Saturday, January 31, 2009

Big John's Beef Jerky - BBQ

Big John's Beef Jerky - BBQLast week I posted a review for Big John's Beef Jerky - Original, and gave it a "best" rating. I wanted to follow up with a review of their BBQ variety. The Big John's brand belongs to SME Foods, LLC out of York, PA.

It's run by a husband and wife team of Bill & Renee Lenzer, who met each other while working for Pizza Hut. Renee's father John was a jerky aficionado and developed a killer recipe. Bill, on the other hand, never cared much for jerky until he tried his father-in-law's stuff. That's when he became a fan, and came up with the idea of turning it into a business. Big John's Beef Jerky has been around since 2002, and is growing quickly.

The company smokes their jerky over hickory wood chips for a full 14 hours, and also offers a "Fiery Hot" and "Teriyaki" varieties.


Beef, water, BBQ seasoning (sugar, salt, dehydrated onion, dehydrated garlic, spices, molasses, monosodium glutamate, paprika, natural hickory smoke flavoring (maltodextrin, natural hickory smoke flavoring), citric acid), salt, sodium nitrite.

Sprayed with potassium sorbate to maintain freshness.


The tastes I pick up from the surface of these pieces is a smokiness, just a slight bit of sweet, and a slight garlic taste. In the chewing, I get some natural meat flavors, a little more sweetness, and some saltiness.

If I were to chew a piece immediately after putting it into my mouth, what I get is a slight smokiness, and a weaker natural meat flavor, and some salitness.

I think it's actually best to bite off a piece, suck it a little for a few seconds, chew it lightly a few times, suck out some more flavor, and repeat. I get the most flavor and enjoyment that way.

So, does this BBQ variety have any BBQ-like taste? Well, yes, the seasoning on the surface does have that spicy flavor you tend to find on BBQ potato chips. It's mostly on the surface that I taste it. Some pieces have more of this orange-colored seasoning than others, and provides a stronger taste. I don't really taste this flavor in the chewing, unless I chew a piece right away.

Overall, I think the dominant flavor of this jerky is the natural meat flavors. Just as with Big John's original variety I'm getting a smoky tasting, yet smooth and mellow flavored meat. Some of these pieces have small streaks of fat, which I think actually enhances the meat flavor.

I'm getting a moderate-level black pepper aftertaste though black pepper is not mentioned in the ingredients, and I don't really see any visible bits of it either.

The second-most dominant flavor of this jerky is probably that BBQ seasoning. But because some pieces have more seasoning than others, I tend to taste some components of the seasoning in varying degrees. With the lighter sprinkled pieces I tend to taste more of the sweet than anything else. The heavier sprinkled pieces taste more like the BBQ seasoning you'd find on potato chips.

The third-most dominant flavor perhaps goes to the saltiness. It's probably moderate at best in intensity, though I can see someone else saying it's lightly salty. The nutrition facts actually shows a higher volume of sodium than compared to the original variety, but I don't really notice it any more.

Between this BBQ variety and the original variety, I definitely prefer the original variety. I think the spicy sharp black pepper taste of the original contrasts very well against the smooth, mellow, and almost buttery meat flavor. This BBQ seasoning is not able to provide much contrast, and I think there's a heavier sweetness in here that is masking over the meat flavors.

Meat Consistency

These appear to be strips of whole meat, sliced to a medium thickness, and in lengths between 3 to 6 inches.

These pieces have a fair amount of moisture, yet still somewhat dry. They have a good deal of flexibility if bent and don't crack or break at all. Biting off a piece is fairly easy; I tend to pierce it with my canine incisors, and then grip it with my molars and pull apart.

The chewing texture is very meat-like. Once it hydrates it in my mouth, and I chew it down some, it starts to feel like eating a piece of steak. The first few chews have some rubbery resistance, but the meat fibers separate quickly and easily.

It's actually clean eating, I don't really pick up too much seasoning or residue on my fingers, and don't really find any fragments falling on my lap or desk.

I do find bits of fat on several pieces, but I didn't find anything spoiling the taste of the meat. I'm also finding some unchewable wads of connective tissue remaining in my mouth with some pieces. I didn't find any gristle.

Snack Value

I paid $5.75 for this 4 ounce bag from Big John's website, which works out to a price of $1.44 per ounce, putting this into the average price range. This price includes the shipping.

