This post may contain affiliate links which help support Girls Can Grill.
This beef jerky recipe is made with Big Red soda and chipotles in adobo sauce, giving it a balance of sweet and heat for true bold flavor.
Table of Contents
What is Big Red?
Big Red is a carbonated soda popular in the South. It was created in Waco, Texas, in 1937, and has a distinct taste compared to other soft drinks.
Some say it tastes like bubble gum. Others compare it to cream soda. But the actual formula is said to include citrus notes and vanilla.
Big Red is a little hard to find nationwide. I grew up in Kentucky where it was distributed to stores via the R.C. Bottling Company. It was as common to us as Coke and Pepsi.
In Las Vegas (where I live now), I can only find it in 20-ounce bottles at Nellis Air Force Base.
If you can’t find it near you, you can buy Big Red on Amazon.
Big Red has a total cult following, and it’s especially popular with BBQ. Even Big Moe Cason agrees.
Big Red has expanded to include Big Peach, Big Pineapple and Big Blue, which tastes like cotton candy.
- Eye of Round Roast: This is my preferred cut of beef for making beef jerky. It yields perfect results every time.
- Big Red Soda
- Soy Sauce
- Chipotles in Adobo Sauce: Chipotles are smoked jalapenos. You’ll find them in cans with adobo sauce in the Hispanic food aisle of your grocery store. They have a slight heat, but it balances with the sweet soda, so it’s not too spicy.
- Brown Sugar: Light or dark is fine.
- Salt Pepper Garlic: I use a pre-made blend of these three spices. You can also make your own mix of kosher salt, coarse-ground black pepper and granulated garlic or garlic powder
- Pink Curing Salt: Also called prague powder #1. This is a sodium nitrite that helps preserve the jerky, so it lasts longer.
Substitutions: If you can't find Big Red, substitute red cream soda. If you can't find an eye of round roast, you can use a top round roast, London broil or other lean cut of beef.
See the full recipe card below for servings and a full list of ingredients.
How to make your own beef jerky
- STEP ONE: Chill the eye of round in the freezer for 30 minutes. This will make it easier to slice. Using your meat slicer, shave it into 1/8-inch thick slices.
PRO TIP: If you don't have a meat slicer, use a very sharp knife and slice it as thin as you can. Or talk to your local butcher and ask them to slice it for you.
- STEP TWO: Combine the marinade ingredients in a large bowl. Place the thinly sliced meat in a large zip-top bag. Then, pour the marinade inside. Press out all of the air, seal and refrigerate for 24 hours.
- STEP THREE: After 24 hours, remove each slice from the liquid. Place on a paper towel-lined sheet pan in a single layer. Pat dry with more paper towels. You’ll end up with about four sheet pans worth of jerky.
PRO TIP: You can smoke it right away at this point, but I prefer to leave it uncovered in the refrigerator for one more day. It helps with the drying process.
- STEP FOUR: Heat your smoker to 200F degrees with indirect heat. Place the slices on mesh grill mats or wire racks and place the mats on the smoker. Smoke for 1 hour and 15 minutes.
Ninja Grill Tip: If you have a Ninja Grill, set the function to dehydrate and the temperature to 180F. You can add pellets and woodfire flavor, if you like. Place the pieces in a single layer in the air crisper basket and cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes. You'll need to cook this in several batches.
- STEP FIVE: After 1 hour and 15 minutes, the jerky pieces will darken and become firm.
How to serve beef jerky
Congrats! You just made Big Red beef jerky. You can eat it right away or save it and serve it up at your next tailgate.
Homemade beef jerky also makes great gifts.
To be on the safe side, I always store my beef jerky in an airtight container in the refrigerator. It will last for 1-2 weeks.
Because this recipe uses pink curing salt and we’ve removed most of the moisture, you can also vacuum pack it and store it in a cool dark place like a pantry for a few months.
You must remove as much air as possible. If you start to see any signs of moisture in the bag, it’s best to discard it, because that will lead to bacterial growth.
Also, once a bag is opened, it should be eaten in 3-5 days and stored in the fridge.
GCG Pro Pitmaster Tips
- Slice your beef into 1/8-inch thick slices
- Marinate the beef slices for 24 hours, so they absorb all the flavors
- Let the slices air dry for one more day in the fridge on paper towel-lined sheet pans to remove more moisture
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes. If you prefer to use more natural ingredients and omit the sodium nitrite, you definitely can. The curing salt helps with preservation. If you don’t use them, only store the jerky in the fridge.
Beef jerky is made with a lean cut of meat, but it also includes sugars and salt, so it should be eaten in moderation, especially if you’re counting calories.
Some great options for low sugar jerky is to use Big Red Zero Sugar or reduce the amount of brown sugar in the recipe.
To reduce the salt, use low-sodium soy sauce and omit the pink curing salt.
When you make homemade beef jerky, it’s a good idea to store it in the fridge.
Commercial beef jerky factories have the ability to test moisture content to ensure their product can be stored at room temperature. We don’t have those same tools at home.
After one hour on the smoker, start checking on your jerky. For more tender jerky, it should be firm, but a little pliable and should start darkening around the edges. This usually happens at the 1 hour and 15 minute mark.
Every grill has hot spots, so you may need to rotate the racks throughout the cook.
Want even more great grilling recipes and tips? Subscribe to my newsletter and follow me on Facebook, Instagram and TikTok for my latest grilling adventures. If you make a recipe, I’d love for your to leave a comment and rating below. Thanks.
Big Red and Chipotle Beef Jerky
- 2 1/2 lbs eye of round roast, thinly sliced
- 20 oz Big Red soda
- 1 cup soy sauce
- 7 oz canned chipotles in adobo sauce
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1 tsp salt, pepper, garlic blend (SPG)
- 1/2 tsp pink curing salt , #1
- Trim: Trim fat and silver skin off the roast. Discard. Freeze the roast for 30 minutes.
- Make Marinade: Combine the Big Red, soy sauce, chipotles with sauce, brown sugar, SPG and curing salt in a large bowl.
- Marinate: Slice the eye of round roast into 1/8-inch thick slices. Place in a large zip-top bag. Pour in the marinade. Seal, removing excess air. Refrigerate for 24 hours.
- Dry: Remove each piece of meat from the marinade. Place on paper towel-lined sheet pans in a single layer. Pat the tops dry with paper towels. Although not required, for best results, refrigerate uncovered for one more day.
- Smoke: Heat your smoker to 200F degrees. Place the meat on jerky mats or racks. Smoke for 1 hour and 15 minutes to 1 hour and 30 minutes.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.