BILTONG: The Alternative to Jerky
BILTONG: A great alternative to Jerky
Jim Chapman

I’ve lived all over the world and have spent almost
as much of my adult life outside of the States as inside
our borders. But my wife is South African, that’s
where we were married, it’s where I hunt every
year, it’s been one of the constants in my life and
there is a lot I love about the  country. And on the food
front, the thing I hold above all others ……. Is Biltong.

Biltong fills the niche inhabited by jerky in the Americas,
and served the same purpose. In the past it was a way
of preserving meat without refrigeration, and in present
times it’s a snack to accompany a cold drink while
watching football (rugby, soccer, or the real thing).

Unlike jerky, which is smoked, biltong is treated with
spices and air dried. The final product is similar, but
even though I am a true jerky aficionado (a connoisseur
even), have to admit I like biltong even more. Every
year when visiting family or out on safari we consume
mass quantities of the stuff. The problem is that you canâ
€™t bring it back into the country and we haven’t
found a place to buy it locally. The result is we have to
go through a biltong drought eleven months of the year.

On my last trip over I asked one of my friends to teach
me how to make it, and found that the process is very
straight forward and needs only a simple and easy to
use bit of equipment, called naturally enough a biltong
box. Out on my friends farm on the Eastern Cape this
box is actually a walk in drying room, but I found
several plans for a smaller scale box that can make a
couple pounds of the stuff at a time.

The box I made started as a typical 38 gallon plastic
storage box, which I stood lengthwise and mounted a
set of metal wheels. I cut a 4� diameter hole in the
top of the box and mounted a fan to draw air out of the
box. This fan was a computer fan that I picked up at an
electronics store for $5-$6.  I then drilled 1â€� holes
around the middle part of the box and used duct tape to
cover these with mesh to keep out insects. I mounted a
light fixture with a 60 watt bulb at the bottom of the
box. ½� doweling pins were fixed at the top to
form a rack to hang the meat strips. I bought a coil of
heavy gauge steel wire to cut in 6� lengths and
formed into hooks used to hang the meat strips from the
dowels. Many of the plans call for a shelf between the
light and main body of he drying box to keep any fat
from dripping on the bulb, but I used a metal lamp
cover to shield the bulb. I put foil on the floor both to
reflect heat upwards and to make clean up easier.

The ingredients and spices used are equally simple; you
will need 1.5 cups vinegar (apple cider vinegar is
preferable), 3 cups of course salt, 2 cups of brown
sugar, 5 ml bicarbonate of soda,  12.5 ml of coarsely
ground black pepper, and coriander seeds.

Just about any type of meat can be used, in South
Africa I’ve had eland, kudu, springbuck,  beef, and
our South African butcher in Australia used emu,
kangaroo, and lamb as well. I decided to use venison
from a couple of fat does I shot this season, using the
backstraps and loins cut into 6 - 8 inch strips.

These strips were thoroughly brushed with vinegar and
left to sit in a serving dish placed in the refrigerator. As
the meat was cooling my wife was busy preparing the
spices. She cooked the coriander in a frying pan until
roasted then crushed them with a mortar and pestle.
This was then added to the salt, black pepper, sugar
and bicarbonate of soda.

After a half hour the meat is taken from the refrigerator
and rolled in the spices, then placed back in the cooler
for about three hours. After this period the meat is
removed and rinsed in the vinegar, dried in paper
towels, and suspended from the hanging rack. The lid of
the box is then replaced and the box left sealed for 3-4

At the end of this time the box is opened and the biltong
is ready to eat. I like to take out a strip and place it on a
wooden cutting board, slicing off strips to munch on as
needed. We’re going to have to add an extra box
so I can keep a batch curing at all times, as it doesnâ
€™t seem to last very long in my house.

Once cured, biltong can be kept for several weeks in a
dry environment. If you intend to keep it for several
months the best storage method is to seal it in a vacuum
pack and freeze it. Once frozen it can be kept
indefinitely. But as mentioned,  in my house it doesnâ
€™t last long enough to warrant freezing! You can
experiment with different spices and find one that best
suits your taste. If you like jerky, I really recommend
you give biltong a go, it’s fast and easy to make,
cost effective, and a great way to treat those deer you
bring home every season. The other thing that is great
about biltong is that you can use meat from those tough
old bucks as well as a tender yearling or doe, and the
end product will not suffer.
Ther biltong box is made from storage box with
mesh covered holes for air flow. The green
computer fan at the top increases airflow.
The cut and spiced meast strips asre hung
from wire hooks for drying. A 60 watt bulb is
used to keep the air dry as it flows through the
The meat has to be spaced so that it doesn't
touch, or it won't dry properly and may get
moldy. If this happens it goes into the trash!
After approximately 4 days the biltong is
ready. The meat will shring to about half of
the wet weight.
I'm a jerky fanatic, but I like biltong even more. If I had any
idea how easy it is to produce, I'd have been making it years
ago. The box cost $50 to make and gives us a continuous
The finished product, look fast because at my house it will be gone in sixty seconds!!