How To... Make Your Own Beef Jerky

Our own Oregon cowboy gives us the recipe for successful beef jerky.

By Kasey Cordell May 19, 2009 Published in the May 2009 issue of Portland Monthly

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Image: Evan Sung

The season of road trips is bearing down upon us, and there may be no better road food than beef jerky. But don’t settle for that thin, artificially flavored, prepackaged excuse for meat. You want hearty, jaw-tiring, salty-sweet strips of beef. Man food. The kind the Duke would eat astride a sixteen-hand quarter horse on a cross-country cattle drive. A real live Central Oregon cowboy* gave us this recipe for authentic jerky. Now get grubbin’.


Our cowboy recommends the Big Chief Front Load Smoker ($119–$149) by Smokehouse, available at most Cabela’s stores or through Tigard-based retailer You’ll also need some bricks to set your smoker on, because, unless you want a visit from our friendly fire department (see “Index”), you should generally avoid leaving a burning box atop combustible things like, oh, a deck, for hours at a time.


  • 5 lbs steak (our cowboy prefers round roast)
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup noniodized salt
  • Water (if needed)
  • Hickory smoking chips

1. Slice beef with the grain, into strips that are about 1½ inches wide and about ½ inch thick.

2. Mix dry ingredients.

3. Layer dry ingredients and beef in a ceramic or plastic bowl. (A metal bowl will affect the taste.)Cover bowl. Let meat sit for 6 to 8 hours.

4. Check meat. The salt should have pulled moisture out of it, creating a brine. If the brine does not cover the meat, add water until it does. Stir, making sure any leftover sugar and salt is dissolved. Cover bowl. Let sit for 24 to 48 hours.

5. Remove meat from bowl; pat dry with paper towels. Do not rinse meat.

6. Place meat in smoker, with thicker strips on the bottom.

7. Add hickory chips. These will burn up in about an hour, so you’ll want to keep adding more every hour for the first 3 hours of smoking. After that, you won’t need to add more.

8. Smoking times vary depending on ambient temperature. In typical May temps—50s and 60s—you’ll need to smoke your meat for 8 to 12 hours. The meat is done when it’s no longer pink in the middle, but you can smoke it longer, until the taste and texture appeal to you.

*Our cowboy is senior editor Kasey Cordell’s father, Mick Cordell, who grew up riding horses, herding cattle, and calling people “hoss” on a Central Oregon farm. He perfected this recipe while living in Sisters, after many attempts to replicate the thick slabs of beef jerky sold in Mason jars at local grocery stores.

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