Smoking Beef with Wood
Sometimes cowboys would utilize specific types of wood in their smoke huts to give the jerky added flavor. Hickory gives meat a deep, rich flavor. It is suited for use smoking beef, pork, poultry, and even fish. Apple wood offers a mild flavor that is sweet and a bit fruity.
Cherry wood is an ideal go-to choice for smoking meat. Cherry wood provides a mild, sweet flavor that works with most meats. Because it is one of the hottest burning woods, mesquite offers a strong earthy flavor. Oak has a medium flavor, a bit more intense than apple or cherry, but not as strong as mesquite. Oak is often blended with other woods for a complex flavor.
Pecan wood is most often used to smoke poultry, but it can add a nice fruity flavor to beef as well. Walnut is a tricky wood to use for curing meat. It has a very strong flavor that can read as bitter. Alder provides a sweet flavor that is ideal for fish but can also be good for poultry and pork. Maple offers a sweet, mild flavor that mixes well with poultry. Mesquite is another great choice.
In addition to using salt and smoke to flavor the jerky, cowboys also used various spices like pepper and brown sugar to customize the flavor of their jerky. Native Americans would also use certain berries to flavor their jerky. Native Americans also made a jerky-like substance called pemmican. In making pemmican, Native Americans would mix ground meat and berries with melted animal fat. The meat substance would then be packed together into small cakes.
When it was not possible to build a smoke hut to cure the beef jerky, cowboys would use the power of the sun and wind to dry their meat. However, the preparation process was far more efficient when fire could be used to dehydrate the meat.