People sometimes refer to biltong and beef jerky interchangeably, and admittedly, they have some similarities. Usually, biltong is cured in larger slabs of meat, whereas jerky is cured in strips. Biltong retains a little moisture, which some people think may shorten its shelf life, but we’ll return to that point at the end of the recipe.
The other difference between jerky and biltong is that traditional biltong is sometimes made with the fat of the meat intact, whereas jerky or biltong that you intend to store for a decent length of time, without refrigerating, needs to be made with lean meat.
Ultimately, making biltong means that you can safely store meat in a really delicious, spicy way.
- 4.4 lbs (2kg) lean beef or other red meat or game. Bear in mind that lamb doesn’t work well as biltong.
- 3 cups very coarse sea salt
- 2 cups soft brown sugar
- 1 scant teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (optional)
- 2 tablespoons coarsely ground or crushed black peppercorns
- 4 tablespoons of coarsely crushed or ground coriander seeds
- 5 cups brown/balsamic vinegar combined with 100 ml Worcestershire sauce, or all vinegar
- Cutting along the grain – not against it – slice the meat into slabs around 1 cm thick,then lay in the vinegar mix for 30 minutes. Keep the vinegar in the refrigerator, as you’ll need it later.
- Meanwhile, crush the spices and mix with the salt, sugar and bicarbonate of soda (if using) before sprinkling evenly onto a plate.
- Press the slices of meat into the spice and salt mixture to coat thoroughly.
- Placing the thicker slices in the base, layer the meat in a clean dish, pressing any remaining spice mixture on top of the final layer. Refrigerate for 8 – 12 hours, turning the slices at the halfway point.
- Remove and place in the vinegar bath again, this time for 15 minutes. Take the meat out of the vinegar, trying to rinse each piece in the vinegar solution as you do so, and leave as much of the salt behind as possible.
- Squeeze each piece of meat to extract as much moisture as possible.
Now when it comes to drying biltong, you have a few options.
If you own a dehydrator, then check the manufacturer’s instructions on drying meat, as models do vary. You can also try drying in a very low fan oven, opening the door regularly to allow moisture to escape, for around 6 – 8 hours. Suspending the pieces of biltong from the highest oven shelf, using skewers threaded through each piece of meat, works well.
If you don’t live in a humid area, and you have somewhere that is free of flies, isn’t open to passing birds and has good air circulation, then dry the biltong in the traditional way, hanging it on meat hooks (strong, covered large paperclips work too) for between 5 – 15 days. You’ll have to keep checking the moisture content, and the drying times will vary greatly.
If you do get a spoiled piece of meat, then the chances are that the others will be fine, so don’t lose heart.
A good rule of thumb is the drier the meat, the longer it will last as the lack of moisture will inhibit microbial action. Fat can cause it to go rancid, which is why lean meat works better for prepping purposes.
You can of course keep your biltong in the fridge; but at a cool room temperature, properly dried and stored biltong should be good to eat for anything from two months to a year. Moisture is the enemy, so make sure the meat is dry, wrapped in clean, breathable paper and kept in a well-ventilated place.
Once you have the basic technique down then experiment with other flavors and spices that you like. Dried chilies, teriyaki seasoning and garlic powder are popular.
The Truth About Biltong
As with so many well-traveled and traditional recipes, there’ll always be firmly held opinions on what’s right and wrong, but the one thing that seems to be true of all biltong recipes is that the delicious results never seem to hang around for as long as planned!
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