Biltong is a South African snack food made from cured and dried slices of meat. Its history can be traced back over 400 years. The basic ingredients in traditional biltong are meat, salt, vinegar, black pepper and coriander. Historically it was hung up in a place with plenty of air circulating and left for days to cure and preserve for future consumption. The simple ingredients haven’t changed much in hundreds of years, but the options for drying have advanced to ensure the meat has the safest conditions over the long curing process.
Biltong is high in protein and low in carbs and for this reason it has become a popular, healthy, go-to snack with the paleo & keto community, gym-goers and hikers. The beauty of making biltong at home is you can control the texture and the flavour profile to custom fit your preferences.
A combination of good airflow and a relatively cool temperature are key to successful biltong making. Contrary to popular belief, heat is not required. With much consideration, the Luvele design team has created the Breeze Food Dehydrator which converts into a biltong drying box with the capacity to fit 24 stainless steel drying hooks. The unique design is the ultimate win win for foodies. When set at the lowest temperature (25 °C / 77 °F) the even airflow gives you the control you need to make perfect biltong whatever the weather!
Biltong often gets compared to beef jerky. It is similar to jerky in the fact that both are dried; however, the two products are worlds apart in taste, texture and process. Jerky is cooked slowly with heat, whereas biltong is cured and air-dried and is not cooked at all.
Jerky is made from very lean strips of prime quality meat that when dried become hard and chewy. Biltong starts with thicker cuts (that can be either lean or fatty) which allows more control over the moisture left in the final product. The dried meat is then sliced into bite sized pieces. A lean biltong will be dry and crumbly, and a fattier biltong will be soft and chewy. Compared to smoky beef jerky, biltong has a much meatier, deeper flavour. Biltong is also much healthier thanks to the curing process and low sugar content.
Generally, the spice mix consist of coriander and black pepper but as biltong has grown in popularity, variations in the ingredients and flavour profiles have evolved. It is now common to see ingredients such as Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, chili, and other spices in the mix.
We like to toast whole coriander seeds to enhance the flavour and release oil. The oil of coriander has antimicrobial properties which helps to protect against bacteria during the drying process.
Historically, many different types of wild game meats are used to make biltong but by far the most popular meat to use is beef, as it will suit most tastes. Topside and silverside are the most commonly recommended good cuts for biltong. Venison is also a good choice due to its leaner quality. Whatever you select, the standard factors of cut, ageing and fat content apply, and will affect your biltong in the same way.
Keeping the fat on is a personal preference. Fatty cuts are more likely to spoil and removing it will speed up the drying process and ensure greater longevity of the final product. If you choose to leave a strip of fat on for extra flavour, be more careful to ensure that the fat is properly dried. Get rid of any gristle or sinew as these parts become extremely tough to chew when dried.
Cut the meat along the grain in strips. When hung the grain should be running vertical. Don’t begin with slices that are too thick or they will take too long to dry. 10mm is ideal for the Breeze Food dehydrator. If you are starting with thicker strips, expect the drying time to be more than 4 days.
When hanging biltong with six trays in the Breeze Food Dehydrator, cut to a length of 10cm and when using nine trays, cut to a maximum length of 19cm. Longer strips are more space efficient for drying, and reduce the number of drying hooks you’ll need to use. It is important the biltong strips do not touch the base or sides of the dehydrator.
The traditional Biltong ingredients play an important role in preserving the meat, with vinegar and salt doing the heavy lifting of preventing the growth of bacteria. If this is your first-time making biltong, researching the method online can be confusing as opinions on curing methods vary. Some recipes call for several stages of curing while others baste and season simultaneously. Some leave the meat to marinate for 1 hour while others recommend up to 24 hours. The stable conditions within the Breeze food dehydrator mean that complicated seasoning methods and long marinating times are not necessary. We season and baste for only a few hours because curing essentially continues on the hooks.
