If you are looking for better meat preservation strategies, then making biltong is an easy and tasty option. It originated in Southern Africa and was “invented” by the early Dutch settlers. These frontier farmers were often on the move, or lived isolated lives, and needed a method of preserving meat that could last for months. Biltong originated as a way of preserving large hunted animals, e.g. Eland. Today, Biltong is mostly made from beef, but like jerky, game biltong is also very popular.
If you haven’t tried biltong before, it might be worthwhile to order some on Amazon first to see if it’s something you will enjoy. Packaged like that will not compare to what I can buy in South Africa, but it will give you an idea nonetheless. I suspect that if you like jerky, you will love biltong. I do.
Homesteaders and preppers take their duty as providers seriously. The underlying motivation of prepping, is after all, to provide in times of shortage. When looking at macronutrients, and protein in particular, preserving meat will likely provide a better source of protein than commercially available protein powders. Or maybe just provide a much needed break from living on protein shakes.
How to Pronounce Biltong
Biltong is a Dutch word, and the pronunciation is quite straightforward. Bil = sounds like “Bill”, said exactly like the name Bill or money Bill. Tong = sounds like the first part of the word “Tongs”, minus the s at the end.
You were probably already pronouncing it right, just confirming.
Why Biltong is Better Meat Preservation
Both processing methods of preserving meat is done through drying it, but that is where the similarity ends.
Whereas jerky is made by cutting thin slices of meat across the muscles fibers, biltong is made using much larger portions of meat. They can be up to an inch thick, a few feet long, and are cut in the direction of the muscles fibers.
Another difference is that biltong is made with a nice, thick piece of fat attached, a fat that is highly sought after. Most of the fat is trimmed off jerky.
Biltong is hung out to dry naturally, requiring less resources and retaining more flavor. Jerky is typically dehydrated using a food dehydrator and sometimes smoked. Biltong is never smoked, but can be made in a dehydrator, though this will result in some loss of flavor.
The spices used to prepare the jerky and biltong also differ. Jerky is mostly just salted and then dried. Biltong is cured in vinegar for a few hours, preferably longer, before its is spiced and then hung out to dry. Spices include coriander, but it’s not critical. There are some good studies suggesting coriander has anti-bacterial properties.
Jerky will be ready before biltong. All good things, like biltong, take longer. Typically, biltong takes three to six days before biltong is ready to be eaten. If you eat it sooner, it will be like eating raw meat.
Lastly, most people who have eaten both, tend to agree that biltong has more flavor than jerky. In fact, some claim that Americans will eventually switch from jerky to biltong. You will need to test it out for yourself. The vinegar and coriander definitely contribute to the taste profile.
How to Make Biltong
Making biltong is relatively easy and requires very little processing equipment. You will see why it was a hit for early Dutch settlers and why biltong is perfect for homesteaders and preppers who may live off the grid or want to learn the skills to preserve meat in a long-term collapse situation.
If you master the art of making biltong, you might get a finished product looking something like this:
You will need the following equipment to make Biltong:
- Knife to cut your meat.
- Bucket or large bowl/dish to cure meat. (Glass, ceramic, un-cracked enamel or plastic. NOT metal.)
- Steel or wire hooks. (You can make these yourself – see below.)
- Wire or line to hang it on. (Use the same wire as you are making the hooks from.)
Many biltong recipes are really just a list of “principles,” as there are many ways to get your meat prepared correctly. I will give you an exact recipe, but you can experiment a bit once you have the basics under control.
To make biltong you will need:
- 4 Pounds of beef – cut into 1-inch-thick strips, that can be of any length.
- 2 Tablespoons of roasted coriander seeds – you can crush these or chop a bit to release the favors.
- 2 Tablespoons of coarse salt.
- 1 Tablespoon if finely ground black pepper.
- 1 Cup of vinegar. I prefer brown, but white, balsamic or even cider will also work.
Biltong Preparation Method
This is one of the easiest ways you can preserve meat.
- Place all ingredients in the dish and mix thoroughly.
- Place the meat in the dish and mix thoroughly.
- Cover dish with cloth, or bucket with lid.
