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May 5, 2007 11:42 AM

Making Biltong

Having just put my latest load of biltong-to-be in the fridge (where it sits for the next 24 hours in a marinade) I thought I'd share a simple recipe for this delicacy.

Given that various South African deli's in the US are charging $16 and up per pound for the stuff - I'm busy converting about $15 in total's worth of butcher-bought eye round, into approximately $45 - $60 dollars worth of reasonable biltong.

I'm terminally lazy, so here's the lazy method of making a totally superior-to-jerky snack (as well as an awesome way to preserve meat for long periods of time).

excuse my totally unscientific measurement methods. Given that biltong was/is being made by farmers without much in the way of hitech anything - you can't really go wrong with biltong, provided you do the 24 hour marinade. And each batch you come up with, you'll decide how to tweak ingredients and add your own bits and pieces - from chilli to garlic..

here's my lazy method:

small pinch of baking soda
splash of white vinegar and/or malt vinegar if you have it.
splash of Worcester sauce
generous pinch of ground black pepper
tiny pinch of salt
healthy big pinch of crunched up whole coriander
chunk of eye round meat

Cut it with the grain, into inch-and-a-bit thick slices.
Put meat slices into a plastic container, along with the above ingredients, and
layer the meat along with ingredients until every thing's covered.
(If you want it spicy, add chilli at this point)
Swirl it around in a few hours, mix it up so that the meat gets the ingredients.

Let it sit for 24 hours. Make some 'S' shaped wires, and select a place to hang the
stuff (you don't want any flies to have access to it)

After 24 hours

Poke holes in one end of the meat, hang the meat up (put some newspaper down to catch the initial dripping). And make sure the bits are not touching each other as they hang.
Then leave it alone.

Again, you don't want any flies or insects (or animals) to have access to the area.

The meat'll start to blacken (and thus start to become biltong) within about 2 -3 days. You'll notice it shrinking in size, this is why you made such large wedges to begin with. After about 5 days or so, you'll have fairly tasty (and totally safe) biltong to snack on.
The inside will be dark or slightly pinkish. (Some purists use salt petre (sp?) to keep the pinkness, but I couldnt be bothered..

Once you've reached the 4-5 day mark, experiment and slice off some into thin strips and nibble. The longer its left, the harder it'll become.

Get a sharp knife and start cutting it into thin slices.

For storage, plastic isn't good - apparently the stuff needs to 'breathe' somehow, so I usually slice it up and store it in brown paper bags in the fridge. It seems to keep for a long time - like weeks and months. It changes color over time, in the fridge, but I still eat it without any problems.

after thoughts:

Usually it takes me about 10-15 minutes to slice up meat, grab ingredients and mix it all up and stash it to marinade - so its not a major endevour to do.

I've heard about folks getting mold on their biltong, but have never had this problem myself. Apparently a wipe down with vinegar can kill the mold if its caught early.

Depending on whether I've gone crazy and used too much coarse black pepper, I sometimes wipe the biltong down ahead of cutting, using vinegar - and then letting it dry again, before slicing it up.

Given the US palate - be advised that biltong isn't a 'sweet' taste at all - unlike jerky, which I've noticed sometimes, to be almost sugary (in my view). I'm sure one can tweak biltong to have a sweeter component - but its a salty non-sweet taste to begin with..

Hope this is of use to folks who've either heard of biltong, or who enjoy jerky, and want to taste its superior cousin :) Or alternatively, those of you who go hunt things, and want to store meat in a tasty edible way that folks have done in South Africa for hundreds of years..

Attaching a pic of one of my biltong loads, hanging up and almost done.
Note the coloring - the two pieces on the left are 'natural' (for my partner who can't handle spicy) and the rest of the biltong pieces have a thick covering of chili, giving them a faintly orange tint (because I enjoy very very very spicy food, something that I've yet to encounter here in the US to the levels I'm used to).

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  1. EDIT.
    The 'pinch of baking soda' was a new addition for me, I tried it because according to my very South African father its to 'make the biltong softer' - but after cooking up a tiny piece of the marinading meat - and getting a nasty bitter undertaste that made me think 'hmmmm - what's this going to do to the biltong taste eventually' - I washed out the marinating meat and redid it, WITHOUT the baking soda.
    So anyone experimenting, don't do the 'pinch of baking soda' - and you'll have fairly decent biltong for certain..
    sorry about that.. D'oh.

    1. Here's a pic of the hanging meat on DAY ONE.
      (As you can see, it still looks pretty much like 'meat'. However,
      the 24 hour marinade means its NOT going to behave like any
      'normal' meat, if its simply hung up without preparation).

