Biltong is South African dried meat. The word comes from Dutch with ‘BIL’ meaning buttock and ‘TONG’ meaning strip. This mildly spiced and salted, air dried meat, has been around for centuries. No Rugby, Cricket, Tennis, Boxing or other sporting occasion in South Africa - whether it be watched live or on television - is quite complete without a few beers and a good supply of Biltong. It also makes a great traveling companion as it can last for long periods of time with very little attention, always providing sustenance in the absence of other foods or delicacies.
There are typically two main types of biltong – Beef Biltong and Game Biltong. Both are good, but some people prefer one above the other. Lamb, pork and poultry are not used for biltong, although ostrich meat makes good biltong and is popular in South Africa. Beef is probably the most popular and the easiest to obtain, from a perspective of making your own biltong. There are a multitude of recipes and methods used today to make biltong. Many of these are passed down from generation to generation. The good news is that it is really simple to make your own biltong, and the principles which you will use are basically the same regardless of which recipe or method you choose to adopt. One thing is sure, like many other recipes, the best biltong is made with the best ingredients.
- Good Quality Beef
- Rock Salt
- Coarse Ground Black Pepper
- Coarse Ground Coriander
- Vinegar (preferably Apple-Cider vinegar)
First, be sure to sterilize all your hooks, knives, and working surfaces by washing well in hot water and soap. Get some half-inch thick strips of beef. Make sure it's cut with the grain. The pieces should be about 6 inches long. Liberally sprinkle rock-salt on each side of the pieces of meat and let them stand for an hour. The longer you let it stand the saltier it will become. After the hour, scrape off all the excess salt with a knife (don't soak it in water!). Then get some vinegar - preferably apple-cider vinegar, but any vinegar will do. Put some vinegar in a bowl and brush (do not dip) the strips of meat with the vinegar - just so that the meat is covered in the vinegar. Hold the biltong up so that the excess vinegar drips off.
Then sprinkle ground pepper and ground coriander over the meat on all sides. If you want that special tasting biltong then try the special spice mixtures used by South African butchers which is available from most butcher shops. These spice mixtures give excellent and consistent results with no salting necessary - just sprinkle the spice on, and hang.
Once you have done this, the meat is ready to dry. There are several methods of drying. One is to hang it up on a line in a cool place and have a fan blow on it. This method is a bit difficult because if the air is humid the meat can spoil. The method I use is a home-made 'Biltong Box'. This is basically a sealed wooden box (you can use cardboard if you like) with holes in it and a 60w light bulb inside. Just hang the meat at the top of the box, and leave the light bulb on at the bottom. The heat from the light bulb helps dry the meat (even in humid weather) in about 3-4 days. Remember, the box must be closed on all 6 sides except for a few holes. The whole theory behind this method is that hot dry air rises thus drying the biltong. The holes are quite important as they promote good air circulation in the box.
Storage of Your Biltong
If you do need to store you biltong you can do so using the following guidelines:
1 Week: Store at room temperature in a cool, dry area in a sealed plastic container or Ziploc bag. You can also use a paper bag but this will cause the Biltong to dry out more.
Several Weeks: Store in a sealed plastic container or Ziploc bag, and refrigerate 32 -38 degrees F.
1 Year: Store in a sealed plastic container or Ziploc bag, and preferably vacuum seal, then freeze