Although having a food dehydrator on hand is quite useful when making homemade beef jerky, it is not essential. There are quite a number of methods to making jerky, and a dehydrator is only one of them.
Remember that our Native American jerky-making forefathers did not have access to such high-tech machines and they perfected jerky in ways we are still emulating.
The two most common methods for concocting your own jerky are with the oven in your kitchen and using an electric smoker.
Method #1: Use an Oven
With your home oven, the process is still very simple. Still, you must remember to keep your oven at a very low temperature. Around 170°F (nearly the same as the max setting on a dehydrator) should be ideal.
Many ovens don’t reach this low a temperature setting, however. In this case, the lowest possible setting, probably between 180°F or 200°F, would still work.
You’ll also need to replicate the conditions inside the dehydrator and keep something underneath the jerky to catch dripping marinade. The best way to do this is to place a cooling rack on top of a cookie sheet.
Your beef strips should then be baked for a few hours. Between two and five hours is the normal time, but the actual length depends on how thick your meat strips are, how hot your oven gets, and how chewy you want your jerky. Keep an eye on the process with regular checkups every 30 minutes or so.
Method #2: Use an Electric Smoker
The electric smoker is also a great way to make homemade jerky. Some jerky makers actually prefer this method because smoking the beef brings out more of its hidden flavors.
Beyond the second-to-none taste, the smoker method is also quite easy.
All you really need to do is lay the beef strips onto the racks, leaving space between each strip, fill the water pan about halfway, and add wood chips to the bottom tray.
You’ll set the smoker to 180°F and the timer to three and a half hours. Then you’ll place the racks full of beef into the smoker, after it has been preheated.
The only maintenance you’ll need to do is add extra water or wood chips after about two hours, but this is only if they have depleted. Otherwise, you can kick back and wait for the timer to sound.
Before you consume your jerky using either of the above two methods, you should give it enough time to cool on the racks.