There’s almost no easier way to flavor homemade jerky than BBQ sauce. While most people see red when they think of BBQ sauce, there's a lot more out there to choose from than the common tomato-based sauces. Barbecue sauces come in many flavors and some are better suited to work with certain meats. Pair the BBQ sauce to the jerky meat just as you would for any other dish. Marinate sliced meat in the BBQ sauce overnight before beginning the dehydration process. For added flavor, use additional BBQ sauce to glaze the meat as it dries.
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The bold flavor of beef pairs well with boldly flavored, traditional red BBQ sauces. However, deviate from the norm to put some new life into old traditions. Consider using sauces that are laced with bourbon or beer, spicy hot with chili peppers or those with earthy, smoked flavors.
The white meat of poultry jerky can be easily overpowered by big-flavored BBQ sauces. For poultry jerky, use sauces based on fruit flavors, mustard and wine. Alternatively, opt for a sauce with a strong flavor but dilute it with a little water, fruit juice or wine to lighten it up while adding a new dimension of flavor.
Pork takes well to fruity flavors. Try a BBQ sauce made from peaches, pineapple or mango to bring a touch of the tropics to your next batch of jerky. Honey, molasses and brown sugar are delicious with pork, and many commercially packaged BBQ sauces are sweetened with them.
The clean, delicate flavor of fish pairs well with lightly-flavored BBQ sauces. Try BBQ sauces flavored with pineapple and papaya. Alternatively, choose spicy sauces diluted with white wine, Madeira or fortified with sherry wines or fruit juices to tone down the heat to a level that livens up but doesn't overpower the fish.
The distinctive flavors of game meats such as venison and wild fowl stand up well with the richest BBQ sauces. Use the same BBQ sauces for game meats as you would for beef and pork. Do not make jerky from bear meat. Bear meat can harbor parasites that are difficult to kill at the low temperatures required of making jerky.
Devices in which to make jerky are about as varied as the sauces with which you can season it. The jerky we love today evolved from ancient meat preservation techniques that relied on the sun and wind to dry meat enough that it would keep safely until the next kill. We still make jerky outdoors, often without making the kill ourselves, but it's a lot easier now that we have smokehouses, smokers and BBQ grills using wood, charcoal or propane to keep the jerky oven just warm enough to slowly dry the meat. While drying is the ultimate goal, many jerky aficionados rely on a pan of water in the smoker or closed BBQ to keep the jerky from getting too dry too fast. Indoors, use an electric dehydrator or oven turned on the lowest setting to make jerky. No matter what equipment is used to dry the meat, periodic basting with BBQ sauce adds layers of flavor and builds an exterior texture that's sure to please.