5 of the best smokers for making jerky and a detailed guide on what to look for in a smoker when making jerkies at home.
“I’ve always been obsessed by beef jerky” – Elizabeth Hurley
Yet again one more trait Liz Hurley and I have in common.
Jerky was once seen as a utilitarian protein boost enjoyed by those whose outdoor occupations made it a necessity due to long periods away from home.
Rather than remaining part of a subsistence diet for ranchers, cowboys, and soldiers, it became a go-to snack for campers and hikers, and later, a popular bar food embraced by a rabid legion of fanatics who are now devoted to its cause.
Given jerky’s newfound fame, it would seem that Elon Musk was right about the cyclical nature of history, as a food favored by the old world has become a much-cherished indulgence of the modern age.
History of Smoked Jerky
Thought to have originated in the Peruvian Andes around the time of the Incan Empire, the word jerky is derived from the Quechan (one of the oldest spoken languages in the world that dates back to Pre-Columbian South America) name for ‘salted dry meat’, ch’arki.
A way of preserving food, the process of “jerking” uses salt and low-temperatures to dehydrate meat in order to vastly increase its longevity.
Trimmed, cut into strips and dried, jerky was, in Western society, traditionally seen as being something unusual and exotic.
Once the food of choice of the hard-drinking action heroes of pulp adventures, it is now a commonplace treat that’s just as likely to be found on the shelves of national chain supermarkets as it is in the trend-setting bars that litter the East and West coasts.
Smoking your own Jerky
When something enters the mainstream consciousness in the way that jerky has, people develop a taste for it, which then leads them to look at ways of making it, and despite its mysterious allure, jerky isn’t as complicated or difficult to make as it might seem.
In fact, it’s actually quite straightforward and relatively easy to make.
Providing, of course, you have the right equipment.
Since you’re here, you’re probably interested in making your own jerky, which is why we’ve taken the time to find the five best smokers for making it at home.
We’ve simplified your jerky adventure so that you can jump straight on the saddle and immerse yourself in the world of jerky.
And your journey starts here…
Top 5 Best Smokers For Jerky
OUR TOP PICK
In our article comparing propane and electric smokers, we made the case that the temperature control available on electric smokers makes them ideal for lower temperature smoking foods like cheese and jerky.
Masterbuilt is known for prizing quality and innovation and setting the sort of standards that their competitors just can’t reach.
This energy-efficient, powder-coated 30-inch vertical smoker was built to smoke and prepare all manner of different food, but one particular talent is making jerky.
What makes the Masterbuilt Digital Smoker an ideal jerky maker? We’re glad you asked.
It’s due to a combination of the following:
- Four, fully removable and height adjustable chrome smoking racks
- The side-loading draw that ensures you can control the amount of wood used to create the ideal smoked taste.
- A thermostatically controlled eight hundred-watt heating element
All of which create the perfect environment for jerky production.
With a programmable digital timer that’ll control the smoking process for up to twenty-four hours, an easy to use digital control panel, and a convenient remote control, Masterbuilt has made jerky production as easy as cooking frozen pizza.
Whether you’re a first-time smoker or a die-hard jerky maker, the Masterbuilt Electric Digital Smoker is the quintessential smoker for not only creating homemade jerky but all sorts of other smoked foods you want to try out.
- Thanks to its no-nonsense, simple, and straight forward digital control panel, it’s as easy to conquer as your kitchen oven. It’ll transform you from an eager, amateur jerky enthusiast into a fully-fledged professor of jerkyology in next to no time.
- You can stay in command of the whole process from the comfort of your chair with the included remote control.
- Masterbuilt’s patented wood loading system is designed to let you safely add chips and pellets to the smoker without opening the door and affecting the temperature too much.
- Fully adjustable chrome racks that are non-stick and ridiculously easy to clean. Once you’re finished making your jerky, you can wipe them down, rack them up, and start smoking all over again.
- This smoker isn’t exactly portable. Weighing in at around fifty pounds, it isn’t light and its lack of wheels means that you’ll get a fairly decent work out if you want to move it around.
Weber does what they do because they love barbecue.
They love the outdoor lifestyle, they love getting up close to nature, camping, hiking, and tailgating. But more than all of that, they love food and they love cooking it.
Hence why we love them here at Mad Backyard.
They make charcoal barbecues, they make grills and they make smokers.
And if you’re looking for something a little more “analog”, the Smokey Mountain Charcoal Smoker is a bona fide, top of the class jerky making machine.
