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Beef jerky question

PostPosted: Wed May 23, 2012 8:54 am
by viking
Hi all,

I'm thinking of construction of a small scale production line for beef jerky. I tried to prepare an experimental batch at the already working sausages plant to see what are the process needs and obstacles. The missing parts of the process are:
1. What is the best width for meat strips for industrial use? i used 6mm
2. What is the quickest technique to put/hang meat strips on wire mesh/racks/hooks? It takes a lot of time to organize them on the wire mesh...
3. how long must the jerky be in the industrial smoke chambers and what is the optimal temperature? I put it in the smoke chamber with temperature of 85C, for 2 hours with very high air flow. During these 2 hours i applied smoke for 45 minutes, rest of time was for dehydration. It wasn't enough. Preparing in home, i put it for 6 hours starting with 70C and gradually rising to 85, with natural air flow.

All thoughts are welcome.

PostPosted: Sat May 26, 2012 2:29 pm
by Oddwookiee
1) Whatever you want to sell. Smaller pieces will be easier to get exact weight on smaller packages, but width is 100% personal and yoru customers preference. Thickness is the important measurement. I cut my jerky in strips about 38-50mm wide, around 150mm long, but never more then 12.7 mm thick. (Sorry about that all in mm, I'm American and using a conversion chart). Any thicker and the pieces don't dry enough.

2) I lay my pieces on a wire rack covered in a fine (12mm diamond-pattern) Teflon screen, by hand, then run the whole truck into the smokehouse. Unless you're a huge operation and can afford a house-sized piece of fancy equipment, I don't know of any fast way to do it. It's the bottleneck of making smaller scale jerky, and (in my opinion) a big contributor to driving the price up. We lay out the jerky on the screens at the end of the night for overnight smoking, and a couple people can lay out 200lb in under 30 minutes.

3) I use a small (300lb) Enviropak smokehouse for jerky. With full air flow, dampers half way open, I'll do a 10-hour smoke cycle at 164 F. I don't use woodsmoke for more then just an hour or two at the beginning, as it can get bitter on the meat surface as it dries.

A lot of purists will crucify me, but I use liquid smoke in the mix when I spice the cut jerky pieces. It's a 100% natural product and not a lab-brewed nightmare, and allows the jerky to get a deep smoke flavor, without the inconsistencies of small, thin pieces of meat in natural woodsmoke.

PostPosted: Sat May 26, 2012 4:07 pm
by viking
Thanks, Oddwookiee for your reply.

Of course that i meant thickness in the section 1. Anyway, you supplied a very comprehensive answer.

1. Isn't it too thick 0.5"? It would be better to cut it to the thinner pieces to save the smoking/dehydration period, wouldn't it? Or, what you mean is that it's better to cut it to the 0.5" thickness and have less number of slices to cut and arrange on the wire rack, rather than deal with multiple thin slices? BTW, isn't it quicker to hang the jerky on the bacon hooks rather than lay it on the wire rack?

2. What process do you use for marinating the jerky? Do you use tumbler? At home, i just put the meat in the marinate for 12 hour, isn't it a good practice?

3. what is the distance between the wire racks at your truck? How many wire rack are in truck? how many lbs of marinated meat do you succeed to load into one track?
4. I need to make it kosher. What cut from the beef forequaters would you suggest?


PostPosted: Mon May 28, 2012 1:30 am
by Oddwookiee
Glad to help.

1. .5" thickness cooks down and thins out to between .25" to .375". It is a much heftier piece of jerky then is usual, but my customers prefer it. There are ups and downs to it- it is fully cooked, but not totally dried through, making for a softer piece of jerky. The downside is it NOT shelf stable. I keep it under refrigeration until sold, and make sure the customer knows that if they leave it at room temperature for too long, it will spoil. I cut that thickness and keep cutting until I have a full smokehouse load, regardless of number of pieces. I don't worry about number of slices per screen, I'm more concerned with the final product. As far as bacon hooks, the bacon hooks i use look like this ... anger.aspx so it would be an incredibly inefficient method to spear a piece of jerky on each tine, then hang in. I'd estimate that could cut the amount of jerky I could smoke to 1/5th or less of the weight I do at once now.

2. The basic marinating is as follows: 20lb meat, dry spice, liquid smoke, sodium nitrite. This goes into a small vacuum tumbler, run to maximum vacuum and tumbled for 20 minutes (30 minutes for flavors with brown sugar or fresh vegetables). Open tumbler, dump contents into a clean 5-gallon bucket, label and let sit in cooler overnight. It then goes into the smokehouse the next night. Depending on varieties, other flavors will be added into the tumbler, or the dry spice changed, but that's the basic procedure. I don't add water as the basic spice (any variety I use) has salt already, which will pull plenty of liquid out to lubricate the tumbling process. However you do it at home, if the end result gives you the flavor you want, then you're good to go. Just don't use a whole lot of liquid if you can avoid it. I tell my hunters to use just enough liquid to make the batch easier to stir, you don't want the meat swimming. Just remember to give it some movement every few hours to make sure every cut surface is exposed to the marinade.

3. The wire screens in my truck are about 5" or so vertical separation apart, single column in. In the small smokehouse, I can fit 8 full screens in, which works out to about 160-180lb total meat wet weight. The finished weight changes, of course- some varieties dry out more than others. I could have more supports welded in and get more screens in, but I don't move enough jerky to make it worth fooling around with a stainless welder.

4. For kosher, let me be very clear here: do not take my word on this. Talk to a kosher meatcutter or certified kosher shop. I know almost nothing about kosher laws as I don't make a kosher product in any way. That said, any lean muscle from the front shoulder can make jerky if you're willing to finesse it. We buy shoulder clods, chuck rolls and whole front quarters to cut steaks and roasts out of, and the end cuts of the muscles can all be made into jerky (waste not, want not). Granted, the tag end or the taper aren't going to be as tender a piece of jerky as the center cut of a ball tip or gooseneck round, but if you're willing to put in a little knife work to get the pieces cut to your desired thickness, you're good to go. The things that won't make jerky but are still meat, or you're unable to tease the jerky from out of intramuscular fat, goes into ground meat. Just make sure there's no tendon or silverskin in the jerky- they both dry out to be almost bone-like and can (no exaggeration) crack teeth.

*edit* Just got off the phone with the boss, if you're using a single muscle from the front shoulder, crossrib would be ideal.

PostPosted: Fri Jun 01, 2012 5:56 am
by viking
Thanks Oddwookiee for such a detailed answer. I'll take all this into consideration.