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A Jerky Fix from Prasek's Hillje Smokehouse

When our friend Dale announced that he was making a meat run, my wife immediately chimed in with what some might consider an immoderate order for jerky. Dale's second cousin owns and operates Prasek's Hillje Smokehouse. Prasek's is famous for its various smoked meats and kolaches, and has been mentioned in these pages a few times. Every once in a while, Dale is kind enough to take orders, drive the 160-mile round-trip, and deliver smoked meats out of the trunk of his car.

We met Dale on a chilly December night, in the back parking lot of the old Alabama Theater. He handed off an arm-load of butcher paper-wrapped parcels, and I handed over the cash. It felt as if we could expect sirens and squad cars any second. I wish all meat-related transactions could be so exciting.

At home, we surveyed our purchase. All in all, it was a little over two pounds. Remember, folks, this is jerky; it's not heavy stuff. The smoky aroma was intoxicating.

All told, we had five varieties of smoked meat to devour. Peppered Venison Jerky, Non-Peppered Venison Jerky, Thick Peppered Beef Jerky, Hot Beef Jerky, and Dried Pork and Bison Midgets with Cheese and Jalapeño. Visually, they were all pretty similar. The midgets, with their thick-pencil shape, stood out from the rest. Aside from that, the differences were mainly pepper-related.

Taste-wise, it was much the same. When you dry and heavily smoke meat, then douse it in black or crushed red pepper, the flavor of the original meat will take somewhat of a back seat. The venison had a slight gaminess, whereas the beef hid behind the smoke more completely.

Texture-wise, the venison was a bit drier, as expected of such lean meat. It was nice to see the muscle fibers in the meat so clearly defined; the channels, gnarls and whorls created by cutting the meat into strips running with the grain. It was cool-looking, and lent the jerky a nice amount of chew. All of the jerky was cut relatively thick, into chunky wedges rather than thin slices. I prefer this type of jerky, as it is less prone to over-drying into tough, albeit tasty, boot-leather.

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While they were all excellent, my favorite was the Hot Beef Jerky. The smokiness and chile kick really complemented each other well, resulting in a more nuanced flavor. The rest were a bit more straightforward; tasty, but less interesting. My wife agreed, but the kids preferred the Non-Peppered Venison variety. The others were just a bit to pungent for the little wimps.

My only complaint rests with the cure ingredients indicated on the label. Nestled in at the end is the phrase "Natural Smoke Flavor." If the midgets (which tasted like the world's best Slim-Jim's) hadn't assured me with their shrunken, wrinkled casings, I might have been concerned that they had not been smoked at all. I guess that wouldn't really matter all that much, anyway, as the provenance of the smoky taste wouldn't really have affected my enjoyment of it.

Most of it, we ate out of hand. Unsurprisingly, the boldly flavored meat goes very well with a nice Czech-style Pilsner. I've been working on ways to use the small amount remaining, and trying to think outside the bar-snack box a bit. I threw a few handfuls of it, sliced thin, into some TX Thai Curry I made at work recently I've also got plans to shred some and use it in a Tex-Mex twist on Machacado con Huevos, one of my favorite desayunos Mexicanos. Traditionally, the Northern Mexican dish is made by shredding carne seca (air dried beef), and scrambling it together with eggs. I think the slight twist of smoked venison jerky will be a nice change of pace.

Where do you guys get your jerky fix, and how do you like to use jerky in the kitchen?

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