      2 Replies
      1. re: TheFamine

        Here's a pic of the hanging meat on DAY TWO

        (It's beginning to darken and dry out - which is exactly what
        one wants. There's no mold or anything 'icky' to worry about.
        This is precisely how things should look at this point.
        It's en route to becoming very tasty biltong.
        (Please excuse the background of coat hangers,
        I'll remove them for the next pic tomorrow :)

        NOTE: Do NOT try this with meat that you haven't marinated
        according to the above simple recipe. I would imagine that 'regular'
        meat would rapidly become spoiled if simply hung up - so this is
        the way prepared and marinaded meat behaves - NOT regular store-bought

        1. re: TheFamine

          Thanks! Keep up the updates: I'm going to await your results before I give it a try.

      2. Here's a pic of the hanging meat on DAY THREE.

        As you can see, it's almost entirely lost the 'meat' look - and its
        clearly halfway towards looking like decent biltong.

        I love the fat parts of the biltong, I've left the fat on, and its become
        a lot more visible now that the meat is turning into biltong. But obviously
        if you're not into yummy biltong-fat, then you just trim the fat off before
        you even start.

        The useful thing at this part, as it continues to dry and blacken nicely, is that it becomes harder and harder for the meat to 'spoil' in any way, ditto the worry over
        flies and bugs laying eggs - because now there's a hard exterior of biltong, and its
        the interior of the meat that's still technically 'meat'. It's fairly protected now, in other
        words. In a day or two (three at most) the internal part of the meat will have properly become biltong.

        I'll take a side view close pic of the biltong tomorrow, to show the thickness of the wedges. (If you cut your meat too thin to begin with, you'll end up with mostly pretty hard biltong of the 'snap sticks' genre. In other words its just the 'skin' of the biltong - whereas what you want is the 'skin' and the 'flesh' in combo.

        As you can see, its a pretty simple process. It had to be, in order for the original Afrikaner farmers in the 1600's and onwards, making it while journeying through Africa, and using it as a valuable source of protein.

        During the Anglo-Boer war, when the Afrikaners fought the British Empire, a pocketful of biltong was what the Boer (farmers) were mostly living on, for weeks at a time. So don't underestimate the nutritional value of the stuff.

        There's a LOT of different recipes, and every biltong maker has their own version of ingredients - but this is my basic one, which delivers fairly decent basic biltong without any frills, and which can be done fast. Obviously if you can get your hands on some butcher's 'biltong spice' it'll probably taste even better than this simple version.

        I'll add the next pix tomorrow - and keep adding, each day, all the way to the best part, the harvesting and slicing of the biltong.

        14 Replies
        1. re: TheFamine

          Thanks again. I didn't find biltong last I was in South Africa. I've always brought back dried game meats from Kenya and Ethiopia, however. Laos as well, but that meat is sweeter.

          1. re: TheFamine

            Where are you hanging your biltong? When I do duck ham I have always found the hanging a bit hit or miss in terms of whether the meat rots or dries. I think this is to do with air flow and temperature and I haven't yet nailed the combination.

            1. re: ali patts

              Okay well, I'm not sure how the flesh of duck/ham works when drying or being hung. As regards the biltong, its in this little room that I work and write in - and there's an alcove that used to be a pseudo closet (as could be seen by the coat-hangers)

              But its fairly open - although as the temperatures here in Boston are rising, I've lowered the fly screen on the window, to prevent bugs from getting at it.

              Bear in mind the stuff has sat in a fridge for 24 hours in a vinegar/salt/black pepper marinade - which probably influences how the meat behaves. I've made maybe 10 or 15 loads of biltong thus far, and no spoilage at any point.

              If you're getting irregular results, perhaps there's some sort of preparation you should do with the meat, before the hanging, to kick start your process, maybe?

              re game biltong. Mmm, love it, the African variety at least is delicious - much
              saltier than regular biltong - especially ostrich, which makes a very tasty biltong.

              1. re: TheFamine

                Here's a pic of the biltong on DAY FOUR.

                As can be seen, if one looks closely, there's almost no 'meat' look
                left to the biltong - it's uniformly black, in other words, en route to perfect biltong.

                At this point, the two pieces on the left seem to be almost ready for
                'harvesting' - slicing up and storing - and the other pieces 'feel' almost
                ready, but I'll give it another day, and then post close pix as I wade in and start the slicing up part of some of the pieces.

