Biltong is a delicacy from South Africa. People wanted to know the history of where it came from and what it was made of. So in this post, we will cover questions like what it is, where is it from?
How can you make it the best recipe and the perfect biltong maker for your home? We will also cover the best ways to store it to last longer.
So let’s get started.
What is Biltong?
People often wonder what we eat when they see us eating this delicious treat. It is a South African cured meat made from a cut of beef called “beef silverside.”
Traditional Spices are mixed with the beef silverside consisting of salt, pepper, coarsely ground coriander, and red wine vinegar.
The meat is air-dried for five days and then ready to be eaten.
Biltong is a simple but excellent food, made from dried beef flavoured with salt, herbs and spices.Gareth van Rensburg
But do you know the history of biltong and where it comes from?
The meaning of the word biltong is made up of two Dutch words meaning “bil” which is the buttock of the animal, and “tong” which is a strip of meat.
It originated from South Africa but is now produced and sold in many countries worldwide.
It can be traced back to prehistoric times as humans learned to domesticate animals such as cows, sheep, and horses, our ancestors evolved and learned new survival techniques. Preservation was a valuable skill.
They learned to preserve fruit and vegetables and dried meat, an essential part of the daily routine and provided food in the winter months.
The Indigenous people of sub-Saharan Africa, the Khoikhoi, travelled around from settlement to settlement, finding pasture land for their livestock.
They needed to carry food with them, so they learned to preserve meat while travelling by slicing it into strips, curing it with salt and hanging it in trees to dry.
When the Dutch, French Huguenots and German settlers arrived in South Africa in the 17th, the hot climate made it essential for them to find a way to store meat without it spoiling.
They took the idea from the Khoikhoi and expanded on it by adding salt, vinegar, cloves, coriander and pepper.
These spices were abundant in the Cape Colony as the Cape of Good Hope was the halfway point for The Dutch East India Company travelling from The Netherlands to India. In addition, ships would stop at Cape Town to stock up on food, including preserved meat, to last on their long voyages.
As more people came to Cape Town, there was a need for people to move north into the space of the open country.
This journey became known as the “Great Trek.”
The Voortrekkers prepared for these long trips by hunting. As the hunters went out to hunt in the mornings, they found Wild game like kudu, impala or springboks, which they shot and used to make biltong and hung out to dry.
This made it perfect to be stored while they were travelling for long periods at a time. They preserved the meat in wooden barrels on their ox wagons.
This helped them to have food supplies for the long journeys that they took. At night they sat by their campsite fires telling stories and eating tong, even as the fire embers died down, the stories continued.
While the Khoikhoi were finding ways to preserve meat, the Quechan Indians from the South American Native tribe, which was from the ancient Inca empire, were also preserving meat and called it charqui.
When the Spanish arrived in North America, they realised this was a great way to preserve meat, and the name became jerky.
Jerky was consumed by the early pioneers and cowboys as it lasted long and was full of protein. This became one of North America’s favourite snacks.
How Does Biltong Differ from Beef Jerky?
The difference between biltong and beef jerky is the way it is made.
The process starts the same, but with jerky, the meat is sliced thinner than biltong. All the fat is removed, so the jerky will not spoil prematurely.
The meat is then flavoured. People have their recipes, but most use either marinades or brine. Salt, spicers and sugars can be added as well.
What Meat Can You Use to Make Jerky?
You can even use meat to make lean jerky as fat shortens the shelf life.
You can make jerky from almost any meat. We have listed the most common meats below.
- Wild Boar
- Sheep, including lamb or mutton
The jerky is then placed onto racks where it is cooked at 160 degrees Fahrenheit for meat and 165 degrees for poultry. You can also use a dehydrator, smokers or ovens to make your jerky.
The jerky is ready when it reaches a moisture protein level of 0.75 to 1 and a water activity of less than 0.85.
Jerky is packed in vacuumed sealed bags so no moisture can enter the packet otherwise, it spoils quickly.
When you make biltong, you don’t cook the meat like Jerky. Instead, you use the air to dry it. This means that biltong takes longer before it is ready to eat.
People often ask me the following questions once they know what biltong is and what it is made from. Is it healthy for you? So we have detailed the benefits for you to see yourself.
Is Biltong Healthy For You
Biltong is made from beef with 60g of protein per 100g of biltong.
When biltong is made, it starts at 200g, but when it dries, it only weighs 100g.
All the protein remains in the biltong, so you are getting double the amount of protein in half the serving.
There are 325 Calories in 100g of beef biltong. It is a high-protein snack that will help you lose weight.
Biltong is low in fat, with just 5g for every 100g serving.
It contains vitamins and minerals, including vitamin B12 which makes red blood cells and keeps your nervous system healthy.