This eighteen inch wide, charcoal burning beast is the ideal way to smoke your jerky whether you’re at home or out camping.
Its tall height, water pan, and dual dampener system allows you to precisely control the temperature inside by adjusting the airflow and keeping your jerky separated from the heat the source.
Much like how you would smoke cheese, you can create a cool temperature, focused smoking environment through a combination of an ice bath in the water pan and using a small amount of lit charcoal at the bottom to help to make your jerky just the way you like it.
It’s two separate cooking grates mean that you can make as much, or as little, jerky as you want to and it’s simple design and relatively small size also makes the Weber Charcoal Smoker incredibly easy to maintain and take with you on camping, hunting and fishing trips.
- The ability to finely control the heat, and amount of smoke, it produces gives you all the confidence you’ll need to experiment with your jerky making skills. You’ll be able to discover the perfect way to make the sort of jerky that suits you with this smoker.
- Comes with an inbuilt thermometer that rests snugly in the smoker’s lid.
- A large water pan and vertical distance between the coals and your food gives you better temperature control for cold smoking foods like jerky and cheese.
- It’s made of porcelain-coated steel, so it keeps the heat inside and doesn’t let it escape, transferring it all to the nickel-coated shelves that you’ll be making your jerky on.
- The fuel door, where you load the charcoal into the smoker, isn’t, according to multiple reviews, the most durable part of the smoker and can bend and buckle if it’s subjected to too much pressure.
Another of the brands who have made the outdoors their own is Camp Chef, who firmly believes that “No matter where your coordinates are, you’re never too far away from home.”
Like our favorite Zgrills line of pellet grills, this smoker features an automatic electronic ignition and pellet dispenser that only operates when fuel is needed and shuts down when it’s not.
It also comes with a digital temperature gauge and management chip that ensures that heat is evenly dispersed throughout the smoker.
With the Camp Chef’s patented grease disposal system, it’s also ridiculously easy to clean. Simply wipe down the grates and empty the included grease bucket on the side of the grill.
- The automatic pellet dispenser means that you’ll never have to waste any time throwing wood on the DLX’s fire, as it’ll feed itself, as and when it needs too. You just need to fill up the pellet tray and it’ll do the rest.
- If you’ve ever labored over a used barbecue or smoker with a wire brush, scrubbing until your hands are raw and blistered in a desperate attempt to clean it, you’ll spend eternity thanking your maker for the patented Camp Chef disposal system that the DLX uses. It’s made the toil and labor of cleaning smokers a thing of the past, which is enough to convince anyone who experienced the grim old days of smoker clean-up that the DLX is the only jerky maker they need.
- Unlike the other smokers on our list, the DLX has an incredibly large smoking and cooking, area. Just imagine how much jerky you’ll be able to prepare on it. however much you think you’ll be able to make on the DLX, rest assured, you’ll be able to make even more and that’s an awful lot of jerky making for one smoker. And the DLX can do it.
- The DLX isn’t the easiest smoker to transport from your home to wherever it is you’re setting up camp in the wilderness. It’s big and it’s bulky and it’s much more suited to a full-time backyard existence than a life in the great outdoors.
- Some jerky makers have noted that the temperature isn’t as accurate as Camp Chef claims it is, so make sure to keep a close eye on it or double check with your own digital thermometer.
The Bradley story started, as all of the best story’s do, with a handshake deal. One day in the 1970’s, one man taught another man how to catch salmon and in return, the would-be fisherman taught his benefactor how to smoke the salmon they caught.
That simple afternoon changed the world and started a brand that would revolutionize the smoking industry.
When it comes to smokers, Bradley could possibly be the closest thing to a one-stop-shop as you will find.
A combination of digital electric control and pellet smoking fuel, it is fully automated, so you just load it up with their patented wood briquettes and it’ll smoke anything steadily for up to nine hours.
With four chrome-plated cooking trays and easy to use digital controls that give you full dominion over the smoking process, Bradley has made it easier than it’s ever been to make tasty jerky in a matter of hours.
Keeping the heat and the smoke where it’s needed, Bradley’s passion for smokers and smoking is infectious and when you’re exposed to it, you’ll be might just be converted to their cause and never look back.
- Fully programmable, you’ll be able to control every aspect of the jerky making process and fashion it to your exacting standards.
- The polished stainless steel interior and fully removable chrome-plated cooking trays make the Bradley even easier to clean than it is to use.
- If you want the “set it and forget it” control of pellet smoking with the look and small footprint of a vertical electric smoker, this one’s for you.
