Biltong is a variety of dried, cured meat that originated in Southern Africa. Various types of meat are used to produce it, ranging from beef and game meats to fillets of ostrich from commercial farms. It is typically made from raw fillets of meat cut into strips following the grain of the muscle, or flat pieces sliced across the grain. It is similar to beef jerky in that they are both spiced, dried meats. The typical ingredients, taste and production processes differ, the main difference being that biltong is dried and subsequently sliced whereas jerky is sliced prior to drying. The word biltong is from the Dutch bil (“rump”) and tong (“strip” or “tongue”). Origin Indigenous peoples of Southern Africa, such as the Khoikhoi, preserved meat by slicing it into strips, curing it with salt, and hanging it up to dry. After European settlers (Dutch, German, French) arrived in southern Africa in the early 17th century, they improved the curing process by using vinegar, saltpetre and spices including pepper, coriander and cloves. The need for preservation in the new colony was pressing. Building up herds of livestock took a long time but with indigenous game in abundance, traditional methods were available to preserve large masses of meat such as found in the eland in a hot climate. Iceboxes and fridges had not been invented yet. Biltong as it is today evolved from the dried meat carried by the wagon-travelling Voortrekkers, who needed stocks of durable food as they migrated from the Cape Colony north and north-eastward (away from British rule) into the interior of Southern Africa during the Great Trek. The meat was preserved and hung to be dried for a fortnight after which it would be ready for packing in cloth bags. Meat Prior to the introduction of refrigeration, the curing process was used to preserve all kinds of meat in South Africa. However today biltong is most commonly made from beef, primarily because of its widespread availability and lower cost relative to game. For the finest cuts fillet or steaks cut from the hip such as topside or silverside. Other cuts can be used, but are not as high in quality. Biltong can also be made from:
- Chicken, simply referred to as ‘chicken biltong.
- Fish in this case, known as bokkoms (shark biltong can also be found in South Africa).
- Sirloin such as kudu and springbok
- Ostrich Meat – (High in Protein)
- The meat used in biltong can be much thicker; typically biltong meat is cut in strips approx 1″ (25 mm) wide – but can be thicker. Jerky is normally very thin meat.
- The vinegar, salt and spices in biltong, together with the drying process the meat as well as adding texture and flavour. Jerky is traditionally dried with salt but without vinegar.
- Jerky is often smoked; biltong is never smoked.
It is similar to beef jerky in that they are both spiced, dried meats. The typical ingredients, taste and production processes differ, the main difference being that biltong is dried and subsequently sliced whereas jerky is sliced prior to drying.