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.
12 thoughts on “Traditional South African Biltong”
It looks like Pastrami in the picture. How does it taste?
It doesn’t taste like pastrami, at least not the batch in the picture. It was actually curing for bresaola, which calls for rosemary, thyme, juniper, and other spices, when I decided to make biltong instead. So I added vinegar, pepper, and coriander and sliced it thinner. It tastes good, but it’s not like the traditional recipe. However, you can use whatever beef jerky recipe you like best — it might not taste like the traditional recipe, but if you like it, who cares?
True, as long as you like the taste and it’s edible, that’s all that matters. Thanks.
You mention sodium nitrite at the beginning but don’t then use it or did I miss that bit?
I’m confused with the ‘fat’ thing. One never cuts the fat off! Rancid? Something wrong with your method then.
The fat does not cure with the rest of the meat. It will go rancid unless you heavily salt it. Its not pork fat. Beef fat is different. Its not dried at the same low moisture as jerky. Nothing wrong with his method, even fat is cut off jerky. This is pretty good video.
Will this only last a “couple of weeks”?
I make jerky, but have never made biltong, and was confused by your video. I’ve watched Aussie’s and NZlanders making “traditional” biltong, use rock salt to leech the moisture out, then they brush off the salt before proceeding with the vinegar then seasoning. I see that your method seems to work as well; is it “traditional”?
If well prepared jerky can last for months, or, as Chef Alton Brown prepares it, he claims it lasts forever, I can see why biltong would only last a few weeks – insufficient preservatives. Speaking of preservatives, Do you use sodium nitrite in biltong as a ‘food’ preservative or a color/texture preservative? If it acts as a food preservative, then why does biltong last only a few weeks?
Those are my questions. Besides those, the biltong you made looks lip-smacking good!
I actually made a batch using the recipe with the only substitution being cider vinegar. I put it in my food dehydrator on the lowest setting (100 degrees) for 6 days. I brought half to work today and everyone loved it! I’m not sure how long it’ll keep but at least half of it was enjoyed today! Simple, easy and tasty but tough to slice thin. Good thing I have a sharp knife.
Although vinegar may be used, your biltong will be a lot tastier if you use worcestershire sauce instead of vinegar, and white pepper instead of black. Also; once the meat has darkened and surface dried (about 2 days), the meat may be packed in cloth bags, and placed in a refrigerator until completely dry (about 7 to 10 days). Biltong may also be air dried for up to 2 months, at which time it may be ground up or pulverized, and used in salads or on sandwiches (like bacon bits). I stated up to 2 months, but it should be noted that properly cured biltong may be stored in cool, dry conditions (without refrigeration) for much longer periods of time, although it will lose flavor over time.
very excited to try the recipe after watching this video. I understand that the meat used here started
out being slated to make something else (Bresaola?). That’s probably explains why we didn’t see the Sodium Nitrite
being applied. The National Toxicology
Program, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, has
shown that using FDA approved levels of Sodium Nitrite does NOT cause
Cancer… So, I would like to use it in
this recipe. Did you use Cure #1 or
pure Sodium Nitrite and what were the ratios of meat to cure mix ??? THANKS !!!
Sorry for the format issue