I have lived away from my home, Zimbabwe for many years now and even though I go back most years to visit friends and family, there are many things that I miss and one of the biggest things is biltong!
When I was in the UK this was not too much of a major issue as there were many places where you could buy biltong (this has since improved even more), however since moving to France this has become a little more difficult (and expensive).
So for years I have been promising myself that “this year I am going to make my own biltong” and then before I know it the year has gone by. Until now!
I have finally started making my own biltong and the most surprising thing to me was how easy it all was to make biltong and not only that, because I am making my own, I can and do experiment and play with the recipe to match my personal and that of the rest of my family’s tastes.
How I Make My Biltong
As you can see below the ingredients are very basic, easy to obtain and apart from the meat relatively inexpensive as well. You will also notice that many actually all of the quantities are approximate. This is because I adjust it depending on how I feel, the balance of flavouring I wish to get. However if you start with what is below, you will get what I believe to be a good traditional type tasting biltong:
- 2kg beef (or venison) – cuts you can use include topside, silverside, etc.
- Approx 150ml vinegar – I use cider vinegar here in France, but you can also use red wine or brown vinegar
- 50ml – 100ml Worcestershire sauce
- 3 tablespoons of crushed or coarsely ground coriander seeds
- 1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper
- About 500g of coarse salt
- Approx 150g soft brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
Cut The Meat
The first step is to cut your meat into strips. Depending on the cut of meat that I have, I try and make them no more than 4cm wide and I try and keep them quite thin (under 5mm).
You can make your biltong strips much larger and thicker than this, but I just feel that in this more humid environment here in France, it is important to make sure that it will dry out as quickly as possible and of course fit into my biltong box.
Also remember thinner and smaller pieces of meat will absorb more of the marinade, for a stronger overall vinegar taste. Whilst thicker strips will taste a little less vinegary as the center will not have time to have taken in all of the flavouring.
Marinade the Meat
For the next step, you simply combine the vinegar and Worcestershire sauce together and then marinade your strips of beef or venison in it for half an hour or so. As with the size of the strip and in relation to them, you can experiment with more or less time depending on how much of the flavouring you want your biltong to take on, but 30mins is a good place to start.
Salt & Spice the Meat
After marinating, you then need to spice the meat and draw out moisture from it with the salt.
Start off by mixing the already crushed or coarsely ground coriander and pepper together in a bowl or high sided dish.
Then in a second dish, combine and mix the salt, sugar and bicarbonate of soda all together. Note: The bicarb is there it soften the meat, so it is not absolutely necessary to add it if you don’t have it or want to.
Now take your meat out of the marinade and add it to your dish of spices. Mix it about to encrust the outside with the coriander and pepper.(Remember to keep marinade to use again, a little on when you rinse off the salt).
Next, take the meat from your spice dish (keep the spices) and then you need to almost bury your strips of beef or venison into your salt and sugar mixture and leave it to rest for around three hours.
After the three hours, take your meat from this brine marinade and return it to your vinegar marinade for a few minutes. Here you will notice that the meat takes on a slightly different colour and texture to the raw meat you first started with and it has now almost started to look as if it has been cooked a little on the outside.
Then you need to rinse all the salt from the exterior of the meat. Warning, if you don’t do this step, the biltong you end up with will be way too salty. I usually do it with just a little vinegar and then squeeze the meat afterwards to get out as much moisture as possible, being careful not to dislodge too much of the encrusted coriander and pepper from the meat.
Then the next step I take is to re-roll the strips of meat in the leftover dish of coriander and pepper. I guess you could skip this step or if you are like me, you may add more spices, it all depends on how spicy you like your biltong.
Your cured and spiced meat is now ready for hanging. How and where you best do this and for how long will depend on many factors, but it will mostly be down to where and how you live.
Just remember it is not about temperature and you do not need heat. Traditionally biltong is made in the winter months, where in South Africa and Zimbabwe it is colder, but dry. Moisture is your enemy and you need to have an air flow to both dry the meat and prevent fungal or mould growth.
I have a simple bilton box with a fan and air vents (no light bulb). Also sometimes known as a Biltong Maker or Biltong Dryer, it works perfectly here in France and will in most areas where there is a high humidity like Europe and North America etc.
You can either make one (I will soon be posting an article on how mine was made), or they are now available to buy in many places:
But you may get away with just hanging your meat in a cool, dry and well ventilated space.
In this biltong box and with my small, rather thin strips of meat, my biltong is ready to eat (how I like it) after 3 days. I just use thin strips of wire to hang it, but you can use string. The important thing to remember is to give everything space and to not let the meat touch anything else.
That’s it! – I hope you enjoy your tasty and protein rich biltong. I would love to get any feedback or comments, alternative biltong recipes and methods (see comments section at the foot of this page)
Whilst it is simple to make, there are times when you will just want some biltong, and you will want it now. Luckily these days you can get it in many countries outside of Southern Africa, including the US, Europe and the UK