                I'm usually too eager and start slicing it too soon, and then have to wait a day or so for the process to continue. Technically it feels like a couple of the pieces are ready - but I'll do my first slicing on day Five.
                Understand that you can't get sick from it, if its not quite ready - because its not 'raw meat' anymore, it's 'biltong' - just very soft biltong.
                The longer one leaves it, the harder it gets - and depending on your own tastes, you can enjoy it 'wet' or 'dry' - I tend to like it somewhere between the two. So by day Five, a few pieces will be as ready as I like it - and the remainder will be good to slice up on Day Six at the latest.

                The pieces that are least ready, are the very fatty ones - as this slows down
                the transformation into biltong.

                At this point though, it's essentially biltong now - and it won't spoil or rot from here on, and the outer 'skin' is too hard to allow bugs or flies to cause any damage - except for the fatty pieces.

                And just to allay any fears - its not meat anymore, and doesn't behave like regular 'raw meat' would.

                But for hunters or the folks wanting to store meat in a useable eatable form that doesn't require any cooking, its the perfect technique.

                Tomorrow should hopefully be the slicing and nibbling day. I'll post pix.

                1. re: TheFamine

                  Dear TheFamine, I have to tell you I was really skeptical when I first saw the process in the beginning. Thank you for recording and showing us the pictures, it's really an education for me.

                  Loving good jerky and swearing to all family members that I am going to buy my own dehydrator since I keep asking for one for Christmas, birthdays and the like and not getting one, I'm pretty impressed with the method you've provided and the results so far.

                  I have not heard of biltong until now, and the fact that you grate the finished product and use it as a topping is intriquing to me as well. I have to ask, is there any smell going on while this meat is drying, and if there were to be, would that be your indicator that the meat drying process had failed?
                  I know I need to get over my squeamishness (word?) because I am so sure that if I saw how cheese and fish sauce was made I run screaming from the building. But I love those things too!
                  Bluntly putting it. How do you know it is not spoiled or would it be that obvious and the question moot?
                  And can you make biltong with a dehydrator or a slow method using a convection oven?

                  1. re: chef chicklet

                    Well, you can grate the product when its done, and use the powder, or gnaw away at big slabs of it and play caveman and eat it that way - or do the genteel thing and slice it into thin slivers and use it as the ultimate tasty snack.. A casual search online will show a lot of different ways to use the product when its ready. And everyone has their own ways of eating biltong, what kind of taste they want to give it, as well as how they use the end product. Having a tasty dried meat that doesn't spoil, and which can be incorporated into other foods, is pretty useful.
                    I've heard mention online about biltong only 'keeping' for a few weeks or a month or so - but currently, I'm still sitting with biltong in the fridge from a few months back, that's fine to eat. I think the folks in wet and damp climates have to struggle to make it and keep it.

                    Re making it with a dehydrator or convection oven. Well, if you do a search on 'biltong box' - you'll see there're a number of businesses online that are selling what they suggest is a perfect way to 'make' biltong. it usually boils down to a closed box, with a horizontal hanging rack, and a bare lightbulb, which provides some warmth and thus apparently helps dry the biltong.
                    But as you can see, depending on the climate you're in - this isn't actually needed. I suspect its more for folks in Europe, with its traditionally wet and damp weather, than for the climate in the US.

                    re smells - well the first smell you'll have is a vinegar smell, which comes from the meat having been soaking for a day in the mixture. Thereafter, that fades in a day or so, and then there's only a faint 'meat' smell - which isn't unpleasant at all - and gradually the smell of 'biltong' emerges, which is a fairly distinctive smell. Sort of a vinegar-cured meat smell, akin to the smell of the meat section in a good deli, with salami's and other dried meat products.
                    There's no real smell that would indicate spoiling - of course if you hang meat without marinating it, naturally I guess there'd be quite a vile smell within a few days - clear evidence of rotting. But biltong - if it does spoil, and I'm thinking back to occasional store-bought examples in South Africa, as I've never had any mold, rot or spoiling with my home made version - it'll be very visible as a mold on the outside of the meat.

                    From what I've read online, if its caught early enough, a good solid wipe with a vinegar-soaked cloth will take care of that. And also if its only on one piece, and you're squeamish, throw it out. One needs to understand that biltong is a SOLID thing, it's not raw meat (even though it is) - and once the process starts, the 'raw meat' interior diminishes and disappears and is replaced by the biltong, which is an almost 'soft plastic-like' texture at first, which then slowly hardens. Any mold or rot, usually appears just on the surface, and can be seen immediately. It'll look whitish, and utterly not like the various pix I've shown here.

