Biltong

by john on December 10, 2002

I lived in South Africa for a few years when I was a kid. One of my best memories is chewing on piece after piece of biltong. You might call it beef jerky, but I wouldn’t do that in front of anyone who is particular about their biltong.

A couple of weeks ago as I was driving home from work chewing on a bit of processed crap called beef jerky I remembered biltong and that my dad used to make it himself. Surely he had a recipe! I called him from my cell then and there hoping to get him to email me the recipe.

Nope. My dad is a bit of a traditionalist and he said he was going to give me the recipe the same way it was handed down to him years ago – orally.

“You only need four things,” he said. “Good meat, malt vinegar, salt and pepper.”

Biltong seasonings

Top sirloin cut in strips 

For the meat I chose top sirloin. I seem to recall that biltong is traditionally made with game such as Kudu, but we don’t have many Kudu herds roaming around Woodbury, Minnesota so top sirloin from a Holstein it was.

“Once you get a good cut of meat, cut it up into strips with the grain,” my dad instructed.

First layer of meat

“The first step is to very carefully layer your meat in a shallow dish like a 13×9 cake pan. Then, sprinkle on a good bit of salt, much more than you would if you were cooking it, but not a solid layer. Give it a ton of pepper and then just a few dashes of the vinegar.”

“Should I mix it up a little?” I asked.

“No,” he replied, “it must be in a very neat layer. That is the South African way.”

“Hmm,” thought I.

Second layer of meat

My dad continued. “Now put another layer of meat on top and then repeat the part about adding the salt, pepper and vinegar.”

“Do I mix it up?” I asked again.

“No – it is very important that you do this in layers,” my dad responded. “Now continue the layering process until you are done with all of your meat.”

“OK,” I said, “then what?” 

Now mix it all up!

“Then you mix it up!”

“Why couldn’t I mix it up before?” I asked.

“Because that isn’t the way it was told to me!” he responded.

Smirk.

Let sit for a few hours, mix up again, let sit again, etc. – for about 12 hours.

Then:

“Get yourself some biltong hooks.” (I borrowed his – here they are soaking in vinegar, trying to remove years of crud).

Biltong hooks

“Hook each piece of meat.”

Hooked meat

“And string them up for a week. If you have a whole-house humidifier turn it off.” (Hmm, writing that reminds me to turn it back on.)
 

Raw hanging meat

The finished product.  Biltong!

So how did it turn out? Great! Chewing on a piece right now. Next time I’ll cut the meat into bigger strips, more like an inch thick rather than a half inch. And I might try a tougher cut of meat too – this biltong made from sirloin is almost too easy to eat. Now that might appeal to someone else, but for me, with my memories of chewing on a piece of biltong for an hour, biltong that is too easy to eat borders on beef jerky.

{ 13 comments }

john December 10, 2002 at 4:29 pm

So have I ruined tradition by documenting it? Naw – first, it may be the tree falling in the forest if nobody is there effect, and second, when my children are ready to make their own biltong I’ll be sure to remember how my dad told me.

brandt December 10, 2002 at 7:29 pm

i’ve started making my own cheese as a hobby. there’s something inherently rewarding about making foods that you usually only find packaged in a grocery store…

James Cosslett February 15, 2003 at 1:14 pm

My friend and I have only just started making our
biltong. Having both grown up in South Africa, we
missed our biltong here in England. We have tried
locally made biltong, but is not the same. Also
very expensive at about 30+ per kilo. We made a
box out hardboard 300 x 500 x 800mm a 40 watt
bulb, few holes drilled top and bottom and a
shelf to protect bulb about 300mm from bottom
with holes around periemter to allow circulation.
And after about 3 to 4 days we have real good
tasting biltong! The recipe we use is basically
the same as your father’s. Salt, brown sugar,
vinger(malt) and ground pepper. We have added
garlic and other spices for variety.

Good luck making your own biltong

James

Grant November 9, 2003 at 10:14 pm

Hi, thanks for creating your web page. I came across it after searching the web for Biltong recipe’s. I’ve just made an elaborate Biltong maker from wood, with a 100watt bulb. It’s into it’s 2nd day of curing, so I am looking forward to Guinea pigging it soon. I managed to get some Topside beef from an Irish butcher here in Brussels at 45 Euro’s for 4.5 Kg’s. Pretty good really. Happy biltong making all.

Regards,
Grant

Garry April 18, 2004 at 3:04 pm

Guys.

I’m currently working with some Americans in Italy (VERY confusing mix). Some of the guys make their own Jerky using ‘dehydrators’ available on the internet etc. I have just bought one & trying the techniques. I have friends from SA, Botswana & around who introduced me to biltong years ago. I’ll be using the ideas on here to try it in the dehydrator, so will try to update.

Ivor Gibson June 29, 2004 at 1:37 am

Hi Guys
Just wanted to know, I’ve made a biltong maker and wanted to know, do you have to have hole next to the light in the sides below the shelf. I’m trying to educate these Aussies without making a fool off myself by having my biltong go green. i reckon that would be another win for these bloody Aussies

cheer

Ivor

Eugene Crous August 19, 2004 at 3:59 am

Biltong (Beef Jerky)

I am from South Africa and was wondering if there is a market for biltong in Europe and so on. Anyone with some information or who are nterested in buying please let me know.

Thank you
Eugene Crous

Russel September 16, 2004 at 8:37 am

Come on guys!
The only place to have some good billies is right here in South Africa watching the Boks klap somebody.
I have just made a cheap billies machine that is a sure winner. It is made of 3 shelves, cord, and extractor fan and a large plastic bag.
I buy my mixture and meat from a good butcher – these guys know their stuff – real good boertjies. Russel – Centurion, Pretoria.

LEON MASON March 23, 2006 at 11:20 am

HEY BOERTJIES THANKS FOR THE HELP JUST NEEDED SOME ADVICE TO GET STARTED THANKS AGAIN FOR THE ADVICE LEKKER EET

LEON MASON March 23, 2006 at 11:20 am

HEY BOERTJIES THANKS FOR THE HELP JUST NEEDED SOME ADVICE TO GET STARTED THANKS AGAIN FOR THE ADVICE LEKKER EET

Dirk Fabrie April 29, 2006 at 3:22 am

Hi

Have just started making biltong and am quite suprised no mention has been made about adding coriander. I always thought it was the main spicing ingredient for biltong?

One question. What is the diference between soaking the meat in vinegar for say a half hour before curing as opposed to just wetting it. I see this is something which differs in some recipes/methods which are otherwise basically the same.

Enjoy regardless.

Dirk

sue June 11, 2006 at 12:24 am

We are US residents – out of South Africa. We make biltong in our Laundry in the Apaerment. We eat Biltong everyday – use paperclips for hooks. Easy and clean

Peter September 12, 2008 at 2:07 am

you must add some corriander seeds(cushed) in your mix,thats for a tradional taste

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