Spencer Kittelson's Spicy Jerky Recipe

By Spencer Kittelson

Date: March 21, 2002

Van and Kathy: Spence, the venison jerky is great!  The hot variety is addictive.  Everyone who has eaten it, including friends at Centaur, want to know your recipe.

It's addictive all right.  It's hard to go back to milder stuff once you get used to Ultra (it's what we call it). Here's the general recipe:

For 15-30 lbs of meat you need 1 package of High Mountain brand (or equiv.) Cajun jerky cure, dark brown sugar, Lowry's Seasoning Salt, crushed red pepper, black pepper, white pepper and Dave's Insanity Gourmet Sauce (very important).

In a large bread bowl, extend the qty. of High Mountain by adding a 50/50 blend of dark brown sugar and seasoning salt.  Add in extra red, black and white pepper and any other spices you want. Mix thoroughly.  It will look like a lot of seasoning/cure but you'll need it.  This is the part that puts the flavor in.  The white pepper has a fine, subtle flavor that is nice but not required in this mix.

Now for the killer ingredient:  CAUTION!!!  Handle Insanity Sauce with care and don't get it in your eyes or let children touch it. It's so hot it will literally take your breath away.  It's a good idea to wear plastic or latex gloves for the next steps.

Measure 1-3 tablespoons (depending on heat desired) of the Insanity sauce into the above mix.  You can first mix it 50/50 with cooking oil if desired to thin it out a bit.  Spread the cure mix out in the bowl and drizzle the Insanity sauce all over it.  Use a fork to cut the gooey sauce thoroughly into the cure mix so that it's incorporated fairly uniformly.  The resulting mix is ready for action.  If you're not going to use it right away, be sure to put it into a plastic bag and squeeze out all of the air and seal it up tight (don't use a container).

The meat strips/chunks should be no more than an inch thick and should be completely trimmed of ANY fat (which leaves a rancid taste).  Jerky cure permeates the meat at the rate of 1/8" to 1/4" per day so thicker cuts take longer to cure.

Here's where the plastic gloves are important.  For each meat chunk, lightly roll it in the cure mix and then shake/scrape off excess.  You should have some salt/sugar granules still stuck to the outside but it shouldn't look it's been breaded.  Alternatively, split the meat and cure mix into 3-4 roughly equal portions and mix the sub portions en mass in a large bowl.  The gloves will protect your hands and cuticles from feeling like they've been boiled. I tried this the first time without gloves and my hands burned for three hours!

When all the meat has been treated with the cure and thoroughly mixed, pack the meat in plastic bags so that as little air remains as possible (the oxygen darkens the meat and neutralized the spices). Pack the bags full and then seal while squeezing all the air out. Leave the bags in a meat drawer for 2-4 days (or up to one week) to let the cure do it's job.  Keep it cold but not frozen.  The cure will draw a lot of the moisture out of the meat so if you see quite a bit of juice accumulate in the bag you'll know the cure is doing it's job.

To dry you'll need a heat source that gets the meat up to 150-180 degrees F for 1-3 hours.  I've used a kitchen oven, the dishwasher and now use an inexpensive backyard electric smoker.

For the oven or smoker, be sure to spray or coat the racks with cooking oil or PAM to keep the dried jerky from sticking to the racks.  Makes cleanup a LOT easier.  The idea is to dry and ever so slightly cook  the meat but NOT to brown it like a steak or burger.  When done, it should be dark red to reddish gray, slightly moist and succulent.

If you use the oven, put the racks up high and be sure to put foil in the bottom to catch the drippy mess it makes.  Use the lowest heat possible and swap rack positions after an hour or so.  Prop the door open slightly so the moisture can escape.  When it starts to look dry, take out a sample, let it cool until it's warm and see if it's still slightly moist which is just about perfect.  Some like it to be extra dry so it keeps better when not refrigerated.  Dry to your preference.

The dishwasher was tried a couple of times since it's inherently clean and self cleaning.  Three to four dry cycles is all it takes to dry the jerky which is draped all over the plastic covered racks. Be aware that this method will almost certainly result in an irate spouse who unreasonably insists that subsequent washer loads result in dishes that "taste" like jerky.  This of course cannot be true and even if it was, what's the problem?

The smoker/dehydrator is the best method for ensuring relative matrimonial harmony.  I prop the lid open just slightly by sticking a meat thermometer under the edge and letting it get up to the 180-200 degree range for about 2 hours.  I swap racks at the one hour mark.  Each load dries about 5 lbs. of meat so it's kind of tedious.  Don't let it get too hot or the lower rack will burn.  It's nice to see the steam rise up from it on a cold winter day.  If it's too cold outside it's tough to make properly since it's hard to get the temperature right.  The moisture also condenses on the walls of the smoker and runs down into the base.  Be sure to empty the base of accumulated liquid since it will rust it out. You can also use soaked wood chips around the heating element to have a nice smoky flavor imparted to the jerky.

Wow, writing all this is inspiring.  Time to make a new big batch!


Kathy asks:

  1. Was your wife there when you dried your jerky in the dish washer? Did you do this more than once? I have to mention that until this point I was wondering if you really did science experiments with your kids, but this pretty much removed any doubt that I had about what you might experiment with/on!
  2. What kind of meat did you send us? It was really good. 

My wife Sheila has learned to tolerate the various trials I put her and our property through.  She was not too keen on my attempts at cooking/drying in the dishwasher but was tolerant enough to let me try it three times.  Then, with a firm gaze, she drew the line and told me in no uncertain terms to go get a smoker.  Some of the dishes really did have a certain jerky cure flavor to them for the next three washes or so.  Seems all that good seasoning worked its way onto the surface molecules of the plastic coating of the racks...

The meat was venison from way up in northern SD at the Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge.  It's just a few miles from ND and there are thousands and thousands of deer there and all over the rest of the state.  I think this one was a large doe.  They are especially tasty when they're corn fed like most of the eastern Dakota deer are.


Van, glad you enjoyed it.  You are welcome to come hunt anytime. I'll take you on a guided tour and the odds are excellent that you will bag a deer within 2 days.


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