                    Be advised that animals go CRAZY for this stuff. It seems to totally push hidden buttons in most dogs, if you give them a taste of it - and they'll turn into serious thieves, given the chance. This is normal behavior - and in South Africa, folks are used to having to hide the biltong away from animals - but here where this isn't known, you could end up having your stash demolished by a previously well-behaved cat or dog, if you don't take precautions :)

                    As I was hungry earlier, I cut a small piece off one of the hanging segments - and it was mostly 'proper' biltong, but the interior was still midway between 'meat' and 'biltong' - I'm attaching a close pic of the cut piece of biltong to show what it looks like when the process is still underway. I'll take another close pic tomorrow of the same cut segment, and you'll see how the 'meat' interior dries, blackens and turns to biltong.

                    Note on the close views, especially the very close one - how a small segment of the meat on one side of the cut has already become 'biltong' in the proper sense of the word, black in other words - whereas the remainder is still 'turning' into biltong.
                    Don't let the pinkish look fool you, its not 'raw meat' any more, its what I guess could be called 'very wet biltong'. Its quite edible at this point (which is why I cut a little bit off to nibble on) - but in another day or two at most, it'll be black, rather than pink, as it dries out further - and then it will be technically 'ready to eat biltong'. And simple to slice up, or grate or whatever.
                    I don't think the biltong can 'spoil' at this point - I would imagine the danger points are within the first 2 days mainly, as one's hanging raw meat that's been marinated - and once the flesh has hardened and dried, it becomes rapidly more difficult for any parasites, bugs or flies to contaminate the biltong-to-be.

                    1. re: TheFamine

                      Thank you again. I'm buying my meat this afternoon. Just a bit worried about the higher humidity here in Cali, Colombia.

                      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                        If you're in a seriously humid area - I've heard tell of folks putting a fan on to blow directly at the meat, which can both help with drying, as well as keeping any bugs off. I was wondering if the fridge might be a viable 'plan b' - but again, most techniques I've heard, require some airflow around the meat - so I wouldn't recommend the fridge method.

                        Experiment a bit, and maybe (as I did when I first started making my own biltong) I tried different recipes and divided the meat up into three different approaches - in order to see what seemed to work best.
                        Perhaps divide up your first load of meat, and place in different area's, to see which gives you the best result by day 3 or so?

                        Ultimately, recipe-wise, I soon realized that no matter what fiddly route I took, I'd always end up with biltong :) The only 'for certain' thing needed, is that 24 hour marinade in your fridge - as well as a stirring up of meat and spices and liquid at some point during the 24 hour period. Thereafter, hang the suckers up, and you'll get biltong.

                        Initially, I didn't marinade the meat for long enough - and ended up with a very bland-tasting biltong, so the marinade is important to give it the taste and bring out the proper flavor.
                        If you're a spicy food fan, this is the time to add whatever spices you want the end biltong to taste of.. (be careful with chili, I've been too enthusiastic in the past, and ended up with biltong that was almost unpleasantly spicy)

                        1. re: TheFamine

                          My Ethiopian friend gave me some dried game meat she brought back from home--it was too (chili) hot for her, but was great for my cooking in beans.

                      2. re: TheFamine

                        Gosh from the pictures, it almost looks like pastrami, or a procuitto doesn't it.

                        So I am going to go out on a limb here, it is not like beef jerky, where I'll have to put it under my saddle, ride on it a few days to prep it for consumption?
                        Thanks again, I am finding this hugely different and interesting.

                        I live midway Central Valley and Bay Area. We can get some really dry hot days. But lately some humidity, so I would seriously be checking the weather channel for the 5 day forecast.

                            1. re: chef chicklet

                              There used to be a road crossing with several buildings with red painted roofs, called Red Top somewhere out there near Los Banos. Anyway, the climate in Tracy should be just fine for the biltong.

                              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                Oh yes Los Banos! Tracy's weather, yes I know. Usually we have dry & high heat, but as of late humidity which we're not used to.
                                But I think I am going to give this a try since I didn't get my dehydrator. I am trying to figure out in my garage. I have a little cooking setup in the 3rd car area, and across from my husbands home gym. I've been eyeing his Smyth system, the bars are looking pretty tempting... heh heh.

            2. Hi, I spent a number of years in South Africa and tried probably at least a dozen different kinds of biltong. Think my favorites were ostrich, springbok, and kudu. I was wondering if you have ever tried making your own biltong with meat other than beef? If so how did it go?

