Introduction: Biltong:NOT Jerky

Picture of Biltong:NOT Jerky

A great South African classic. Although many people compare American Jerky with South African Biltong, it is just not the same thing. I helped my Dad to make biltong since I was very young and have made at least 50kg (100 pounds) on my own since I left home. I do not claim to be an expert (like Dad) but would like everyone to try this authentic South African recipe. My version is most certainly not the best. My three boys and I like to do it every winter, it's a tradition and nowadays they insist to do most of the work.

Whereas jerky is mostly made of thin strips of meat containing little fat, biltong is made from a large variety of cuts, sometimes containing more than 50% fat by volume. The cuts are generally thicker than other dried meat cuts and the moisture content of the final product varies with taste. I prefer my biltong moist, with a thick strip of fat, whilst my wife likes it dry with no fat. Some people argue that venison biltong should be very dry - almost to the point of crumbling, while others like it soft. There are as many preferences as there are South Africans. Pity is that most people can either not afford it or, even sadder, do not know how to make it.

SAFETY WARNING: You should not do this if you cannot replicate the environment that is needed for the meat to dry. You WILL suffer from food poisoning if you do not get it right. Keep everyting CLEAN!  More about this in another step.

Step 1: Materials

Picture of Materials

Materials, or rather, ingredients for this lovely food:

1. Meat. This must be red meat. Lamb and mutton does not work great. I have eaten: Beef, Impala, Kudu, Elephant, Ostrich, Oryx, Gnu, Zebra, Warthog, Springbok, Duiker, Baboon, Blesbok etc. etc. Any cut wil do, although marbled meat is not a very good material. A strip of fat on the outside of the meat works well if you prefer to have fat in the final product. Only soft fat must be used. Hard fat (as is mostly encountered with venison) is horrible, to say the least. In this example I used a tender beef fillet.

2. Vinegar. Brown spirit vinegar (5% strength) works the best

3. Brown sugar. Not treacle sugar. Normal cane sugar may also be used

4. Dried Coriander seeds

5. Water

6. Coarse salt

7. (Optional) Finely ground white pepper

Step 2: Tools

Picture of Tools

The picture shows me & the boys using our tools to "construct" our favorite snack.

You will need:

1. A sharp butchers knife
2. Hooks (I use plastic covered paperclips)
3. A container (or two) to hold the cuts of meat
4. A line where you can hang the meat to dry

About the line: It should be of sturdy construction, preferably made of steel wire and able to support the weight of the undried product. I have four lines, made of 3mm steel wire, properly anchored to the walls of my garage. The lines I use are 4m long. I have the lines indoors so that no insects, birds, rodents or the like can get to my biltong. During daytime I open all the doors to allow enough influx of cool dry air.

Step 3: Cut the Meat

Picture of Cut the Meat

Cutting time! Here I show how I cut through the fillet, creating a 2cm thick slice. It is of extreme importance to cut the meat ALONG and NOT ACCROSS the grain of the meat. The picture in the previous step shows the gang cutting up a 6kg (12pound) chunk of beef silverside (roast).

Did I mention cleanliness? Keep all surfaces, hands and tools clean at all times.

Step 4: Spice the Meat

Picture of Spice the Meat

Spicing is a truly personal thing. That which I provide here, makes for an authentic South African biltong. You may vary ingredients, change quantities and do whatever you like. It is an art which many would like to master.

Two important things:

Use enough salt. Remember that the final product weight will be about at third of the original weight, so DO NOT OVERSALT. Salt is the main preservative of Biltong and if you do not use enough you wil end up with rotten meat. Easy? Experiment till you get it just right!

The meat must be MOIST during the initial 24 hours.

Here goes:

1. Coarse salt, as shown on all raw biltong cuts (about 1.5 tsp/pound of meat)
2. A very fine sprinkle of brown sugar, as shown (about half a teaspoon/pound of meat)
3. Sprinkle with water and brown vinegar (about 1 tbsp/pound of meat)
4. Coriander seeds (ground rather coarse). Amount to taste.
5. Optional spices (to taste). Experiment with this.

