South African biltong is a simple dry-cured meat that makes an excellent tool in your food preservation toolbox. Unlike jerky, which is cut into thin strips before drying, biltong is left in 2-inch-thick slabs, then shaved thin after drying. However, like jerky, it works best with very lean meat, because fat will go rancid from exposure to air even if you cure it properly.
Here is the pepper mill you see in the video. I have had mine for 25 years, and it’s been fantastic. I actually have two, one for black pepper, and another for every other kind of spice, like cloves, allspice, and coriander.
In this example, we’re using beef eye of round, the blandest, most boring piece of meat on the planet, but which becomes something delicious when spiced and cured properly. Any lean red meat would work.
We’re going to show you a traditional recipe that consists only of vinegar, salt, coriander, and black pepper, although we used a non-traditional drying method. Originally, the meat was seasoned, then tied up on one end and hung in the open air; I simply placed it on a rack in front of a fan.
When done, it should keep for weeks on the counter. You can wrap it in a cloth or paper to keep bugs off. Be sure to let it dry thoroughly before wrapping. I dried my first batch 4 days, and that wasn’t enough; when wrapped in paper it began to mold. I put it back on the rack for another 12 days, and that’s what you see in the video. Your time will vary depending on the thickness of the meat, the amount of air circulation, and the temperature and humidity. Of course, you can also refrigerate it and freeze it, if you wish.
If you do get mold, don’t panic — examine it first. If it’s white and smells vaguely like a garlic-free salami, it’s fine. But if it’s green or black, or smells foul, cut it off, but the rest of the meat should still be fine.
Traditional South African Biltong Recipe
- a 3 to 5 pound eye of round
- malt vinegar; if not available, any other vinegar will work
- 3 tablespoons coarse salt
- 2 tablespoons ground coriander
- black pepper to taste
Trim all fat and silver from the eye of round. (Bake trimmings at 150-170 F for several hours; reserve the tallow for cooking; and season the cracklings with salt and pepper for a delicious snack). Slice the meat into two even slabs along the grain. Season (in the following order) on both sides with vinegar, salt, coriander, and black pepper. Place in refrigerator for 24 hours. Place on rack in front of a fan for 6-20 days until thoroughly dry and very stiff.
Biltong Drying Options
- The traditional method is to tie one end of the slab with a string, or hook it, and suspend in open air in the shade. Supposedly, the black pepper repels flies.
- A common practice these days is to make a biltong box and hang it in there. Basically, it’s any box with panels cut out and replaced with screens to allow circulation and prevent flies. There are endless variations on YouTube.
- Use a food dehydrator. Just bear in mind that if you have a heated dehydrator, it might actually cook the meat, and you won’t get the dry-cured flavor.
- Use a rack and a fan, as in our video. Place some paper under the rack to catch drippings, and make sure there is a gap between rack and paper to assure circulation.