Traditional vinegar is brown vinegar, (or malt vinegar). It has a distinctive taste and adds a lot of flavour to biltong. You can also use white vinegar or apple cider vinegar or experiment with different blends. Worcestershire sauce also adds depth of flavour. To sample this basting variation, combine 200ml of vinegar with 50ml of Worcestershire sauce.
Your biltong is ready to eat whenever you like the dryness level. After the first 48 hours drying, test the readiness of your biltong every day by squeezing the sides together with clean fingers. If you feel any give in the meat, it’s still wet inside. What you’re looking for is a really tough consistency with just a little bit of give. The Breeze food dehydrator it’s fairly forgiving, so a day over won’t do too much harm. That said, to confirm your biltong is ready, you have to sample it. Remove one of the steaks and cut through the thickest part with a sharp knife. Traditionally, the biltong should have turned a dark maroon colour but still be slightly pink on the middle, however, you may prefer your biltong to be dry (maroon colour) right through. It's up to you to experiment and discover your particular texture and taste preference.
Even though biltong is cured and air-dried, it’s still meat and is sensitive to spoiling. Homemade biltong is preservative free, so we recommend storing it in the fridge in a paper bag over short periods of 4-5 days. Should you wish to store it for longer than 5 days, or you want the biltong to stay soft, we recommend you store it in an air-tight container in the freezer. Biltong can be stored in the freezer for up to 6 months.
2 kg of meat
250ml vinegar (for basting)
2 tablespoons black pepper corns
½ cup whole coriander seeds
2 tablespoons sea salt
2 teaspoons paprika
Worcestershire sauce (see notes above)
Cayenne pepper, ground chili, chili flakes or peri peri spice mix
1 tablespoon of brown sugar
1. Toast the coriander seed in a dry pan on medium heat, shaking the pan frequently so the seeds toast evenly (about 2 minutes), then set aside to cool.
2. Grind down the seeds in a mortar & pestle, spice grinder or Vibe Blender system on ‘nut’ mode for approx. 30 seconds. When grinding, don’t turn the seeds into a fine powder. Ideally the grind consistency should be mostly powder, with a few pieces of seed shells left in.
3. Pour the ground spices into a bowl then add the paprika, salt and other optional spices and stir well. Set aside and prepare the meat.
4. Using a sharp knife, following the grain of the meat, cut into thick lengths. (see notes above)
5. Choose a large non-metallic container to marinate the meat. (we used a ceramic lasagne dish)
6. (optional) Reserve a third of the seasoning mix to pat into the meat before hanging on the hooks.
7. Sprinkle a portion of the seasoning into the base of the container. Lay strips of meat in a single layer across the bottom. Pour a quarter of the basting vinegar over the top. Sprinkling the meat with more seasoning. Arrange another layer of meat, then repeat the process until the spice mix and vinegar are used.
8. With clean hands, turn and rub the strips of meat until they are thoroughly coated.
9. Place in the fridge to cure for approximately 3 hours. The longer you leave it the more the meat will absorb. If you prefer a more pronounced flavour, then leave for more time.
10. Remove the meat from the container, pat dry with kitchen towels, taking care not to remove too much of the spice.
11. Optional: roll the strips of meat in the remaining spice mix.
12. Add a hook into the thickest end of each strip of meat. You are now ready to hang your biltong strips for drying.
13. When hanging the meat, be sure to separate your strips evenly throughout the dehydrator. It is important that the strips of meat are not touching each other, or the sides or bottom of the dehydrator. Once you have completed hanging your meat, simply place the lid on to the dehydrator.
14. Set the temperature to 25 °C / 77 °F and the time to 48 hours to check in. The length of drying can vary from 3 - 5 days, depending on the thickness of the strips and the humidity in the air.
15. See notes above on how to tell when your Biltong is done. Once dried your biltong will shrink by around half the size.
16. When your Biltong is sufficiently dried, cut into thin slices with a sharp knife.
17. When biltong is fresh, you can eat it within 4-5 days but when stored and packed right, it can last for months. See our storing tips above.
If you make this, or any of our recipes, we would love to see your creations. Leave us a comment, or tag a photo using #luvelelife on Instagram.