              5 Replies
              1. re: Pablo

                No, I've only experimented with whats known in the US as 'eye round' (mainly coz that was one of the types of meat suggested on various south african forums as being an approximate equivalent to the biltong in SA).
                I have eyed various meats in supermarkets - things like bison for instance, I think its called.I haven't seen much general 'game' meats in the stores I've been in.

                I've read somewhere that 'pork/ham' type of meats don't work too well as biltong - but I'm not sure. I'd imagine that pretty much any type of animal should be able to be turned into biltong (with apologies to the vegetarians among us :)

                Thing is, biltong and biltong-making is hundreds of years old - and there are serious purists with the stuff, who say only this or that type of meat is good enough, and that the meat should be carefully stripped of sinew ahead of time, and countless other tweaks - never mind the minefield of which spices to add. There are hundreds if not thousands of different recipes, each delivering a subtly different kind of biltong. So my lazy method is a fairly simple and not especially tweaked or sophisticated version.

                But looping around - I'm pretty sure that if you have a form of meat, as long as the cuts of meat are with the grain, and that you marinade it, you'll be able to create biltong.

                Hmm, ostrich meat.. hmmm. Haven't seen that in stores anywhere (at least here in Boston) that would be an interesting experiment..

                The real thing that I wish I had the skills to do, is make the dried sausage that's sold along with biltong, known as 'droe wors' (pron. 'drewer vors' - Afrikaans for 'dry sausage') now that's a truly tasty snack.. But it'd require casings and perhaps a local butcher to mix up ingredients..

                1. re: TheFamine

                  The ostrich was good, a big salty hunk of meat you could gnaw on for hours with a nice cold mug of Castle lager! I remember those dried droewors also really enjoyed hand made boerewors sauage and lamb sosatis. No wonder the South Africans have such a high rate of heart disease, they love their meat! Thanks for your describing your method!

                  Link to droewors with pics:

                  1. re: TheFamine

                    Wow, thanks so much for posting this. I haven't had biltong in over 20 years but I loved the stuff the year I spent in South Africa--sliced thin on a hard roll with butter--lecker as they say. I love that you address the fatty slices--I like those best. I'm going to print and save your directions--I'll need to think about where I can do this and get airflow away from the cats.

                    1. re: dct

                      Okay, we're up to DAY FIVE.

                      Here's two pix. One is the overview as usual, showing the biltong.

                      If you compare the sizes of the meat in the sequential pix thus far, you'll see the gradual shrinkage that occurs, as the meat turns into biltong.
                      Usually things will shrink by anywhere from 30% to 50% of their original size. This is quite normal - but it also demonstrates why one should make reasonably thick slices of meat to begin with, otherwise you'll end up with biltong thats more 'skin' than 'flesh' (although they're the same thing) The 'skin' biltong would just be too hard and not a lot of fun to gnaw at. But again, its all about individual tastes.

                      The second pic - is a close up on the section of biltong that I cut off yesterday. Again, if you compare yesterday's pic - to todays - you can see the way that the exposed area has 'sealed' itself and continued turning into biltong. No spoiling, and it simply doesn't behave like I'd imagine untreated meat would.

                      Technically its probably almost ready - but I'm going err on the side of caution and only harvest (slice up) the stuff tomorrow. Unless of course hunger and the fun of taking pix to demonstrate the process, gets the better of me :)

                      Hope this ongoing experiment is of use - just to demonstrate that one doesn't need expensive materials, ovens or dryers, to deliver a tasty food/snack.
                      I'll update as I progress towards the final steps, and show pix detailing what the slicing looks like, and the sliced product - so that there's clear visuals covering every step of the biltong experience :)

                      I should point out that any 'debris' or 'stuff' visible on the surface of the biltong, in these close pix - are spices left from the marinade.. So its dried chili, black pepper and roughly ground up whole coriander (I was too lazy to brown the coriander).
                      Most of this excess spice will be shaken off during the cutting up, and end up at the bottom of the storage container or bag.
                      Anyway - I just thought I should mention it, in case folks wondered.
                      Next pix either later day, or tomorrow :)

                      1. re: TheFamine

                        As it got too hot and I needed a salty snack, I used up two of the pieces of biltong and sliced them up.
                        Here's a series of pix showing the slicing. My camera decided not to focus properly here and there, but it still shows the quite simple end process.
                        As you can see, they're still technically what's called 'wet' biltong - but utterly tasty and safe to eat.

                2. Thanks so much for posting this. I have visited South Africa a few times and always make a beeline for some biltong but it never really occurred to me to make my own. I suppose I was worried about the 'raw meat' factor...but as you say, if it worked for Boer farmers in the 1600s it really should be fine.
                  I'm going to give this a go!