For general jerky snacking purposes, at this price, this has an excellent value. I get a great deal of snackability primarily from its smoky meat flavor and great chewing texture. You don't normally find jerky with such a great meat flavor and a good chewing texture and priced this low.

As a BBQ variety, again at this price, it's a good value. You'll get some BBQ flavor, but not something that knocks out a strong BBQ flavor. It's like Big John's took their original variety, removed all the black pepper, and replaced it with some BBQ seasoning. The $1.44 price per ounce keeps things within reason.


I'm giving this a good rating.

This BBQ variety from Big John's gives you a great tasting, smoky, meat flavor, with the BBQ seasoning thrown in for color. With some pieces having more seasoning than others, it tends to range from a burst of sweet-garlic BBQ flavor, to just a slight BBQ subtlety.

You'll also enjoy the chewing texture which feels like real meat instead of the crumbly, gummy, or mushy stuff you tend to find in the mass-market brands.

All that kept me from going to the "best" rating is that I wasn't really thrilled, or "wowed" by the BBQ seasoning. It's still a tasty jerky overall mind you, it just didn't blow my socks off enough to get it to that top rating. I think it's sweetness may have actually masked some of the natural meat flavors.

It's got a good deal of flavor intensity in every bite, and a moderate level flavor complexity.

I'd try some kind of medium bodied, medium-flavored, reddish ale, with this jerky.

Rating: Good

Buy this online:


  1. For what it's worth, I've tried Big John's Original, Teriyaki, and BBQ, and love the BBQ the most by far, while my husband thinks it's too sweet, and is all about the Teriyaki. So you might want to try the Teriyaki, which tastes very true to it's name, and is a bit sweeter then the original flavor with a nice "tang". We love the company though, it always ships out very fast, it's an amazing value for the quality, and they really seem to value their customers (have "loyalty rewards", etc.).

  2. I was a little disappointed with the BBQ flavor because I thought it was too lightly flavored. The quality of the meat and the texture was great, as always with Big John's, but I was expecting more BBQ flavor (same with the Teriyaki, actually). Maybe by itself it is great, but I tasted it against the Original and the Original low-sodium in a show-down with several friends, and every single person there chose either the Original or the low-sodium as their favorite.

  3. I've been ordering their beef jerky for years but I had to stop because I kept finding huge wads of fat connected to the jerky to the point where it's ruining the taste. They either started to use lower quality meat or somebody isn't cutting the fat off like they are supposed to. When I contacted them about it, the essentially said "Sorry! We're not using lower quality meat." No offer for a refund or replacement and no guarantee the quality will go back to normal. It's sad because the experience caused them to lose a long time customer.

  4. I'm the jerky neophyte who wrote a couple of weeks ago to thank you for the guidance your site provided. My initial orders (5 companies rated "Best" for one or more varieties) are coming in and I've got a spreadsheet to help me keep track! I tried Big John's because the Original got a "Best" and they're from neighboring PA.

    I've discovered I like a dryer jerky with very meaty flavor and Big John's delivers on both counts! I ordered a large sampler to try the various flavors and styles Big John's offers. I've loved each of them.

    From me, the BBQ gets a "Best" rating. The BBQ flavorings are subtle, so I do understand your knock down to "Good." If someone is looking primarily for big BBQ taste, this isn't it. That said, I personally find I like the light BBQ as it doesn't mask the meaty flavor. (This is true for the Teriyaki flavor, as well.) The natural smoke for all the flavors simply rocks!

    Big John's now offers "Fiery" versions of the BBQ, Teriyaki and Original flavors that you might enjoy. I found the heat quite pleasant and it built as the bag was consumed (although it never achieved "fiery" for my tastebuds) and the meatiness still came through.

    Love the strips for easy snacking - it is very "clean" jerky both fingertip and fragment wise. Try the 1/4" slabs sometime. There's an elemental pleasure to ripping a strip off with your teeth and then chewing a hunk off of the strip. At first I wasn't too pleased, but the satisfaction of manhandling my jerky sort of crept up on me. I agree that, with both the strips and slab, the jerky is best enjoyed with some pause for sucking to let it rehydrate. Just a little sucking really brings out the meaty flavors.

    I've gone through over a pound of Big John's and have not encountered the fat issue to which Mr. Martin refers. Both the slabs and the strips have been remarkably fat and connective tissue free.

    Delivery time was excellent at 3 days, even during the holiday season.