Biltong and how to make a biltong box
As biltong is such a specialty amongst South Africans, I decided to try my hand at making my own biltong here in Arizona, even though it was the middle of summer. Traditionally biltong is made in South Africa during the cold, winter months and air-dried. I browsed the web to see the different biltong boxes used for the drying process, and made my own for under $20 – to the utter amazement of my husband. (Details follow after the recipe).
To most South Africans, biltong is a delicacy. In certain respects it can be compared to American jerky, although there are many differences. In both instances, good quality, lean meat is cured with a spice-mix before drying. Generally, jerky can be classified as ‘sweet-savory’ whereas biltong is ‘salt-savory’.
When making jerky the meat is dried, dehydrated or smoked at a low temperature (160℉), whereas biltong is traditionally air dried with no heat application. One of the main ingredients used in jerky, is sugar, versus the salt and vinegar used in biltong making.
Biltong is generally made from beef, venison or ostrich meat. Chicken is also made into biltong, but this is more recent and less common. Strips of meat are cut with the grain – the size depending on the drying facilities available. Thinner strips dry more quickly. Thick pieces of biltong have a dry exterior and moist, dark-red meat on the inside. These pieces are thinly sliced with a pocket knife or biltong cutter when eaten. Thin, smaller pieces, which dry quickly and break easily, are popular for snacks. Ostrich is usually cut into smaller, thinner pieces before curing, whereas beef and venison are cut into larger, thicker pieces.
Dehydrators or ‘biltong boxes’ are used to dry biltong on a small scale.
During the drying process, biltong will shrink and become saltier as it loses moisture. Spices such as pepper and coriander are for flavor, sugar softens the meat fibers and also gives flavor, and baking soda inhibits mold formation on the meat in very hot, humid areas. The added spice ingredients are personal and optional.
- 4 pounds top round beef
- 2 tablespoons coarse salt
- ½ teaspoon dark brown sugar
- good dash of black pepper
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- ¼ + ½ cup malt vinegar, approximately
- Following the grain, cut the meat into 7-9 long pieces.
- Mix the salt, sugar, pepper and coriander together.
- Place the meat in a suitable glass, plastic or enamel container and rub with the spice mix. Sprinkle with about ¼ cup of vinegar and arrange the smaller, thinner pieces on top.
- Cover and refrigerate overnight.
- After 12-18 hours, mix the remaining ½ cup of vinegar with 2 cups of boiling water. Dip each piece of biltong into this before hanging to dry. This removes surface salt and inhibits mold growth.
- Insert a hook near the tip of each piece of biltong.
- Line the base of the biltong box with heavy foil to catch the drips. Hang the biltong on the dowels.
- Close the lid of the box and secure with a weight – a few large books.
- Depending on the method of drying, the thickness of the pieces cut, and personal preferences, the meat could take 3-6 days, to dry.
- Store biltong in muslin or paper in a cool place. Do not keep it in plastic unless it is frozen.
- 1 24x18x18-inch large packing box $ 1.36
- small personal fan $ 4.88
- ⅜x48-inch dowel $ .97
- 9 stainless steel hooks $ 5.94
- 2-inch packing tape $ 3.39
- Approximate cost (tax excluded) $16.54
- Cut 14 holes, the size of a quarter, near the top of the box, for ventilation.
- Cut 2 x 22-inch pieces off the dowel.
- Make 4 incisions below the ventilation holes to hold the dowels.
- Make a hole near the base of the box to seat the fan.
- Tape the base flaps of the box securely.
- Tape the fan into the hole provided for it.
- Inset the dowels in incisions made to accept them.