What is Beef Biltong? A Guide to This Tasty Dried Meat Snack

Biltong is a snack that originated in South Africa made of cured, air-dried meat. If you’ve never tried this unique meat treat, learning more about biltong can open up a whole new snacking experience. Keep reading to discover what makes beef biltong special, how it’s prepared, and what sets it apart from similar dried meats like beef jerky.

What is Biltong Made Of?

Biltong starts with raw meat that is salted, spiced, and air-dried. Traditional meats used for biltong include:

  • Beef – Most common today for availability and cost. Top round, sirloin tip, and other lean cuts work best.

  • Game meats – Ostrich, kudu, springbok, etc. Give biltong a wild, rich flavor.

  • Pork or chicken – Less common but can be used.

Beef is the typical choice for biltong today. The specific cut impacts moisture, fat content, and texture. Lean beef cuts produce a drier, denser biltong. Fattier cuts create a softer, more tender chew.

A Brief History of Biltong’s Origins

Biltong has been made in Southern African countries like South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Botswana for over 400 years. Indigenous tribes preserved meat by salting and air-drying long before European settlers arrived.

Europeans introduced new spices and ingredients to traditional biltong in the 17th century. Vinegar, pepper, coriander, and saltpeter became standard seasonings. These evolve the salty dried meat into the biltong we know today.

The term “biltong” comes from the Dutch words “bil” meaning buttock and “tong” meaning strip. It refers to meat cut into strips from the hindquarters of cattle.

How is Beef Biltong Made?

Authentic biltong uses a meticulous, multi-day process:

  • Beef is cut into 1 inch wide strips following the muscle grain.

  • Meat is soaked in a vinegar solution for several hours to begin curing.

  • Spice mixtures containing salt, pepper, coriander, etc. are rubbed thoroughly into the meat.

  • Meat strips are hung using hooks or clips and left to air-dry for 5-7 days depending on thickness.

  • Drying conditions must have excellent airflow and ventilation.

  • Temperature, humidity, and other factors impact total drying time.

  • Biltong is ready when it shrinks by half, feels firm but slightly soft, and turns deep red-brown.

The vinegar curing and extended hanging time differentiate biltong from other dried meats.

Biltong Spice Blends and Flavors

While biltong ingredients stay true to tradition, every family’s recipe adds its own touches. Here are some common variations:

  • Vinegar – White, apple cider, red wine, malt, and other vinegars provide unique flavors.

  • Spices – Coriander, black pepper, allspice, cinnamon, brown sugar, and chili powder are frequently used.

  • Meat cuts – Fatty or lean beef results in different textures. Using wild game like ostrich brings exotic taste.

  • Modern touches – Some recipes incorporate onion, garlic, soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, etc.

The signature spice blend gives biltong its characteristic zing. But feel free to experiment with flavors to discover your perfect biltong recipe.

How is Biltong Different from Beef Jerky?

Beef jerky and biltong are two well-known dried meat snacks. But they have several key differences:

  • Meat cuts – Jerky uses very lean, thin slices. Biltong starts with 1-inch thick strips.

  • Curing – Biltong employs vinegar. Jerky just uses salt.

  • Processing – Jerky is smoked or dehydrated with heat. Biltong air-dries naturally for days.

  • Spices – Biltong has a richer, meatier spice blend. Jerky favors simpler salt and smoke.

  • Fat content – Negligible in jerky. Variable in biltong depending on the cut.

  • Texture – Jerky can be tough and chewy. Biltong offers more tenderness.

So while jerky and biltong both deliver protein and convenience, biltong provides a unique experience thanks to its artisanal approach.

Tips for Making Great Biltong at Home

Follow these tips for authentic, delicious homemade biltong:

  • Select quality beef cuts like sirloin, top round, or fillet. Grass-fed beef adds flavor.

  • Cut meat strips about 1 inch wide and 4 inches long. Cut with the grain for chewy texture.