It is full of magnesium, iron and zinc.
Weight loss diets use it as it can suppress your appetite. However, being full of protein also keeps you full for longer.
Eating biltong in moderation is healthy. First, check to see if your biltong is good quality. If buying from a biltong shop or buying meat to make biltong, look at where the meat comes from. If you can buy pasture-fed beef.
This means the cows were fed from pastures containing grasses, wildflowers and herbs. The meat will be of a higher quality.
Can You Eat Biltong When Pregnant?
Biltong cravings are normal amongst pregnant moms. But is it safe to eat while you are pregnant?
As we know, eating biltong has many benefits: it is full of protein, low in fat, and full of vitamins and minerals. It keeps you fuller longer and builds healthy red blood cells, and looks after your nervous system.
There are some risks, though; although biltong is made in a controlled environment, it is not cooked, which means it could contain a bacteria called Listeria.
Listeria is found in chilled ready-to-eat foods like cured meat, sliced ham, and cooked shellfish. It can even occur in blue cheese.
The most common symptoms of Listeria are
- muscle aches
- flu-like symptoms
These normally last 3 days. If they do last longer, you should consult your doctor.
However, people with weakened immune systems, the elderly and pregnant women and their unborn babies are more susceptible to this bacteria.
There have been 200 cases of Listeria out of nearly 4 million pregnancies every year in America. So becoming ill with Listeria is fairly low.
For your peace of mind, I recommend you consult with your local doctor to fully understand the risks and benefits to make up your mind about whether you can eat biltong while pregnant.
How To Make Biltong
Learning how to make biltong at home is easy and a fantastic way to spend time with your family and highly rewarding.
Once you know how to make it, you have learned a lifelong skill that you can use anywhere in the world.
This guide is a step-by-step process on how I make biltong at home during the year. Once I perfected my recipe, I hardly ever buy biltong as I can plan my week and timing to know precisely when my biltong will be ready.
The process starts with meat selection. I like to use beef silverside. You can also use Wagyu beef. I prefer to buy a silverside roasting joint and cut that up as it gives me enough biltong to last for a few days.
Cutting the Silverside
To make biltong in this recipe, I will use beef silverside. This will make 4 biltong sticks enough for a week’s supply.
I cut the silverside joint exactly one thumb width apart, and with the grain, this isn’t too thick, and in the UK, it allows for faster drying times. Cutting with the grain gives you nice-looking biltong with smooth sides.
Spray Vinegar On Meat
After cutting the meat, I lay it side by side in a dish and spray it with vinegar. I use a spray bottle with vinegar as it is easier to coat the meat, and the meat is not drenched in vinegar.
I then turn the meat around and spray the other side too. This is an important step as coating the meat with vinegar stops mould forming.
While the meat is resting, I roast some coriander in a frying pan until it turns light brown, I then crush it in my pestle and mortar.
I use Crown National biltong spice for my biltong mix. I use 45g/kg, so I used 135g of biltong spice for this mix. I mixed the crushed coriander and the biltong spice.
Spice All The Meat
I put the spice mix in a small cup and spread it over the biltong, covering all the meat.
I turned the meat over and covered it with more spice on the other side.
Let the Meat Marinate
I let the meat rest for 8 hours. I turn the meat around at the 4-hour mark to let the other side marinade. I also drain excess liquid from the bowl.
You can leave the meat to marinade longer as the flavours get better the longer you leave it.
While the meat is marinating, I boil my biltong hooks to ensure they are clean and sterile. I then spray them with vinegar just before inserting them into the meat.
Finally, I put the hook through the thickest part of the meat to ensure it won’t pull through as it is drying.
Hang The Biltong To Dry
I then hang the biltong in my biltong maker and wait five days for it to be ready.
This simple biltong-making process allows my family and me time to enjoy making biltong.
The total time to make biltong is around 20 minutes, excluding leaving it to marinate for 8 hours. Then, when the biltong is ready, we use the biltong cutter to share it evenly. I hope you enjoy making biltong.
The Best Biltong Recipe
We all like tasty biltong. Using traditional biltong recipes guarantees lovely flavours. To make it, you need good quality meat.
We recommend using Silverside or Topside cuts as these cuts of beef work well. In addition, you can use game meats like kudu, impala and springbok.
Traditional Biltong Recipes
This is the best-tasting spice for the biltong recipe. It is essential to follow the instructions. You can make small changes to the recipe until you get the perfect combination that suits your taste.
I added roasted coriander seeds to my biltong spice mix to increase the flavour. I have included the instructions here on how I do this.
The width you cut the meat is essential. An effective way to measure the meat before cutting is to place your thumb on a table and push it down lightly.
Your thumb should be the width of an inch as it is pushing against the table, and this is the ideal width to cut the meat.
