Do you put water in the pan when smoking jerky?

Do you crave the mouth-watering taste of perfectly smoked jerky but can’t seem to find the right recipe? Are you uncertain about whether or not to add water to the pan when smoking your jerky? Fear not, as this is a common dilemma among jerky enthusiasts who want to achieve that perfect flavor and texture.

Some swear by adding water to the pan while others argue that it’s unnecessary. But what’s the truth? Does water in the pan make all the difference in creating delicious jerky, or is it just a myth?

In this blog post, we’ll dive into this topic headfirst and explore different perspectives on adding water when smoking jerky. We’ll cover both sides of the debate, discuss potential benefits and drawbacks, and provide expert advice so you can create top-notch jerky every time. Plus, we’ll also reveal some mistakes you should avoid when smoking your own jerky.

Whether you’re a seasoned pro or just starting out with making your own jerky, join us for an informative and entertaining discussion on whether or not to put water in the pan when smoking jerky. So sit back, grab a snack (preferably some delicious beef jerky), and let’s get started.

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What is Smoking Jerky?

Smoking jerky is a centuries-old technique that has been used by Native Americans and continues to be a popular method of preserving and flavoring meat. The process involves curing strips of meat with a range of spices and then smoking them with wood chips to create a unique and delicious flavor profile. Whether you prefer beef, pork, chicken, turkey, or even fish, you can make jerky out of almost any type of meat.

There are many different ways to smoke jerky, but the most common method involves using a smoker or grill. Marinate the meat in your preferred blend of spices and then place it on the smoker or grill over low heat. As it cooks, the meat absorbs the smoke from the wood chips, which imparts flavor and helps to preserve it.

The length of time it takes to smoke jerky can vary depending on how thick the meat is and how smoky you want it to be. Some people prefer a few hours of smoking, while others let it smoke for several days. Once the jerky is fully cooked, store it in an airtight container for several weeks or even months.

If you’re new to smoking jerky, you may have questions about whether or not to put water in the pan. While adding water can help regulate the temperature and keep certain cuts of meat from drying out too quickly, it can also affect the texture and taste of the final product. Ultimately, whether or not to use water in your smoking process is up to personal preference and experimentation.

Benefits of Putting Water in the Pan When Smoking Jerky

Adding water to the pan might just be the secret ingredient you’ve been missing out on. As a jerky expert, I can tell you that there are several benefits to this technique that will result in perfectly smoked and tender jerky every time.

Firstly, adding water helps regulate temperature inside the smoker. This is crucial because uneven temperatures can cause your jerky to cook unevenly, resulting in an inconsistent texture. By using water, you can ensure that the heat is distributed evenly throughout the smoker, resulting in perfectly cooked jerky every time.

In addition to regulating temperature, water also helps keep humidity levels optimal inside the smoker. Dry air can cause your jerky to become tough and chewy. By adding water to the pan, you can ensure that there is enough moisture in the air to keep your jerky tender and delicious.

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But wait, there’s more. Water also prevents meat from drying out too quickly. If you’re using lean cuts of meat, this is especially important as they tend to dry out faster than fattier cuts. By adding water to the pan, you can slow down the drying process and allow the smoke to penetrate deeper into the meat for a richer flavor.

One final benefit of using water in the pan is that it reduces the amount of smoke produced during the smoking process. Smoke particles are absorbed by the water as they are released from wood chips or pellets. As a result, your jerky will have a milder smoke flavor that won’t overpower your taste buds.

Considerations for Vertical and Horizontal Smokers

Then listen up, because the type of smoker you use can make all the difference. There are two main types of smokers: vertical and horizontal. Let’s take a closer look at the considerations for each.

Vertical smokers, also known as bullet smokers, are tall and narrow in shape. They come equipped with a water pan at the bottom and racks above for holding the meat. This water pan is critical for regulating temperature and keeping your jerky moist during the smoking process. Before starting, make sure to fill the pan with hot water and monitor the water level throughout the smoking process to prevent dryness.

On the other hand, horizontal smokers are wider and shorter in shape, with a firebox on one side and a cooking chamber on the other. Unlike vertical smokers, they don’t typically come with a water pan. However, this allows for a more direct heat source to perfectly smoke your jerky. To ensure a consistent temperature, keep a close eye on it and adjust airflow or add more fuel as needed.

No matter which smoker you choose, keeping an eye on temperature and moisture levels is crucial to achieving that perfectly smoked jerky. And don’t forget to experiment with different flavors by adding water or other liquids to the pan for an extra boost of tenderness and flavor.

The Impact of Wood Chips on Adding Water to the Pan

Then let’s delve into the impact of wood chips on adding water to the pan and discover how you can optimize moisture levels in your smoker.

Adding water to the pan is a smart move, as it helps regulate temperature and prevent dryness during the smoking process. However, the type of wood chips you choose can affect the amount of moisture produced by adding water. This is where things get interesting.

For instance, hickory and mesquite wood chips produce intense heat and smoke, which can cause water in the pan to evaporate more quickly. So, you may need to add water frequently throughout the smoking process to maintain optimal moisture levels.

In contrast, fruitwood chips like apple or cherry provide a gentler smoke and generate less heat, resulting in less evaporation of water in the pan. This means you may not need to add as much water if using these types of wood chips.

But wait, there’s more. It’s also worth considering your recipe. Some recipes require a specific level of moisture in the smoking environment to achieve a desired texture or flavor profile. In these cases, adding water to the pan may be necessary regardless of the type of wood chips used.

