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The Best Dried Meat: Jerky or Biltong?

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August 07, 2012

The Best Dried Meat: Jerky or Biltong?

By David Draper

Of all the great food I got to experience during my recent trip to South Africa, the one I was most excited for was biltong. Anyone who’s been to Africa raves about the stuff, which is made from strips of beef or game meat covered in spices and hung to dry for several days. Over there, you can find biltong made from everything from beef to kudu to ostrich, sold right alongside the chips and candy bars in convenience stores. Though similar to what we Americans call jerky, biltong is a bit of a different animal, as South Africans are quick to point out.

Chief among the differences is the relative absence of heat used to make biltong. While most jerky is “cooked” in a dehydrator or low-temperature for over 6 to 12 hours, biltong is traditionally air dried for up to a week, either by hanging it outside in a breezy location or in what’s called a biltong box.

I found several plans online for making biltong boxes out of everything from cardboard to particleboard, as well as shops selling premade plastic boxes. In place of a heating element, most feature a low-watt light bulb to create a convection effect that allows warmer air to rise up across the hanging meat. Others call for a small fan to blow air on the meat to dry it evenly. (There is a faction of biltong makers that use dehydrators to speed up the drying process, though traditionalists cry heresy at this.)

One thing that is not debated in making biltong is the use of vinegar, though the type seems to be a matter of personal preference. Most recipes I’ve come across call for white or brown vinegar, though stateside, some biltong makers use apple cider vinegar. The vinegar works both as a curing agent to prevent mold growth and, along with another biltong staple, coriander, helps keep flies off the meat as it dries.

In the coming weeks, I’m going to try to make a batch of biltong using some venison roasts I’ve been saving for just such a project. I probably won’t go so far as building a biltong box just yet, but will either try it in my dehydrator or Little Chief smoker, which typically runs at a pretty low temperature. If I’m feeling brave, I may even hang a few strips outside or in the attic with a fan blowing across them.

Before I undertake the endeavor, do any of you have any experience making biltong? And if so, any helpful tips you care to share with the rest of us?

Comments (17)

Top Rated
All Comments
from Greenhead wrote 1 year 36 weeks ago

I have made it several times with a homemade biltong box, using a cardboard box and lightbulb. It worked great, very simple. I was a little squimish about the whole no-heat thing, so I did a brief brine with Morton's Tender Quick first. I am not sure it was necessary, but it made me feel better.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Jerry A. wrote 1 year 36 weeks ago

Alton Brown (from Good Eats on Food Network)did something like that. He used furnace filters made from cellulose, put the meat slices between between two of them, the bungie corded them onto a box fan and let it run. He said only to use cellulose furnace filters.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Quinton Schmelz... wrote 1 year 36 weeks ago

I make biltong the way my grandpa taught me (who grew up and spend his adult life among the Boers) Makes the best biltong I have ever tasted. (if anyone wants the method, respond below with an email address)

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Gtbigsky wrote 1 year 36 weeks ago

So biltong is cured in spices, vinegar and salts? it sounds a lot like charcuterie. Done properly in a dry ventilated area im sure it would turn out well. Sounds good. Please post your results.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from kaanimal wrote 1 year 36 weeks ago

I'm game! Quinton, please post your method. Sounds like the real deal!

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Greenhead wrote 1 year 36 weeks ago

Quinton, I would love to see the recipe. You can hit me at GreenheadFS@gmail.com

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Michael Yonts wrote 1 year 35 weeks ago

I'm not sure where Alton got his idea from, but I made one of those several years ago and it works great. Vinegar, coriander, salt, and garlic are ESSENTIAL if you are going to air dry your meat. These will keep flies and the microorganisms they carry away from the bounty. I used to live in South Africa and ate biltong almost daily. I tried everything from Elephant and warthog to kudu and springbok. Most I found a little gamey and oily for my taste. My favorite of all time was the ostrich biltong. That stuff is fantastic! Better by far than beef or venison jerky.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Michael Yonts wrote 1 year 35 weeks ago

Incidentally, the ostrich biltong was made from vinegar, salt, garlic (not much), and whole seed coriander (lots).

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from jh45gun wrote 1 year 35 weeks ago

Back years ago when I was young and must have read a article in one of the sporting magazines about jerky I took a board and nailed longer nails through to the other side nailed that up in the rafters of the basement and dried some jerky by hanging the strips up on the nails .Worked fine and it was good too. Now days I used a dehydrator.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from hennies wrote 1 year 35 weeks ago

BILTONG!!!
Not sure about the garlic in the "core" recipe. Most of the recipes in South Africa don't use garlic. The core consists of salt, pepper, coriander (coarse grinded) and vinegar.
We definitely have variants. Various grades of "chilli", and I am sure there are garlic versions out there.
Another big difference between biltong and jerky not mentioned in the posts above: Biltong is made from prime cuts of meat in most cases. Many hunters in SA will hunt just to make "biltong". Some will take steaks and make sausage, but the primary objective of meat hunters in SA is to make biltong. In the US my experience has been different. Jerky is a "secondary" product.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Blue Ox wrote 1 year 35 weeks ago

Jerky vs. Biltong!
This sounds like the ultimate food fight friday!

