Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Home made jerky (no fire needed)

I've done a few articles for Scouting magazine (and the now discontinued Cub supplement) in the past few years. In 2011, as part the bushcraft base I was part of at Gilwell 24, I knocked up a jerky tower which generated a lot of interest...and top notch beef and venison jerky. Mike Rushton from Tamarack Outdoors was our guest that year and confirmed that the jerky was top notch..Which was a relief! Mike even pitched in and made me some beech chips to add into the embers.

Whilst making jerky over a small smoky fire is great, it's not always possible to do this at home and I recalled an article in Bushcraft & Survival skills magazine by James Watson who showed how to make a wooden jerky 'oven' which was powered by a pre energy saving bulb. I decided to have a play around with the idea of homemade jerky and took a slightly different route...And it had pleasing results,  but more on this later.

I came to the conclusion that a jerky article would make a good article for Scouting magazine and I asked the editor that I was working with at the time about a joint one and he agreed. Whilst I could knock up a competent article I decided that it would be worth engaging fellow Scouter Derek Wright to contribute to it. He runs The Jerky Shack so knows more than a little about this fine art.

After Derek agreed to contribute I sent him a bare bones article and asked him to infill it with detailed information. Whilst he was doing that I set about writing up a section on home jerky production. The article appears on the Scout Association website here but for some reason only did the traditional angle and edited the home jerky stuff off...Hmph! Do have a read if you get a moment because there is a lot of relevant information in it that applies to however you make jerky. The thing to remember with jerky is slow and low on the cooking time and heat so it seemed logical to consider experimenting with a slow cooker which is left on for hours. 

I took the bowl out and lined the base with foil, then formed a wall around it using the corrugated plastic that supermarkets use to separate milk cartons. The skewered meat than sits on top of the base.

I then secured a muslin sheet over the top using clothes pegs (to help keep insects off) and then switched the slow cooker on using it's lowest setting. The foil on the top in this picture was used when the sun went in for a while to reflect a little heat back. 

I had to use pics of my pics in the magazine for this article and will change them for fresh ones when I get a chance...And whilst having a nostalgic re-read of the full article I had a little light bulb moment and a possible way to experiment with this method in the summer.

Whilst this method makes reasonable jerky the obvious thing missing is the smoke. As the slow cooker is surrounded by oxygen and provides heat I decided to try and complete the fire triangle and add a small amount of smoking chips with the slow cooker on the high setting to see if they smouldered, the experiment was a I thought it worth a try!

Now that this thought was in my mind I wondered about making a small legged pan out of a jar lid and bolts to put a small piece of charcoal in to then put chips on to create smoke. I also wondered about a rudimentary aluminium foil tent with holes in to help spread the smoke around, this may well negate the need to have a muslin cloth in place which may well catch fire if this jar lid pan is used anyway! There is also the possibility of using longer bolts and securing a second jar lid and using a tealight underneath to smoke chips...Not sure if the candle would taint the jerky though... 

So if this combination works it could perhaps be used with a cardboard box with the bottom removed to do more. I've used a sizable box like this, lined with foil, as a basic smoker. The metal kebab stick shelf is about 20cms above the ground and I use an old desposable barbecue tray as the heat source and usually use oak chips to generate smoke. Cooking times aren't too far off normal times because you are cooking and smoking in real time (as opposed to cold smoking which is smoke only and takes a long time). Mackeral as an exanple will be about 15 minutes on a medium heat. 

But I digress! I think this could work well but as I type this we are still experiencing the post Bushcraft Show weather I haven't managed to experimant with some of the later stuff but if anyone wants to try when the sun is out do report back!


  1. brilliant!

    just brilliant

    Our jerky/biltong on camp last year was delish and this looks like a v good experiment... infortunately, i only have a v small slow cooker but will try it,

  2. Cheers! You will only be able to do a little amount if you lay the jerky across your small slow cooker but as it's a long term thing, maybe you can devise a taller, thinner setup? I've also just thought that a double jam jar lid setup could house a tea light under some chips...Got the digestive and creative juices flowing :)