Layer the meat in your container as you spice it. Make sure that all layers have the same amount of spices.
Let the meat stand for 12 hours, then turn it over and let stand for another 12 hours. The meat must be kept at a temperature between 5° and 10°C  (40 to 50°F) during this process. Refrigeration should work good, although I have never used it because I only make biltong during winter when the average temperature is around 10°C (50°F)

Step 5: Make the Hooks & Hanging Wire

Picture of Make the Hooks & Hanging Wire

You may use commercial meat hooks if you want to, but I found that bending plastic-covered paper clips works just as fine. My dad uses special stainless steel hooks that he made himself but I consider those too expensive. Make sure that you properly wash the hooks and keep them as clean as possible. I re-use my hooks.

The hanging wire, as already mentioned, should be of sturdy construction, so that it can carry the weight of the wet product. I remember my grandfather hanging biltong in his closet!

Step 6: Hang It to Dry

Picture of Hang It to Dry

The picture shows one of my handy helpers hanging a biltong next to some others that are already in an advanced stage of drying.

Important things to remember about the area where you hang the biltong:

1. It should not be accessible to insects, birds & the like.
2. Individual pieces must not touch.
3. Dripping will occur. Make sure the floor surface is protected or may be easily cleaned.

4. IMPORTANT: The average temperature should be between 40°F and 50°F and relative humidity below 50%. Should you not be able to meet these conditions, a fan aimed directly at the drying meat may help. This, however, affects the taste. You may use a commercial biltong dryer, but do not expect the final product to be of the best quality.

Step 7: Eat!

Picture of Eat!

This is the most difficult step. When can I eat the biltong? It depends on your own personal preference and on the thickness of the cuts. Should you like it dry, you will have to wait at least 14 days, but if you prefer the meat to be moist, you can eat it after four days hanging at the right conditions. Slice it thinly, thick, in chunks, or rip at a whole piece using your teeth only!

Biltong may be frozen should it not be properly dried. If it is very dry, you can keep it for more than a year in a dark, dry and cool place. It will not spoil.

Happy eating!


driesl1 (author)2017-08-29

A handy way to quantify "tenderness" is the dry weight to wet weight ratio: I will not take the biltong out until the wet weight has halved, ie 2:1 ratio. Much drier than this is too much for me personally, but the local butchers (who sell by weight) will often only have very wet biltong available (this way they sell you more water and less meat...)

Geniet die biltong, boet!!

Dr KAZ (author)driesl12017-08-29

Hey Dries,

After all, it's about selling water and not meat! Take a lekker piece of wors with 10% water content and sell it at 80 bucks a kilo - that's what you'd be selling the water at which you got from the tap for next to nothing. It beats selling bottled water hands-down.

En moenie die droëwors vergeet nie!!

Phoghat (author)2010-07-05

What is brown vinegar? I've seen many brown vinegars: Cider, malt etc, what do you use?

Dr KAZ (author)Phoghat2010-07-05

It's clear, dark brown and is made from grapes although there are also synthetic versions. You could use brown grape vinegar although white should also work.

merpius (author)Dr KAZ2010-08-17

It sounds like you are describing Balsalmic vinegar: made from grapes (white grapes for true Balsalmic) aged in wood casks to give it a deep brown color. It is also available in not-so-true version which are made with grape juice, strong vinegar, caramel, and sugar to produce a similar product.

omnistructable (author)merpius2016-12-26

Do not use Balsamic vinegar. It is not the same. It has to be grape vinegar, brown or white. I like brown.

Dr KAZ (author)merpius2010-08-18

It's the cheap stuff: Clear, i.e. transparent when held against a strong light. No particulates, no sugar. Acidity = 5%. Synthetic versions are lighter brown in colour (like half a glass of Cola mixed with half a glass of water). The colourless synthetic variety also works.

thepelton (author)Dr KAZ2010-07-06

It sounds to me like what you call "brown grape vinegar" is probably what we would find in the market as "wine vinegar".

dawitchi (author)Phoghat2010-07-09

Malt will do fine, as that's all I can find in the UK.

kickinit233 (author)2016-10-30

Would this work in a underground fridge with an average of 50 degrees.