All the seasoning ingredients below are ones that I have personally used. Please make sure that you use a sharp knife and that the equipment used to cut and prepare the meat is sterile before use.
You can change the quantities of the ingredients to make more if required.
What Vinegar Do You Use to Make Biltong?
Depending on your preference, you can use white vinegar, brown vinegar, or cider vinegar. We prefer cider vinegar. We place the cider vinegar in a spray bottle. This makes it easy to cover the meat by spraying each side of the meat.
If you have time, this is a perfect biltong recipe. You need two bowls. You will need to spend some time roasting the coriander before you start the process.
Place the coriander in a frying pan and roast the seeds until they are light brown.
- 2kg fillet of beef
- 150ml vinegar
- 50ml Worcestershire sauce
- Two tablespoons of crushed coriander seeds
- One tablespoon of black pepper
- 500g coarse salt
- 150g brown sugar
- One teaspoon of bicarbonate soda
Take the cuts of beef and cut the meat with the grain into 5cm thick strips. Put all the silverside meat into a clean bowl and pour the vinegar and Worcestershire sauce over the meat. Mix well, covering all the meat.
In a pestle and mortar, mix the coriander seeds and pepper.
Take the meat out of the bowl of cider vinegar and Worcestershire sauce. Add the meat to a container and cover both sides of the meat with the spices, crushed coriander, salt, and brown sugar.
Leave it for 6 hours to rest in the bowl.
Turn the meat in the bowl and leave to rest for a further 6 hours.
Remove the meat from the bowl and lightly pat it down to remove excess moisture.
Insert the sterilised hooks into the thickest part of the meat and hang the meat to dry. Do not use paper clips as these rust and turn the biltong green.
Drying time takes 5 to 7 days, depending on the climate you are in. The airflow should be able to flow around the meat in the box, and no meat should be touching each other as this can cause mould.
You can test the meat by squeezing it slightly to see how firm it is. Some South Africans like wet biltong, but I like slightly drier.
The longer you hang the meat, the drier it gets, depending on your climate conditions and location.
The final product will taste great; you only need a sharp knife to cut the meat and enjoy it. If you like this biltong recipe, you might also want to look at our Biltong Chutney Recipe!
Chutney Biltong Recipe
Mrs Balls Chutney gives a lovely flavour. It is easy to make if you follow the chutney biltong recipe below.
Easy To Make Chutney Biltong Recipe
Here is a picture of the biltong that I made in my biltong maker.
This picture was taken on day 3 when I just coated the meat with chutney. I didn’t spread the chutney too thick, just nice and thin to allow the biltong to dry within the 5 – 6 day period.
The spices to make chutney biltong below are per kg of meat.
- 1kg fillet or silverside of beef
- A sprinkle of vinegar to cover the meat
- 18g Salt
- 2g Pepper
- 4g roasted coriander
- 2g brown sugar
- 2 tbsp. Mrs Balls Chutney
- Put all the meat into a bowl and pour the spice and vinegar over the meat
- Mix the spice into the meat so that all the meat is covered. Put the bowl of meat in the fridge for 12 hours
- Rotate the meat at 6 hours to allow both sides to get covered in spices
- Hang the meat and make sure that none of the pieces touches each other
- Leave for three days
After day 3
- Take the meat out and cover with Mrs Balls Chutney
- Pour the chutney sauce over the meat, but do not make the coating too thick otherwise, the meat can go mouldy as it takes too long to dry
- Hang the meat to dry. Make sure there is enough space between the meat and that it is not touching, as this will cause the meat to go mouldy.
- Check after 2 days to see how the meat is progressing. If it is firm to the touch, it is ready to eat.
In conclusion, biltong is a delicious, traditional South African snack made from cured and spiced meat. It has a long history dating back to the early 17th century when Dutch settlers in South Africa needed a way to preserve meat on their long voyages. Today, biltong is enjoyed worldwide and can be made from various types of meat including beef, venison, and even ostrich.
To make biltong, the meat is cured in a mixture of vinegar, salt, and spices for a few days to a week. Then, it is hung to dry in a location with good air circulation for several days to a few weeks, depending on the desired thickness and level of drying. The result is a flavorful, protein-packed snack perfect for snacking or adding to dishes.
Are you ready to take your biltong-making skills to the next level? Our biltong maker page has everything you need to get started, including all the necessary tools and resources.
With a little patience and the right equipment, you’ll be able to enjoy delicious homemade biltong anytime you want.
So why wait?
Get started on your biltong-making journey today and visit our page for all the information you need. And don’t forget to check out our other pages for tips on making boerewors, droewors, and storing biltong. Plus, be sure to check out our biltong cutter page for the best tools to help you get the perfect slice every time. Happy biltong-making!