Hello there, fellow meat lovers! I’m about to embark on a culinary journey, and I’m thrilled to have you along for the ride. Today, we’re venturing into the heart of South Africa, but guess what? We’re doing it from the comfort of our own kitchens. That’s right, we’re making authentic South African Biltong.
Now, you might be thinking, “Biltong? Isn’t that just fancy beef jerky?” Oh, my dear friend, prepare to be enlightened. Biltong is so much more than that. It’s a delicacy that’s as rich in flavor as the culture it comes from. It’s like the ‘James Bond’ of dried meats – suave, sophisticated, and yes, a little bit mysterious.
So, buckle up because we’re about to demystify the process of how to make biltong at home. Sure, you can conveniently purchase the best biltong commercially available, but by the end of this comprehensive guide, you’ll be a bona fide biltong connoisseur, impressing your friends with your newfound culinary prowess. And who knows? You might even develop a South African accent along the way! (Just kidding, but wouldn’t that be fun?)
Stay tuned, and let’s dive into the world of homemade biltong!
I partner with awesome companies that offer products that help support our readers! If you purchase through these links on this site, I may get paid for the referral at no additional cost to you! For more information, visit my disclosure page.
What is Biltong? (It’s NOT BEEF Jerky)
Authentic Biltong is a cherished culinary tradition that hails from the Southern African countries. This dried, cured meat has been a staple in the diets of people in this region for centuries, and its popularity has spread across the globe. The process of making biltong involves a unique combination of marinating, curing, and drying the meat, resulting in a flavorful, nutritious, and long-lasting carnivorous snack.
The beauty of biltong lies in its simplicity. It requires only a few essential ingredients and a bit of patience. However, the meat’s transformation during the process is truly remarkable. It becomes a delicious snack from a raw piece of meat that can be enjoyed anytime. So whether you’re going on a hike, need a quick protein boost, or simply want a tasty treat, biltong is a fantastic option.
Making biltong at home allows you to control the quality of the ingredients and customize the flavor to your liking. It’s also a fun and rewarding process. This article will guide you through making biltong at home, from choosing the right meat to the final drying stage. By the end of this guide, you’ll be well-equipped to make your own delicious biltong.
Understanding the Biltong
Before making biltong, we must understand what differentiates it from other dried meats. One of the critical differences between biltong and, say, beef jerky is the preservation method. While jerky is often smoked, biltong is cured using vinegar. This not only helps preserve the meat but also imparts a distinct tangy flavor characteristic of biltong.
Another distinguishing feature of biltong is the cut of the meat. Unlike jerky, which is usually made from thin slices of meat, biltong is made from thicker strips. This results in a chunky final product with a satisfying chewiness. The thickness of the cut also affects the drying time and the texture of the biltong.
Finally, the spices used in biltong give it a unique flavor profile. While the exact blend of spices can vary, some common ones include coriander, black pepper, and salt. These spices coat the meat after it has been cured, adding depth and complexity to the flavor of the biltong.
Choosing the Right Meat
The choice of fresh meat is a critical factor in making biltong. Traditionally, biltong is made from beef, specifically lean cuts such as silverside or topside (top round). These cuts are ideal because they have a good balance of meat and fat, contributing to the biltong’s flavor and texture. However, you can also make biltong from other game meats, such as venison.
When choosing the meat, look for fresh, high-quality cuts. The meat should have a bright red color and a firm texture. Avoid meat that has a strong odor or a slimy surface, as these are signs of spoilage. The thickness of the cut also matters. For biltong, the meat is typically cut into about 1-inch thick strips. This thickness allows the meat to dry evenly and gives the biltong a chunky texture.
Preparing the Meat
Once you’ve chosen the proper cut of meat, the next step is to prepare it for the curing process. Start by trimming off any excess fat. While a bit of fat can add flavor to the biltong, too much can make it overly greasy and rancid during drying. After trimming the fat, slice the meat into strips. The strips should be about 1 inch thick, but the length can vary depending on your preference. Just keep in mind that longer strips will take longer to dry.
When slicing the meat, try to cut along the grain. This means that the muscle fibers should run parallel to the length of the strip. Cutting along the grain will give the biltong a more chewy texture. If you prefer a more tender biltong, you can cut against the grain, which may cause the biltong to crumble more easily.
Once the meat is sliced, lay the strips on a clean surface, ready for the curing mixture. Make sure the strips are not overlapping, as this can prevent the curing mixture from penetrating the meat evenly.
The Curing Process
The curing process is where the magic happens. This is where the raw meat is transformed into biltong through the action of curing salt, vinegar, and spices. The first step in the curing process is to soak the meat strips in vinegar (I like to use Apple Cider Vinegar). The vinegar helps to kill any bacteria on the surface of the meat.
