Tips and Tricks for Alton Brown’s Beef Jerky Recipe

If you’re reading this post, then you have probably watched Alton Brown’s episode on how to make beef jerky with a box fan. I decided to give this a try and along the way I encountered a few key learning moments. Many of these moments simply cannot be covered in a 30 minutes show, so I’m here to try and fill in the gaps.

Spoiler: It turns out better than you’d think! 

Tips and Tricks:

  • Filters: If you live in a bustling suburb, your local department store may not carry “paper” air filters like Alton Brown recommends. Brown’s only rule is to not use fiber-glass filters. I ended up purchasing the only one that looked safe, 3M’s Filtrete filters  – which, as far as I can tell, is some bastardized mix of paper and fiber, no glass. I did have a moment where I panicked as I was laying the jerky in the grooves. I ended up researching it more and found this guy that had gone with the 3M filters too.
  • Flank Steak: If you’re like me, you’re probably a little disgruntled with the surge of popularity of flank steak. Once considered a trash meat, Mexican restaurants and a whole variety of recipes have boosted this meat’s popularity, and therefore its price. A good alternative for flank steak is the top round cut , or round steak, which is comparable to flank due to the low fat ratio.
  • Marinade: Brown’s basic marinade rivals the typical store bought flavor, but for whatever reason I think his is better. For your first round, I would recommend giving his a go and just following it exactly. You’ll probably end up wanting to experiment more afterwards.
  • BlowHard 4000: If you want to feel like a fool (and don’t always pick up on sarcasm) go up to your local home improvement store and ask an associate if they have the BlowHard 4000 box fan, “as seen” in Alton Brown’s episode. I just ended up going with the Lasko Box Fan – it was $16.
  • Bungee Cords: I went with 22″ cords…wish I had stepped it up a few more inches. I didn’t consider stacking four 1″ filters on top of the fan. So it was a stretch to say the least. If you do 24″, you should be able to get away with just one cord, because it’ll still be tight enough to hold all 4 filters.
  • Patting Your Meat: When you pat your meat “dry”, don’t Hulk it. You’ll force the marinade out of the meat and lose flavor. And if you’re OCD like me, you’ll try to lay out your meat all nice, pat it, and then realize that afterwards, it looks “wet” again. Just get it on your filters.
  • Laying Meat On Filters: When you do this, make sure your filter size is the same as the box fan, if not, then adjust accordingly. I missed mine by 4″ (wasn’t thinking that day) and I had to scoot all my meat down in the filter slats. Also, stupid me, I didn’t check the side to see which was the airflow was supposed to go. You’ll see an arrow on the side of the filter. Make sure to lay accordingly. I didn’t and it was a pain pulling all the meat up. The 3M fibers ended up sticking to my meat.
  • Drying: Just go the full 12 hours. Put it on the night before and go to bed. I really recommend setting it up on a patio if possible, the odor is stronger than you would think. After it’s done, be prepared for the meat to stick to the fibers. It isn’t a big deal, pull it off and take 10 minutes to just examine each piece, pulling off the fibers.

And enjoy! It’s pretty simple and you’ll feel accomplished afterwards. I was skeptical, no heat plus raw meat, but hey, I haven’t died yet. Still kicking!

raw box fan beef jerky
Box fan beef jerky

Posted in DIY

6 thoughts on “Tips and Tricks for Alton Brown’s Beef Jerky Recipe

  1. Andy Reply

    I have made the same beef jerky from Alton Brown before but I don’t use furnace filters at all. I went to a local JoAnn’s Fabric store and got what is called Plastic Canvas. http://www.joann.com/plastic-canvas-7-count-10-1-2inx13-1-2in-value-pack-clear-12-pkg/12308912.html It’s great since there are no fibers but I do have to lay the box fan flat pointing up and prop it up so the air can move around it from the bottom and out the top. I also use this method for drying fruit like apple and strawberry slices. I have two sets of the plastic canvas. I used a permanent marker to make the ones I use for fruit sp the fruit doesn’t eventually taste like beef jerky.

    • mspalacios Reply

      How exactly are you using the plastic canvas? Are you laying on the box fan itself? Can you post pic? Thanks.

  2. Abby Reply

    Thanks for writing about your experience. I already had a Ronco basic food dehydrator that I purchased new for $50. By the time you go to all that effort to get the filters and box fan, $50 might seem like a deal, plus it comes in a handy box that stores easily. I had seen other recipes that called for London broil, which was half the price of flank steak. I was surprised about that. I might try the top round next. I like the Alton Brown recipe, but next time I’m going to sweeten with maple syrup. I’m assuming the soy sauce is for salt. I think I’ll research to see if there’s a substitute for that.

  3. Mari Reply

    Similar to Andy’s plastic canvas solution, Alton Brown did a third Blowhard episode, season 11 “Withering Bites,” with fruit. He used the same filters and fan as before, but added the plastic mesh canvas to keep the fruit from sticking. He used commercial food dehydrator screens, but the craft needlepoint screens are much cheaper.

    It went, from the bottom: fan, furnace filter, plastic canvas, food layer, plastic, filter, plastic/food/plastic, filter, plastic/food/plastic, filter, bungee. So a total of three food layers, six plastics and four filters. He said any more layers wouldn’t work as well.

    Another good idea is to point the fan exhaust outside, unless you want your house smelling for days.

    • Dave Yeti Post authorReply

      Thanks for the tip and the info on the new episode! I’ll give it a go 🙂

  4. Beastie Reply

    I’ve made jerky for 25-30 years. And had some ups and downs. That a said I have enjoyed A.B’s shows from the start. The jerky recipe worked like a charm. I altered the recipe by adding smoked Spanish paprika as well as Korean dried crushed red pepper. The 12 hour time works well. On 1 or 2 batches the jerky was not quite the texture I wanted. I just piled it on a cookie sheet and placed in convection oven at 150 for 30 minutes ( turning loosely at 15 minutes) Wow it was a double recipe and it disappeared in less than a week.
    I have used a dedicated dehydrator as well as a smoker but honestly am very pleased with the box fan contraption.

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