Different Cuts of Meat and Smoking Techniques

Smoking jerky is an art form that requires careful consideration of both the cut of meat and smoking technique. Each cut of meat has its own unique texture and flavor, which can greatly affect the final product. The most commonly used meats for jerky are beef, turkey, and venison.

Beef is a popular choice due to its rich flavor and firm texture. When smoking beef jerky, it’s essential to select a lean cut of meat such as top round or bottom round. These cuts have minimal fat and can be easily sliced into thin strips.

Turkey is a healthier alternative to beef and is ideal for those who are watching their saturated fat intake. Turkey breast is the best option when smoking turkey jerky as it has the least amount of fat. Additionally, it’s tender and flavorful, making it a great choice for jerky.

Venison is another popular choice due to its unique gamey flavor. When smoking venison jerky, it’s crucial to choose a lean cut of meat like the backstrap or hindquarter. These cuts have minimal fat and can be sliced into thin strips with ease.

After selecting your meat, the next step is to choose your smoking technique. Hot smoking involves cooking the meat at high temperatures until it reaches an internal temperature of 160°F. This method ensures that the meat is fully cooked while still retaining its moisture and flavor.

On the other hand, cold smoking involves smoking the meat at a lower temperature without cooking it. This technique infuses the meat with a smoky flavor without altering its texture or moisture content.

Both techniques have their advantages, depending on your preferences. Hot smoking produces fully cooked jerky with a stronger smoky flavor, while cold smoking yields milder smoky flavors with a chewier texture.

The Pros and Cons of Adding Water to the Pan

While there are varying opinions on this topic, we will explore the benefits and drawbacks of using water to help you make an informed decision.


  • Temperature regulation: Adding water to the pan can help regulate the temperature inside the smoker. Water acts as a heat sink, absorbing and releasing heat as needed to maintain a consistent temperature. This is especially useful for beginners who may struggle with controlling the temperature inside their smoker.
  • Moisture retention: Water creates a humid environment inside the smoker that can prevent the meat from drying out too quickly. This is particularly important when smoking lean cuts of meat like jerky, which can easily become dry and tough if not properly cared for during the smoking process.


  • Dilutes smoke flavor: The water can dilute the smoke flavor, resulting in a less intense smoky taste. If you are after a stronger smoky flavor, it may be best to skip adding water to the pan.
  • Interferes with smoke penetration: If too much water is added to the pan, it can create excess steam that interferes with smoke getting into the meat. This can lead to a less flavorful end product.
  • Increased cooking time: Adding water can increase cooking time for jerky because it takes longer to heat up than air. Additionally, because there is more moisture in the air, it may take longer for the jerky to dry out and reach its desired texture.

Ultimately, whether or not you should add water when smoking jerky depends on your personal preferences and experience level. If you are new to smoking and struggling with maintaining a consistent temperature or keeping your meat moist, adding water may be helpful for you. However, if you are an experienced smoker looking for a more intense smoky flavor or a quicker cooking time, you may want to skip the water and focus on other techniques for achieving your desired results.

Tips for Getting Started with Smoking Jerky

Smoking jerky is an art that requires patience, skill, and the right ingredients. To ensure your smoked jerky comes out perfectly every time, it’s essential to use the right wood, meat, and seasonings. Here are five tips to help you get started:

Choose the Right Wood

The type of wood you use can make or break your smoked jerky. Hickory, mesquite, and applewood are popular choices that add unique flavors to the meat. Each wood has a distinct taste profile, so experiment with different woods until you find the flavor that suits your taste buds.

Use the Right Meat

Not all cuts of meat are suitable for smoking jerky. Lean cuts like flank steak or sirloin work best for smoking jerky. Make sure to trim any excess fat before starting the smoking process.

Slice the Meat Thin

Thin slices allow the meat to cook evenly and absorb more of the smoky flavor. Aim for slices that are 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick. Slicing the meat thin can be time-consuming, but it’s worth the effort for perfectly smoked jerky.

Use a Dry Rub

A dry rub is a mixture of spices that enhances the flavor of your smoked jerky while helping preserve it. You can use pre-made blends or create your own using a combination of salt, sugar, and your favorite spices. Rub it onto the meat before smoking to infuse it with flavor.

Use Water in the Pan

Adding water to the pan while smoking jerky can help regulate the temperature and keep the meat moist during the smoking process. This is especially important for longer smoking sessions since dry meat can ruin your final product.

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In conclusion, smoking jerky is a time-honored method of preserving and flavoring meat that has stood the test of time. While the question of whether or not to add water to the pan when smoking jerky remains a hotly debated topic, there are pros and cons to both approaches.

Adding water to the pan can help regulate temperature, retain moisture, and prevent your meat from drying out too quickly. However, it may also dilute the smoky flavor and interfere with smoke penetration. On the other hand, skipping the water can result in a more intense smoky flavor and quicker cooking time but requires more experience.

Ultimately, deciding whether or not to use water is a matter of personal preference and experience level. If you’re new to smoking or struggling with maintaining consistent temperature or moisture levels, adding water may be helpful for you. But if you’re an experienced smoker looking for a bolder flavor profile or faster cooking time, skipping the water may be a better choice.

Regardless of your approach, using high-quality wood, meat, seasonings, and techniques is essential for achieving perfectly smoked jerky every time. So don’t be afraid to experiment with different flavors and methods until you find what works best for you.

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