StretchD (author)2015-10-05

Many thanks for the instructable, I have been doing a little of my own research and as I see most biltong drying environments need A) heat and B) air. Making Biltong in the UK I was thinking of building a biltong box. Most of which have ether a 40-100w light bulb and or a fan.
I want to query step 6....
"4. IMPORTANT: The average temperature should be between 40°F and 50°F and relative humidity below 50%..."
40°F and 50°F is 4.4°C and 10°C should this not read 40-50°C (104-122°F)?
This temperature is the same as step 4 seasoning...
If the temperature is correct then why do dries have a lamp for heating?

Dr KAZ (author)StretchD2015-10-05

Keep the temp as low as possible to avoid bacterial growth (affects quality & flavour). The colder you can go in a low humidity environment - the nearer you get to "freeze drying" conditions. Keep it natural - the way biltong is intended to be made. The temps in the instructable are as close to ideal conditions as possible. Commercially manufactured biltong does not taste the same as the real thing. Problem: Temperature is too high.

SeánO36 (author)Dr KAZ2016-04-09

So if I were to buy a biltong box from amazon, you're saying it would be more like commercially manufactured flavour than homemade?

Vegimitechippysanga made it! (author)2015-10-11

A few pictures of my latest batch!

p1gunslinger (author)2010-07-04

Thank you for this! As a American I am the third generation to have been making my family Jerky. I will have to try this method

merpius (author)p1gunslinger2010-08-17

You should post your results when you do. My impression is that everyone who has tried both has only tried commercial Jerky, not the tasty stuff that people make at home. If they'd tried some of the good stuff, then either their comments are incongruous or Biltong is tender as veal and almost as moist as raw meat.... certainly the methodology given above doesn't point to a result approaching raw veal consistency...

zootalaws (author)merpius2015-09-22

We're lucky, there's a shop that sells 'home-made' biltong down in Petone, NZ. The owners have been here about 20 years, but still make it just like you would at home, not 'factory' made.

But... it costs. I make my own ham, bacon, smoked sausage, smoked chickens, smoked fish - I am totally going to make some biltong (and surprise my South African son-in-law.

Thanks for the recipe!

Dr KAZ (author)merpius2010-08-18

Homemade Jerky is MUUCCHH better than the vacuum-packed stuff! Yes, Biltong is tender and moist, depending on the cut, amount of spice/salt and the time left for drying. Some people prefer it hard, some prefer it dried to the point where it becomes crumbly and easily turns into a powder when struck with a hammer on a hard surface. I prefer mine moist with a good strip of fat, sliced thinly (much thinner than the pictures shown). My wife likes Biltong dry with no fat, sliced into 1 inch chunks. The method I use may be adapted (ever so slightly) to yield "melt in the mouth" Biltong.

lipnstac (author)2015-05-07

Had some last month! Can't wait to make some.

iPodGuy (author)2012-06-20

I am totally making biltong tonight.

I'm using your recipe with a biltong box that I made and I'll update you when it's done!

ebrahim1985 (author)2012-03-19

i am expecting some impala on Wednesday, will definitely let you all know how my biltong recipe comes out.

Houstonj (author)2011-12-06

Dr Kaz,

Great recipe, another good trick instead of using hooks is just to use small plastic cable ties.

Made me miss home when I saw your instructables!

Great job Boet!

kaydizzle (author)2010-08-13

Mmmmmm biltong, haven't had some in what, must be a year now? Argh craaaave!!

thegreat58 (author)2010-08-05

I really like the way you think, I've always been a clean nut when it comes to making anything that's to be consumed. I've made a ton of jerky....well lots in any case, but I will certainly try Biltong. I tried some that a friends wife brought back to Canada from South Africa, it was delicious.