- Make sure your meat is completely submerged below the vinegar, if it’s not, add more vinegar.
- Let the meat cure for a minimum of four hours. (Two of the four hours in the fridge.)
- I do this in the early afternoon, let my meat stand overnight, then place it in the fridge for two hours before hanging.
- You can mix it through every few hours just to ensure a good even spread.
One common variation on this method is to do only the vinegar first for four to eighteen hours. Then drain as much vinegar as possible and rub the spices on before hanging. I find that both methods work equally well.
Hanging the Meat
Now that you have prepared the meat, you need to hang it!
- Retrieve a slice of meat, put a hook through, approximately on inch from the end, not too close or it will tear out.
- Hang onto wire
- A lot of fluid will be dripping in the first few hours and even day, so either have a drip tray or paper down to absorb the juice.
- Wait three to six days and start enjoying.
Extreme biltong makers even buy a biltong slicer (works great for jerky, too).
Tips and Tricks for Making Biltong
Making biltong is fairly straightforward, but these tips and tricks might mean better meat preservation strategies.
The bucket. If you are using a bucket, make sure you have the lid handy, or if you are using a bowl/dish, have a cotton cloth to cover it with. This is really just to keep flies and insects out.
Hanging. The best place to hang biltong is outside under a roof, or inside a barn with good ventilation. Your garage will also do, just to keep it out of the sun or rain. Choose a well ventilated spot, as this will reduce the chance of mold on your biltong. If enclosed, a fan or some open windows will help.
Bugs. If you live in a place where bugs increase seasonally, try the season when you have the least amount of insects. Otherwise, you will need to screen the area off, or use a drying box.
Newspaper. Your biltong will drip a lot of fluid/blood in the first few days, so lay down some newspaper so you don’t have cleaning issues later.
Animal fat. Adult animals with a lean to medium fat carcass works best. Their fat is richer and dries to the color of amber. Once you have eaten a good piece of yellow fat biltong, you will be changed person.
Consumption. Biltong is best consumed when still soft, but many people prefer it dryer. Moist biltong is can be thinly sliced and added to salads, in particular blue-cheese salads. You can also use it as a pizza topping.
Storage. Biltong storage is normally done by removing the hooks and then placing the pieces inside an old pillow case. The pillow case can then be hung somewhere convenient. Pillow cases work well to keep insects and rodents out while allowing airflow.
Resurrection. If left long enough, it will dry to a bone like hardness. This is a good time to use a wooden mallet to beat it to a powdery softness. Older people can also grind it (or grate on a fine cheese grater) and sprinkle the powder thickly over butter on bread.
Meat hooks. Hooks can be made by cutting a two-inch length of wire and forming it into an S-Shape. You can also buy convenient metal meat hooks on Amazon.
Winter. In South Africa, most naturally hung biltong is made in the winter. The cool dry air produces the best tasting biltong. You can dry biltong in the summer, using a fan, or even in humid climates, using a drying cabinet or box. South African winters are mild compared to other territories. With daytime highs reaching 77°F or higher, so depending on where you live, temperatures ranging from very cold to mid 80’s will work fine.
Humidity and mold. Humidity is really what you want to avoid. The risk factor associated with meat hung in very humid conditions, is that mold can grow on your biltong. How do South Africans deal with this? We just take a toothbrush, dip it in some brown or balsamic vinegar, and brush the mold off. It may sound unappetizing or dramatic, but it’s really not that big a deal. Don’t leave the mold, as this will ruin your meat.
Cure like jerky. You could use the same curing recipe for jerky, to add some new flavors. Just let it drip a while before putting into the dehydrator.
Spices. You can go wild with spices. Many South African make their own chili mixes. Very wet biltong can be dipped into balsamic vinegar and oil marinades, the same as would be done with any Carpaccio.
Mini meat chunks. If you regularly work with meat, a good idea is to add all the tidbits to a bowl and make biltong sticks. These you can dry on a grid or hang using paper clips.
Biltong Your Way to Better Meat Preservation
Now you are ready to start exploring the world of biltong, and you can add it to your list of survival meals you can make. Be warned, that biltong is considered quite addictive. So you might to hide those pillow cases where they can’t easily be found.