Biltong and Jerky

Jerky is a generic term to describe raw meat that has been marinated or spiced or otherwise flavoured, and then dried in strips. I've seen everything from cranberry-flavoured jerky to curry flavour. Even dried fish.

Biltong is a purist's jerky. It is South African jerky and it is made to a recipe that is virtually identical wherever you look on the internet. It is beef or lean game that has been salted, scraped clean, then dipped in vinegar and coated with a mixture of ground coriander and black pepper and air-dried.

Jaapies have been known to sustain themselves solely on biltong and beer throughout an entire rugby match.

Biltong is way ahead on my favourites list. I use topside beef for preference or venison if I can get it.

I use a home food drier. Not all of these are created equal, as far as biltong is concerned. While the smaller snack food makers are fine for most purposes, biltong does best for me with a temperature slightly higher than these provide. I use an EZIDRI home food drier. For more information, go to the equipment page.

I tend to make enough biltong to last me about three weeks as protein snacks or trail food. Properly made, it will last at least that long, even without refrigeration or preservative, but watch carefully for any signs of mould or green discoloration. Undoubtedly it is at its best fresh from the drier.

You will need:

  1. Venison or topside or thick cut schnitzel - about 1-2 kg is plenty for a single batch at the rate I use it.
  2. Salt
  3. Malt or cider vinegar
  4. Fresh ground black pepper
  5. Fresh ground coriander

You can of course buy ground coriander and ground black pepper at the supermarket and if you're into convenience you may wish to do that as you will use a good half cupful of the combined mix, and grinding the spices by hand is hard work. I found an electric coffee grinder in a second hand shop for $5 and it works just fine.


Place about a tablespoon of black peppercorns and 3 tablespoons of coriander seed into the grinder and take the mix out to a fairly fine consistency. Personal taste will dictate the exact ratio of pepper and coriander. More pepper if you like it hotter.

Start by washing in hot water every tool, plate and board that you are going to use and each of the plastic trays you are going to use, and wash your hands thoroughly. Hygiene is 100% essential when you are not cooking the meat.

I trim any fat off the meat first. Fat does not dry well. Ditto gristle.

Cut the meat into strips about 3cm across, 1cm thick and as long as it comes. If you cut it with the grain across the strip, it is easier to bite off a piece later.

Take a large chopping board or platter and sprinkle a good layer of salt over it. Take each strip and lay it first one side, then the other, on the salt and place it on a large plate so that it is not touching other pieces. Replenish salt frequently as needed.

Leave the plate, covered, for about 90 minutes to a couple of hours where the cat will not find it. In a cold oven is good. Not too much longer, or the end product will be too salty. Wash and dry the chopping board carefully. You will need it again for the next stage.

Some people simply layer the strips in a baking dish and sprinkle the salt over, I've tried that but I think the method described gives a better result, even though labour intensive.

Thoroughly wash and dry two or three of the drier trays and the plastic mesh that goes with each tray.

After 90 minutes or so, prepare a small bowlful of malt or cider vinegar - about 3/4 of a cup, and cover the large chopping board with a layer of freshly ground spice mix as described above. Have ready a small knife - a table knife is fine - and another chopping board.

Take each strip of meat and scrape the salt from each side. Dip the strip in the bowl of vinegar, give it a shake, then coat it with the spice mix on both sides and lay it out on the plastic mesh on the drier tray clear of other strips. Continue until all the meat is prepared in this way. Replenish and grind fresh spice mix as necessary.

Place the trays on the drier and set the temperature at 55-60C. Use the lower temperature if the strips are a little on the thick side and take a little longer to make sure the meat dries right through. The process, depending on meat thickness, local humidity and air temperature will take from 5 to 8 hours, sometimes a little more.

The end product will be a dark reddish brown, with perhaps a hint of pinkness at the centre. Too much pink and you'll compromise shelf-life. If you're planning to knock it all off with a few Castle Lagers or a Milk Stout or two on Saturday evening, not a problem.

Store in sealed new plastic bags, in the fridge for longer storage, but they'll do fine over a fortnight or more at air temperature in your pack. For trail purposes, I normally cut the dried strips into 2cm chunks and stow them where I can grab one easily. On longer walks, I mostly prefer the salty, spicy taste of these to scroggin or similar high calory snacks.

Miranda experimented with a soy and honey marinade, which worked well, but the second time we reckon we were a bit heavy on the soy or a bit long on the soaking for the taste we wanted. Be cautious, but experiment all you want. There's lots of jerky pages to check out.






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