Lugging a slow-cooked brisket along the Appalachian Trail is cumbersome, to say the least.
But its flavor and protein count are ideal for long-distance hiking, so Charleston specialty food producer Jimmy Hagood more than a decade ago got to wondering whether he could apply his barbecue acumen to a trail-appropriate snack.
He started experimenting with venison in advance of an Appalachian Trail outing, and eventually refined a smoked beef jerky. A version modified for retail sale is slated for wide release this week.
“I’m really pleased with the result because this is better than when I was actually making it on my own,” Hagood says of his BlackJack Beef Jerky. “When you open the bag, you smell smoke.”
Hagood clarifies that the distinctive aroma isn’t boosted by liquid smoke" “Liquid smoke is the bane of my existence.” Instead, the charcoal smoke which dries the top round (a task usually handled by a dehydrator) is supported by a marinade featuring cane syrup and a proprietary barbecue rub.
“We’re trying to take a product that’s looked down upon as a tasteless, tough commercial product that you find in truck stops to a level where it has flavor to it,” he says.
During the development process, Hagood says his wife urged him to hurry up in order to take advantage of the enormous surge in jerky demand. But he assured her that the uniqueness of his jerky would be more pronounced once the market was flooded with lesser products. Plus, it took him about two years to find a USDA-approved facility which could make the jerky to his specifications in large quantities.
BlackJack Beef Jerky is considered a “wet jerky,” which means it has more moisture and chew than the kind of jerky associated with cowboys and backroads service stations. Hagood says it was designed to “appeal to the five senses.”
It also appeals to Hagood’s sense of accomplishment. He and his son have already logged 350 miles of the Appalachian Trail, but he’s hoping to return to it with BlackJack Beef Jerky in his pack.
“I’ll throw something out in order to have this,” he says.
And even though he came up with the jerky because he wanted a lightweight snack, he estimates he’ll bring one or two pounds of it on his next overnight.