HellborN-HarbingeR (author)2010-08-02

Goeiste, (oh, my)... There are a lot of South Africans on this site. Why am I even surprised, with the old saying " 'n Boer maak 'n plan!" (A Boer makes a plan) a site like Instructables would be the perfect place to gather. To quote you: "Although many people compare American Jerky with South African Biltong". I would agree but that would be like comparing a juicy prime cut steak to a piece of cardboard. [No offence to those who grew up not knowing anything better ;) ] I am currently working in Saudi Arabia on contract and Biltong is the one thing I miss most, and Beer, Bilton & Beer a match made in heaven. The Chef at our hotel is also from South Africa and he told me he was building a biltong box at home. I should see how that's come along... And get me some. Groete aan al die Suid Afrikaaners. (Regards to all the South Africans) =][=

Hoe's die vir 'n plan: Was eenkeer op 'n trip Antarktika toe, vrek lus vir Biltong na 3 weke. Vra sjef toe vir 'n generous porsie carpaccio. Sout, asyn en suiker hulle toe op met take-away sakkies van die burger-bar en maak biltong-blare in die kajuit. Mmmm... Jammer die bier op die boot was crappy. 'skuus vir die taal, ek hoop jy kry 'n stukkie van die regte goed te ete ASAP!

thepelton (author)2010-07-03

I'll have to try this, even if most members of the antelope and elephant family that used to roam Colorado (United States of America) have been extinct for over 10 thousand years. Maybe it would would on pronghorn, bison, or domestic beef. Beef would be the easiest to obtain.

Dr KAZ (author)thepelton2010-07-03

When I see a pronghorn, I always think of the African version (there's a few species) called Hartebeest (Translate Heart Cattle). They make excellent Biltong, although you have to be carefull to obtain a young animal because these fast runners tend to contain a lot of sinew. Maybe you guys in the USA could get fresh Ostrich meat : It's one of the tastiest meats to make biltong. Should it be beef: Use cuts from the hindquarters.

thepelton (author)Dr KAZ2010-07-05

Maybe the American Turkey could be done as Biltong.

Dr KAZ (author)thepelton2010-07-05

Some butchers is South Africa make odd things like chicken biltong, shark biltong & the like, so yes, it should be possible to make turkey biltong. I'd use breast meat sliced very thinly.

thepelton (author)Dr KAZ2010-07-06

I have noticed with bird meat that the fatty part generally is concentrated under the skin and in easily removable chunks, so it should be fairly possible to make it quite lean. As for Emu, people have been raising it locally, but I have yet to see it get to market as cuts of meat, but when it does, it could probably be done as Biltong too.

Dr KAZ (author)thepelton2010-07-21

The Emu industry in SA is alive and well. I have a friend who farms them. Must say, he's never offered me any of the meat. They use the oil they get from the skin and fat (I think) for cosmetic products. As for birds in general, I think the breast meat is quite suitable for making biltong, although it would be in very tiny bits for most birds because they are so small. You'd probably get two or three bites to eat from a regular garden pigeon. That's hardly worth the effort - the pigeon looks better pecking away in the garden anyway!

thepelton (author)Dr KAZ2010-07-21

I am underemployed right now, relying on some inheritance to make ends meet, but I'm not so desperate that I would be makeing pigeon biltong any time soon. Turkey biltong, however, sounds possible. I have noticed that from time to time partial cuts of turkey, such as wings, thighs and breasts, show up at the market. I'll have to look for those.

Dr KAZ (author)thepelton2010-07-22

You should go with the breast cuts for biltong. Slice them very thin (along the grain). Let me know if you succeed. Must agree, turkey cuts is a winner for saving cost. We've got 4 growing kids, 3 of them boys and they can ruin a large chicken in one sit-down. We just love turkey-leg. I smoke it in the Weber and then we have a feast.

jongscx (author)Dr KAZ2010-07-05

Just curious, is Ostrich a Red meat? I'd always assumed it was just like a big chicken...

holeshot (author)jongscx2010-07-09

Ostrich meat has the appearance and texture of a nice steak, but tastes like chicken. It is tasty stuff, and good for you too--lots of protein, very little fat.