After soaking the meat, the next step is to coat it with the spice mix. The spice mix typically contains coriander seeds, black pepper, and salt, but you can add other spices to suit your taste. For example, you can add some chili powder for a spicy kick or some brown sugar for a hint of sweetness. To coat the meat, sprinkle the spice mix over the meat strips, ensuring all sides are covered.
Once the meat is coated with the spices, it’s time to let it cure. Place the meat strips in a non-reactive container, such as a glass or ceramic dish, cover it, and put it in the refrigerator. The meat should be left to cure for about 24 to 36 hours. During this time, the salt in the spice mix will draw out moisture from the meat, and the flavors of the spices will penetrate the meat.
The curing process is a critical step in making biltong, as it not only flavors the meat but also helps to preserve it. By drawing out moisture, the salt creates an inhospitable environment for bacteria, thus preventing spoilage. The vinegar also helps preserve the meat by lowering its pH, further inhibiting bacterial growth.
Drying in a Biltong Box
After the meat has been cured, the next step is to dry it. Drying is a crucial part of making biltong as it further inhibits bacterial growth and gives it its characteristic texture. The drying process involves hanging the meat strips in a dry, well-ventilated area. This could be a specially designed biltong box, a food dehydrator, or even a well-ventilated room in your house.
COSORI Food Dehydrator
Craft delectable, healthy treats with our California-designed food dehydrator, boasting precise temperature settings, a powerful 600W output, and spacious food-grade stainless steel trays. With a clear glass door for monitoring, quiet operation, and an array of handy accessories, it’s the epitome of efficient, modern snacking.
Before hanging the meat, it’s a good idea to pat it dry with some paper towels to remove any excess moisture on the surface. Then, using hooks or clips, hang the meat strips so they do not touch each other. This allows air to circulate around each strip, ensuring even drying.
The drying process can take anywhere from 2 to 5 days, depending on the temperature and humidity of the drying area and your desired dryness level. During this time, it’s essential to check on the biltong regularly to ensure that it’s drying evenly and that no mold is forming. If you notice any mold, remove it immediately with a vinegar-soaked cloth.
Checking the Dryness
The level of dryness in biltong is primarily a matter of personal preference. Some people prefer their biltong to be quite dry, while others like it a bit moist in the center. To check the dryness of your biltong, you can cut it into one of the strips. The outside should be dark and hard, while the inside should be redder and softer.
A good biltong should have a dry edge while remaining tender in the center. If the biltong is too dry, it can become rigid and difficult to chew. On the other hand, if it’s too moist, it can spoil more quickly. Therefore, it’s essential to strike a balance between dryness and moistness.
If you need more clarification about the dryness level, it’s better to err on caution and dry the biltong a bit more. Of course, you can continually rehydrate overly dry biltong by wrapping it in a damp cloth for a few hours, but you can’t undo spoilage caused by insufficient drying.
Storing the Biltong
Once the biltong is dried to your liking, it must be stored properly to maintain its quality. Biltong can be kept in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. The container should be clean and dry to prevent the growth of mold. If you’re storing the biltong for an extended period, you can also refrigerate it to prolong its shelf life.
When storing biltong, it’s a good idea to keep the strips whole and only cut them when ready to eat. This helps to preserve the freshness of the biltong. Also, handle the biltong with clean hands or utensils to prevent contamination.
Enjoying Your Homemade Biltong
Biltong is a versatile snack that can be enjoyed in many ways. It can be eaten as is, used in sandwiches, added to salads, or used as a pizza topping. The possibilities are endless!
When eating biltong, grab that sharp knife or biltong slicer, and remember to slice it against the grain. This will make it easier to chew and will enhance its flavor. Also, try to cut it as thinly as possible. Thin biltong slices are more flavorful and accessible to eat than thick ones.
Making biltong at home allows you to experiment with different flavors and textures. You can try using different types of meat, spices, or drying times to create your unique version of biltong. The most important thing is to have fun with the process and enjoy the fruits of your labor.
Making biltong at home is a rewarding process that allows you to enjoy this South African delicacy anytime. You can make your own delicious biltong with the right ingredients and patience. Not only is homemade biltong a tasty and healthy snack, but it’s also a great conversation starter. Your friends and family will be impressed by your culinary skills and might even ask you to share your secret recipe!
Making biltong is also a great way to connect with a centuries-old culinary tradition. As you prepare the meat, cure it, and wait for it to dry, you participate in a ritual passed down through generations. It’s a reminder of the ingenuity of our ancestors, who developed methods to preserve meat long before the invention of refrigeration.
In conclusion, making biltong at home is not only about producing a delicious snack. It’s also about experiencing the joy of creating something with your hands, exploring new flavors, and connecting with a rich culinary heritage. So why not give it a try? You might discover a new favorite hobby.