Saturday, June 7, 2014

Duke's Small Batch Smoked Meats Food Review

You never know when you're going to find a new kind of jerky. I'm a meat & potatoes kind of a guy, with a vast resume of jerky consumption; so it's safe to say I know how a thing or two about beef (and pork) jerky. My latest discovery happened at the seventh annual SAVOR: An American Craft Beer & Food Experience at the National Building Museum. That's where I found Duke's Small Batch Smoked Meats, and a long line of excited foodies dozens deep. Intrigued, I slipped my card to Duke's queen of PR; and a week later, I was unwrapping a box of tasty-looking samples in my office. These folks don't mess around: They have a great product, and they're more than happy to show it off.

"There are no secrets in our kitchen and we take pride in our ability to share our ingredients and recipes with our consumers," says founder/owner Justin 'Duke' Havlick. "There’s something really special about reading ingredients on a product you love and realizing that almost every ingredient used is one you probably have in your own pantry. From our favorite cuts of meat, to using only simple ingredients and smoked meats with real, hardwood chips, we consider our craft an art. There’s a lot of love and happiness that goes into making a bag of Duke’s."

Food and love go hand in hand like... me and jerky; so it's only fitting that I take my newfound box of goodies out for a test drive. Will I finally find "true love," or is this a culinary one-night stand? Here's the verdict (11 varieties, one hungry taste tester.)

Bourbon Glaze Beef Steak Strips: Plenty tender (with a great smell to boot) but close to zero zip. There's a touch of sweet (brown sugar) but I wanted more (spicy, sweet, something.) If your idea of daring is vanilla, then Bourbon Glaze may be right up your alley. Me? I'll stick to something with more kick.

Grade: B-

Bourbon Glaze Beef Steak Strips

Chile 'n Lime Beef Steak Strips: Great flavor (more chile than lime, not spicy) but far from tender. So far in fact, I mistook it for jerky; which is perplexing, given its "tender, melt-in-your mouth" description on Duke's own website. I expected more spice too, but it's hard to argue with the chile pepper/lime combo. Treat it like jerky, and you won't be disappointed.

Grade: C+

Chile 'n Lime Beef Steak Strips

Cracked Pepper Beef Jerky: Big, bold flakes of pepper take center stage in one of Duke's spicier jerkies. Not too chunky, not too tender... Cracked Pepper has a familiar texture with plenty of kick: You definitely taste the dried onion & vinegar too. Good everyday choice for folks who like their jerky spicy.

Grade: B

Cracked Pepper Beef Jerky

Honey Bourbon Beef Jerky: Duke's Honey Bourbon is a lot more tender than other jerkies, so I was immediately on board after bite #1. It's also noticeably sweet (not quite a dessert, but close) and hands down, the best tasting jerky in Duke's impressive arsenal. Sometimes, you're just not in the mood for spicy... Enter Honey Bourbon to the rescue!

Grade: B+

Honey Bourbon Beef Jerky

Hot & Spicy "Shorty" Smoked Sausages: "Winner, winner chicken pork dinner!" I imagine even Charlie Sheen would agree, Duke's Hot & Spicy "Shorties" are near the top of a fine lot. If you find the Original "Shorty," too sweet, then these Shorties are for you. Trouble is, they may be too spicy for some/most. My first few... pure delight; but after a while, the heat starts to build (think The Towering Inferno... obscure 70's reference: Just how old am I?)

Grade: B+

Hot & Spicy "Shorty" Smoked Sausages

Island Teriyaki Beef Jerky: I suspect if one were on the Big Island of Hawaii, they'd want to have a bag of Duke's Island Teriyaki close at hand. Fruity-sweet with a slight, smoky kick at the end, this tender jerky is perfect for everyday use: It's certainly the lightest tasting I've tried. It's also nowhere near as sweet as Duke's Honey Bourbon, so feel free to "dive in."

Grade: B

Island Teriyaki Beef Jerky

Original "Shorty" Smoked Sausages: I like Slim Jims, but Duke's "Shorties" are plumper and sweeter with just enough kick to keep things interesting. They're also all-pork, and slow cured over hardwood smoke for a week. If you like mild beef snacks, look no further. Me? I like them best of all. Note to Duke's: Any chance for beef "Shorties?"

Grade: A

Original "Shorty" Smoked Sausages

Roasted Cayenne Beef Jerky: You can thank Frank's Redhot Cayenne Pepper Sauce for delivering a burst of fiery heat to Duke's thick and chewy jerky. Not convinced? Keep an eye out for visible red pepper flakes... one more reason Roasted Cayenne Beef Jerky is one of the hottest jerkies out there.

Grade: B

Roasted Cayenne Beef Jerky

Spicy Bar-B-Q Beef Brisket Strips: I thought I loved jerky, but Duke's steak strips are way better. They're super tender with an initially strong spicy flavor that dies off quickly, leaving little to no after burn. Tender + spicy = one of my favorites.

Grade: B+

Spicy Bar-B-Q Beef Brisket Strips

Sweet Bar-B-Q Braised Pork Strips: The Sweet Taste of Success. Braised Pork narrowly edges out its Spicy Beef Brisket counterpart for the unofficial title of "Doug's best strips." Love the sweetness... so much so, I ran out to buy a bottle of Stubb’s® Smokey Mesquite Bar-B-Q Sauce to slather on everything. Yum.

Grade: B+

Sweet Bar-B-Q Braised Pork Strips