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Jim Bear wrote 1 year 35 weeks ago

Feel free to send me the recipe as well Quinton. james.m.morin@gmail.com

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from diegfris wrote 1 year 35 weeks ago

quinton smelz pls send method for biltong
diegfris@yahoo.com....thx

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Don Milosch wrote 1 year 35 weeks ago

In ten days in South Africa I tried lots of different Biltong. Most was sliced very thin, but some was prepared like a whole loin, and we cut slices off and ate with crackers. Some of the older guys ate grits and biltong for breakfast. Lots of options out there I suppose.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Poposdad wrote 1 year 35 weeks ago

Quinton, I'd love to get that recipe please!
propellermonkey1957@gmail.com

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from idahoelkandflyguy wrote 1 year 35 weeks ago

Quinton: I too would LOVE to have your biltong recipe. I'll some up for an Elk hunt next month

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Yoni Jon Harris wrote 34 weeks 12 hours ago

Hey guys I run marketing campaigns for a USA creator of biltong, JoburgKosher.com, and wanted to point out that - from my understanding - biltong is a lot healthier than jerky.

A large part of that is the vastly more salt in Jerky. Our biltong in particular doesn't have nitrates nor nitrites nor any other preservatives.

Have you guys heard similar regarding the health benefits?

0 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment

from Quinton Schmelz... wrote 1 year 36 weeks ago

I make biltong the way my grandpa taught me (who grew up and spend his adult life among the Boers) Makes the best biltong I have ever tasted. (if anyone wants the method, respond below with an email address)

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Greenhead wrote 1 year 36 weeks ago

I have made it several times with a homemade biltong box, using a cardboard box and lightbulb. It worked great, very simple. I was a little squimish about the whole no-heat thing, so I did a brief brine with Morton's Tender Quick first. I am not sure it was necessary, but it made me feel better.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Jerry A. wrote 1 year 36 weeks ago

Alton Brown (from Good Eats on Food Network)did something like that. He used furnace filters made from cellulose, put the meat slices between between two of them, the bungie corded them onto a box fan and let it run. He said only to use cellulose furnace filters.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Gtbigsky wrote 1 year 36 weeks ago

So biltong is cured in spices, vinegar and salts? it sounds a lot like charcuterie. Done properly in a dry ventilated area im sure it would turn out well. Sounds good. Please post your results.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from kaanimal wrote 1 year 36 weeks ago

I'm game! Quinton, please post your method. Sounds like the real deal!

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Greenhead wrote 1 year 36 weeks ago

Quinton, I would love to see the recipe. You can hit me at GreenheadFS@gmail.com

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Michael Yonts wrote 1 year 35 weeks ago

I'm not sure where Alton got his idea from, but I made one of those several years ago and it works great. Vinegar, coriander, salt, and garlic are ESSENTIAL if you are going to air dry your meat. These will keep flies and the microorganisms they carry away from the bounty. I used to live in South Africa and ate biltong almost daily. I tried everything from Elephant and warthog to kudu and springbok. Most I found a little gamey and oily for my taste. My favorite of all time was the ostrich biltong. That stuff is fantastic! Better by far than beef or venison jerky.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Michael Yonts wrote 1 year 35 weeks ago

Incidentally, the ostrich biltong was made from vinegar, salt, garlic (not much), and whole seed coriander (lots).

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from jh45gun wrote 1 year 35 weeks ago

Back years ago when I was young and must have read a article in one of the sporting magazines about jerky I took a board and nailed longer nails through to the other side nailed that up in the rafters of the basement and dried some jerky by hanging the strips up on the nails .Worked fine and it was good too. Now days I used a dehydrator.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from hennies wrote 1 year 35 weeks ago

BILTONG!!!
Not sure about the garlic in the "core" recipe. Most of the recipes in South Africa don't use garlic. The core consists of salt, pepper, coriander (coarse grinded) and vinegar.
We definitely have variants. Various grades of "chilli", and I am sure there are garlic versions out there.
Another big difference between biltong and jerky not mentioned in the posts above: Biltong is made from prime cuts of meat in most cases. Many hunters in SA will hunt just to make "biltong". Some will take steaks and make sausage, but the primary objective of meat hunters in SA is to make biltong. In the US my experience has been different. Jerky is a "secondary" product.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Blue Ox wrote 1 year 35 weeks ago

Jerky vs. Biltong!
This sounds like the ultimate food fight friday!

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Jim Bear wrote 1 year 35 weeks ago

Feel free to send me the recipe as well Quinton. james.m.morin@gmail.com

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from diegfris wrote 1 year 35 weeks ago

quinton smelz pls send method for biltong
diegfris@yahoo.com....thx

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Don Milosch wrote 1 year 35 weeks ago

In ten days in South Africa I tried lots of different Biltong. Most was sliced very thin, but some was prepared like a whole loin, and we cut slices off and ate with crackers. Some of the older guys ate grits and biltong for breakfast. Lots of options out there I suppose.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Poposdad wrote 1 year 35 weeks ago

Quinton, I'd love to get that recipe please!
propellermonkey1957@gmail.com

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from idahoelkandflyguy wrote 1 year 35 weeks ago

Quinton: I too would LOVE to have your biltong recipe. I'll some up for an Elk hunt next month

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Yoni Jon Harris wrote 34 weeks 12 hours ago

Hey guys I run marketing campaigns for a USA creator of biltong, JoburgKosher.com, and wanted to point out that - from my understanding - biltong is a lot healthier than jerky.

A large part of that is the vastly more salt in Jerky. Our biltong in particular doesn't have nitrates nor nitrites nor any other preservatives.

Have you guys heard similar regarding the health benefits?

0 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment