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Sara Hansen

The Best Cuts of Meat for Jerky in Your Smoker

Making your own homemade jerky is an excellent way to enjoy a delicious, healthy snack. As we’ve talked about before, there are some important tips to keep in mind when it comes to how to make jerky in a smoker to ensure you end up with a flavorful and tender final result. One of those tips is to start with the proper cut of meat. However, with so many different types of cuts of meat available, it can be difficult to determine which are the best cuts of meat for jerky.

Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. In this article, we’ll break down some of the best options to go with.


What Exactly is Happening in Your Smoker When Making Jerky

But first, it is important to understand exactly what happens to the meat in your smoker when you are making jerky. This will make it more clear why looking for certain characteristics in cuts of meat is so critical to jerky success.

When making jerky in a smoker, the meat is exposed to low temperatures and smoke. The low temperatures cause the water in the meat to evaporate, while the smoke helps to dry the meat out further and add flavor. The smoke also helps to kill any bacteria and preserve the jerky. The jerky will be cooked at a low temperature for several hours until it is completely dry and firm. 

The goal is to properly dry out the moisture in the meat while still enabling it to remain tender and flavorful. The best way to do this is to select a cut of meat that is lean and has very little fat. Fat does not properly dehydrate like the muscle fibers in the meat do and it can even cause your jerky to spoil.

It is also important to note that to ensure you end up with enough jerky, you should start with a large fairly cut of meat. This is because the meat will lose between 50% and 75% of its weight during the dehydration process.

So, with all of the above in mind, let’s take a look at some of the options for the best cuts of meat for homemade jerky.


5 of the Best Cuts of Meat for Homemade Jerky


strips of meat for jerky | best cuts of meat for jerky


The following five cuts make perfect options for homemade jerky that will yield a delicious flavor and the perfect amount of chew:

Beef Cuts:

Eye of Round

Many pro smokers and jerky aficionados will agree that Eye of Round is the preferred choice when it comes to the best cuts of meat for beef jerky. 

This cut comes from the elongated muscle in the upper rear leg of the cow and is taken from the Round primal cut, which is located in the hip and upper hind region of the cow. Because it comes from a frequently worked muscle on the cow, the Eye of Round is lean, slightly tougher compared to other cuts, and affordable. Even though it is lean, it is the most tender of all the beef round cuts. It also has a mild flavor that stands up to the flavors of marinades and seasonings. These characteristics, along with being easy to slice into thin pieces, make it a perfect choice for homemade jerky.


Sirloin Tip Roast

Though it is one of the lesser-known cuts of meat for jerky, the Sirloin Tip is actually one of the more desirable roast cuts from the round. 

This cut comes from the posterior region of the Round primal. Slightly less tender than the Eye of Round, this cut still does very well during the jerky-making process. Compared to the other cuts in our list here, the Sirloin Tip Roast will be harder to find in your everyday grocery stores but will usually be available at your local butcher shop.


Top Round (aka London Broil) 

Most professional beef jerky makers/companies use the Top Round cut, more commonly known as the London broil. This cut comes from the upper inside leg muscle, which is located opposite the bottom round. The Top Round is not as tender as the Eye of Round or Sirloin Tip but is more tender than the Bottom Round. It will also usually be slightly cheaper than an Eye of Round cut.

Due to its large size, consistent shape, and ease of use, this cut makes for efficient and effective large-scale production. Hence why it is the favored cut for commercial jerky producers.


London broil for jerky | best cuts of meat for jerky
(London Broil from Wilson Beef Farms)


Bottom Round

The Bottom Round cut of beef comes from the upper outside of the rear leg of the cow, just below the sirloin. This cut does contain quite a bit of connective tissue so it is the toughest of the Round cuts.

But, with good, natural beef flavor, ease of use, and a very economical price for meat, it does make for another good option for beef jerky.


Flank Steak

Taken from the abdominal muscles towards the rear of the cow, the Flank Steak cut can be another good option for the best cuts of meat for jerky. This is especially true if you prefer a big, bold, beefy flavor. 

It is important to note that this cut is packed with long, tough muscle grains so it is critical to cut against the grain when you are prepping the meat to make jerky. This will help ensure your jerky still ends up with a tender bite.


Other Types of Meat That Can Make Good Jerky:

Beef is traditionally the most popular type of meat used for jerky, but there are several other varieties of meat (and even seafood) that can make good jerky. These include: 

  • Venison (Deer)
  • Turkey
  • Pork
  • Lamb
  • Elk
  • Moose
  • Salmon

Remember, as long as the cut of meat is lean, it will usually do well as jerky. Pork and elk do have a higher fat content compared to some of the other above choices, so make sure to select the leanest cut and trim away as much exterior fat as you can. Also, keep in mind the venison, elk, and moose will have a gamier taste than you’ll get with beef.


Your Local Butcher Can Make for a Great Jerky-Making Resource

Don’t be afraid to talk to your local butcher and ask them questions. They can be a great resource for your jerky-making endeavors. Your butcher will be happy to help you select the best, leanest, and most affordable cuts of meat, provide tips on how to properly prepare the meat, and give you ideas for marinade ingredients.

In many cases, if you ask them, they’ll even slice the meat you select into the thin, even slices you need to make great jerky. Thus, saving you time in having to do this yourself at home.


butcher for homemade jerky making tips | best cuts of meat for jerky


Make Sure You are Starting With a Proper Cut of Meat for Homemade Jerky

Like with many other smoking and grilling scenarios, when it comes to making homemade jerky, selecting the proper cut of meat is the most important beginning step of the process. As you can see from the options above, starting with a lean yet flavorful cut of meat is key to success for delicious jerky.

Remember, it is important to trim any excess fat or connective tissue from the meat before putting it in your smoker to avoid any rancidity in your finished jerky.

Make sure to also check out our article on pro tips on how to make great jerky

Try out one of the above cuts today for your next jerky smoking session! If you do, leave a comment below and let us know how it goes. We want to hear from you!


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Sara Hansen

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