Biltong is a type of cured meat that originated in Southern Africa. It is a delicious, somewhat unusual, addition to a charcuterie board. If you are looking for an exotic talking point to add to your next board, we recommend selecting flavorful biltong as the best meat.
Biltong originated in the Southern African countries of South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana, and Zambia. Wild game and beef were cured in order to preserve it before the introduction of refrigeration. Some sources say that modern biltong evolved from the dried meats carried by the Voortrekkers when they migrated into the interior of Southern Africa during the Great Trek.
Biltong is a lean meat and can be made from a variety of meats including grass fed beef, kudu, ostrich, and impala. The cut can either be filet meat strips following the muscle grain or slices against the grain. The most common ingredients in traditional biltong recipe are meat, black pepper, coriander seeds, salt, vinegar, and sometimes brown sugar. Today, some biltong also includes balsamic vinegar, chili peppers, garlic, onion powder, or Worcestershire sauce.
Biltong is prepared using a very similar process to European cured meats. The biltong ingredients are marinated in a vinegar solution, flavored with salt and all the spices, and hung to dry slowly. Though, there are may strategies for drying meat when making biltong. Modern biltong makers often use heat or curing salts to speed the drying process, but traditional biltong makers maintain that slow air dried biltong is of superior quality. Most people will construct and utilize a biltong box, which is a chamber in which the biltong will go through the drying process.
Biltong vs Jerky
Biltong meat is not just some South African beef jerky. There are three main differences between biltong and beef jerky. First, the meat used in biltong is much thicker than beef jerky. Biltong is typically slow-dried in cold air, meaning that it can be much thicker. Typically biltong is cut into 1” thick strips as opposed to beef jerky, which is normally in very thin slices. Second, biltong is dried meat with vinegar, salts, and the spice mix. Jerky is not dried using vinegar. This gives biltong a distinct flavor. Finally, beef jerky is often smoked whereas biltong is never smoked. Nevertheless, both make the perfect snack and it comes down to personal preference.
Biltong is typically eaten as dried meat snacks or as part of an appetizer, such as a charcuterie board. It can also be diced up into stews or baked into bread. The popularity of biltong has spread to the UK, Australia, and Canada. In South African countries is remains a traditional snack. Check to see if your local butcher does sell biltong and can open you up to this new cultural experience. While it is still not very well known in the US, due to the prevalence of jerky, it is a delicious and rare treat that can easily make a simple charcuterie board far more exciting.