  • Use a traditional vinegar-based marinade to cure the meat before drying.

  • Coat strips thoroughly with coarse salt, ground coriander, black pepper and other spices.

  • Hang strips freely in a box or room with plenty of ventilation. Use hooks, clips or string to hang.

  • Allow 5-7 days for full drying time. Test doneness by squeezing – firm but slightly soft when ready.

  • Store in a cool, dry place. Refrigerate after opening. Enjoy within 2 weeks.

Follow ancestral preparation methods for the most authentic, longest-lasting dried beef.

How to Serve and Eat Beef Biltong

Biltong’s rich, meaty flavor and chewy texture make it an incredibly satisfying snack on its own. But it also pairs well with various foods and beverages:

  • Straight out of the bag as hiking or road trip snack.

  • On a cheese board with fruits, nuts, pickles, and wine.

  • In a sandwich for a protein boost – try with fresh mozzarella and basil.

  • On top of salads for a filling crunch.

  • With beer or cider as a replacement for chips or nuts.

  • Crumbled on top of soup for an instant protein upgrade.

  • In trail mixes or snack mixes for an energy kick.

However you eat it, biltong’s deliciousness speaks for itself. The more you try it, the more uses you’ll discover.

Is Beef Biltong Healthy?

Traditional beef biltong offers nutritional advantages:

  • High in protein – About 20g per 1 ounce serving. Provides all essential amino acids.

  • Low carb – Under 5g net carbs per serving.

  • Low calorie – Around 120 calories per ounce.

  • Little to no sugar added – Unlike many jerkies which contain sugar.

  • Provides zinc, iron, vitamins B6 and B12.

  • Vinegar curing kills pathogens and preserves nutrition.

  • Air-drying retains nutrients better than cooking.

So with ample nutrition and minimal processing, biltong can be a healthy addition to your diet when consumed in moderation.

Where to Buy Quality Beef Biltong

For the complete biltong experience, seek out brands that adhere to time-honored recipes. Check ingredients for things like vinegar, whole spices, and minimal additives. South African imports also guarantee authenticity.

Many mainstream grocery stores now stock biltong alongside jerky. But you’ll find the best selection and freshest products online or at specialty South African markets.

Once this tasty air-cured beef tries biltong’s full, spice-infused flavor and tender bite, you may just get hooked!

The Takeaway on Beef Biltong

Biltong is a traditional South African air-dried meat snack made from vinegar-cured beef or game. Authentic preparation uses whole spices and weeks of hanging to naturally cure and dry the meat. This artisanal approach results in a unique texture and hearty, spicy flavor.

With its nutritional benefits and satisfying taste, biltong has earned global popularity as a protein-packed snack. Try this South African staple soon and discover for yourself how different biltong is from any other dried meat like jerky. The depth of flavor will keep you coming back for more.

What is the difference between biltong and beef jerky?


What is the difference between biltong and beef jerky?

Biltong is cured in vinegar, air dried whole, and sliced. Beef jerky is sliced, marinated with spices and flavorings, then cooked with heat. The difference in process makes Biltong softer, saltier, and thinner than beef jerky which tends to be drier, smokier, and chewier.

What part of the cow is beef biltong?

Almost any cut of beef may be used to make biltong, but the round is best. We recommend using a top round roast. There are 3 round cuts: top round (“topside”, sometimes called London Broil), eye of round and bottom round (“silverside”). Top round is the most tender, followed by eye of round and then bottom round.

Is biltong legal in the US?

Importing South African Biltong: A Customs Challenge Bringing South African biltong to the US (legally) is impossible without a special certificate due to how the meat is cured.

What does beef biltong taste like?

The texture of jerky tends to be tough, dry, and chewy whereas biltong is more tender, crumbly, and soft. The taste of jerky is smoky and steak like, while biltong has a slightly acidic taste from the vinegar and spices. Biltong has a meaty taste and a softer, more delicate texture than beef jerky.

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