the ground meat--after the meat is mixed, shape it into 1/4-inch-thick strips using a jerky gun. Cover and refrigerate the meat for several hours or up to several days to begin the curing process.
Add charcoal to the charcoal pan of the smoker, spray the charcoal with lighter fluid and add wood chips such as hickory, mesquite or apple to infuse the meat with additional flavor. Wood chips burn longest if you soak them in water and fold them up in a vented foil packet before adding them to the charcoal.
Add water to the smoker's water pan, if desired, to help maintain the temperature within the smoker. Not all smokers have a water pan and using it may impede the drying process if the smoker is not well-ventilated.
Light the charcoal and wait for the smoker's thermometer to reach a temperature of between 100 and 150 degrees. The lower the heat, the longer the cooking time; many people believe, however, that lower heat settings produce better jerky.
Lay the meat strips across the smoker's grill rack and set in place in the smoker. Open the vents to allow moisture to escape.
Smoke the jerky for six to eight hours or until the edges of meat are dry but some moisture remains in the center. The jerky should crack when bent, but it shouldn't be so dry that it breaks cleanly in half. Rotate the racks periodically throughout the cooking process to ensure that the meat dries evenly--meat on the bottom rack dries faster than meat on the top rack.