- The portability issue rears its ugly head once more, as the Bradley is designed to be set up and left in one place.
- It only works with their brand of wood “pucks” so you can’t use other brands of pellets or wood chips like you can with other smokers.
We’re rounding off our list with the same brand we started it with, Masterbuilt.
We’ve fast become firm fans of everything that Masterbuilt do and while, on the surface, this Smoker is almost the same as the previous one on our list, there are a couple of notable differences.
Primarily the lower price and lack of remote control.
While the lower price makes up for the fact that this Masterbuilt doesn’t come with remote control, it does have a few additional surprises up its sleeve.
While it has the same four, easy to clean, removable chrome-plated racks and side loading smoke system, it also has an air damper for extra smoke control and a water bowl for smoking other kinds of non-dehydrated foods.
- We love the chrome-coated racks that come with the Masterbuilt smokers. They make jerky making simple and they’re easy to clean.
- The side wood chip loading system lets you load wood chips to the smoker without having to open it up.
- A fully insulated body keeps a consistent temperature no matter the weather outside.
- We know you’re probably tired of hearing this, but like the other Masterbuilt Smoker on our list, this model isn’t what we’d call portable either. Again, it’s all down to the smoker’s weight and its lack of wheels.
- The bad news is… if you want the smoker cover that you’re going to need to make the most out of this smoker and your jerky? You’re going to have to pay extra for it. No, we don’t understand why they charge more for the cover and why Masterbuilt considers it “an extra” either.
Best Smokers For Jerky – A Buyer’s Guide
While we’ve shown you some of the best, and easy to use, smokers for jerky, before you decide which one you’re going to buy, there’s a couple of things that you might want to consider.
How Much Jerky Can A Smoker Make?
The question should probably be, “How much jerky do I want to make?”
The amount of jerky you can make is entirely dependent on the cooking area of the smoker. With the exception of the pellet smoker, the available cooking area is mostly determined by the number of shelves they have. The higher the number of shelves, the greater the cooking area.
Smoker Size and Footprint
We know it seems obvious, but before you order a smoker, make sure you have the room on your deck or patio to use it.
If you don’t have the room for the smoker that’s grabbed you by the lapels, move on to the next one on the list.
The best advice we can give you? Measure thrice, order once. It works for us, it’ll work for you.
If you’re going to spend a lot of money on a smoker to make your jerky with, you’re going to want it to last as long as possible.
As your smoker is going to spend the majority of its life outside, it’ll need to be made from materials that weather and withstand any kind of weather. That’s why, if you can, you should always look for a steel smoker and use a a good weatherproof cover.
How Easy Is the Smoker To Clean?
After a day of smoking and making jerky, the last thing that you’ll want to do is spend hours cleaning your smoker. The easier it is to clean, the happier you’ll be.
Most pellet grills for instance, like the Zgrills line of products have a dedicated grease bucket so you don’t have to clean it all out of the bottom of your smoker.
And at the end of the day, jerky making should be all about fun shouldn’t it?
What is Jerky and How Do You Make It?
Jerky is a preserved meat. It is usually cut into strips and trimmed and then dehydrated using a combination of salt and low, dry heat.
The process of jerking meat, or making jerky, extends it’s lifespan from days, and in some cases weeks, to months and even years.
Culturally, jerky is considered to be a delicacy and a treat in many different societies and has found, thanks to the rise of hipster culture, a new level of worldwide recognition and fame.
Best Smoker for Jerky – The Verdict
Honestly, that’s all down to individual taste and how much you want a “Set it and forget it” digital smoker vs. an old school charcoal one you’ll need manually control a little more.
In our case, we’d go for the Masterbuilt 20070910 Vertical Smokers.
When it comes to cold smoking jerky, you can’t go wrong with this no nonsense, reasonably priced, and digitally controlled vertical smoker from one of the most trusted brands in electric smoking.
What Other Food Can I Smoke?
Looking for some more smoky inspiration?
Check out some of our great recipes of smoked and grilled food to try out at your next outdoor BBQ!
- Smoked Fresh Ham with Dark Rum Citrus Glaze
- Smoked Leg of Lamb with Guinness Marinade
- Smoked Bratwurst
- Grilled Bratwurst
- Smoked Gouda Cheese
- Smoked Oysters
- Pellet Grilled Steak
- Pellet Grill Turkey
Trash Can Turkey – OK, technically not made on a grill but one of the most fun ways there is to cook a Turkey…at over 700 degrees in only 2 hours! You’ve got to check it out!