Dr KAZ (author)jongscx2010-07-05

Very dark red meat. It's quite dry, there's hardly any fat, must say it is one of my favourites.

thepelton (author)jongscx2010-07-05

It is a large, flightless bird, but it hasn't got the attitude of a chicken, from what I have seen.

photo_luigi (author)thepelton2010-07-05

An unhappy ostrich has the attitude of a wounded buffalo, Google "ostrich attack".

photo_luigi (author)jongscx2010-07-05

Yes, red meat and very healthy too.

thepelton (author)Dr KAZ2010-07-05

The American Pronghorn is probably a distant relative of the Hartebeest, but I would have to look at the online Encyclopedia of Life to check out how close. ( As for Ostrich, I haven't seen it in the markets, but people have been raising Emu here, and the meat may eventually show up in the markets. I grew up in the state of Wyoming, where the American Pronghorn Antelope is just about an every day sight once you leave the towns.

thepelton (author)thepelton2010-07-05

According to the Encyclopedia of Life. ( American Pronghorn is "Antilocapra americana" and Hartebeest is "Acephalus buselaphus". Not really closely related like the Russian and American Bison, but both herding quadruped ruminants, and probably both useful for Biltong.

photo_luigi (author)Dr KAZ2010-07-05

Your biltong looks good - I feel like taking a drive down to the butchery to get some myself. ostrich is a good idea to use for biltong, I was born in Oudtshoorn, so I grew up with ostrich biltong, it's my favourite together with beef biltong. As a boy I often went hunting with my Dad, the best venison to use for biltong is: Impala, Springbuck, Eland and Kudu. OK, I'm off to the butchery now.

thecheatscalc (author)2010-07-10

it says 40-50 degrees Fahrenheit... did you mean Celsius? that seems pretty cold to be possible you're doing it in a closet. sounds good though! I may have to try this!

Dr KAZ (author)thecheatscalc2010-07-20

40-50 F indeed. That's the temp in my garage during winter. On some days it might go up to 65F or so. Should it be warmer you can still make the biltong as long as the air is very dry.

ewilhelm (author)2010-07-03

Is there any difference between using frozen or fresh meat? The only game I currently have available is frozen venison and wild boar. The cuts you show in the intro picture look delicious, and I'm looking forward to trying this out.

Dr KAZ (author)ewilhelm2010-07-03

Glad you asked the question. Frozen meat may be used to make Biltong, although the taste and texture of the final product is impaired (to my mind severely, but that's an opinion). If you are used to the taste of Biltong made using fresh meat, you will immediately know the difference. I would only make biltong from frozen meat should it be some or other exotic species of which I would not dare to waste any meat. As you probably know, freezing has an enormous impact on the cell structure of any meat. Biltong was "invented" in the days when man-made refrigeration was impossible. As with conventional preparation of any meat product, freezing the meat before using it affects the taste. Compare, for example, the taste of frozen peas with that of peas that were still in the veggie garden 10 minutes before lunch. Concerning the Wild Boar: I have tasted that and must say that it bears some resemblance to the African Warthog. Making Biltong from this species should not be attempted by beginners, but should be left to those "skilled in the art".

ewilhelm (author)Dr KAZ2010-07-13

Thanks! In that case, I'll probably try this out with some fresh farmed meat so that I've got it down prior to trying with fresh game meat.

j0nathan (author)2010-07-10

SHWEEEET. so many south africans on instructables. great recipie> if you are making a small amount a perforated bag that you get vegetables in works just fine to keep away the flies and pests. cool instructable

matt1992 (author)2010-07-10

Aww. This instructable makes me feel so homesick.

About This Instructable



Bio: I have my own lab where I teach Science & Mathematics to children of all ages. When not teaching, I "tinker" with whatever I can lay ... More »
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