If you're just like us and you can't help having biltong ready at all times, why not try your hand at making your own? Homemade biltong is actually easy to make once you've nailed down the basics. Here are some tips that will have you making biltong in no time.
Since the meat is basically the main ingredient of biltong, high quality and free-range would be ideal for best results but it does take some trial and error before you find what's best for your taste but that's the charm in making your own biltong — you get to customise it entirely to your liking especially when biltong can be made with a wide variety of meats. The most common choices for making biltong are beef, ostrich, and other wild game but chicken, fish, and pork can also be made into biltong.
At Ember, we use silverside beef for our biltong but you can also use toprump or even venison. It is best to use lean meat as fatty meats have higher chances of mould to set in during the drying process and lean meat dries quicker and will yield a more flavourful and tender biltong. But again, you can definitely experiment with different cuts and types of meat for your biltong and it's really all about finding that sweet spot between quality, cost, and of course availability.
SPICES & MARINADE
The most basic and essential spice for biltong is definitely coriander followed up with the usual salt and cracked black pepper. Those are the main building blocks of flavour to make biltong and you can only go up from there by adding other spices. So don't be afraid to get creative with your biltong spice mix - you might just stumble upon a breakthrough (and give us a run for our money).
No biltong marinade is complete without vinegar as it cures the meat as it dries and vinegar gives biltong a distinct layer of flavour, and softens up the meat to give it that steak-like mouthfeel. You can add your own unique twist to it by switching up classic vinegar for the red wine or apple cider variety. Actually, the biltong marinade isn't just for flavour because by marinating the meat in vinegar and spices, especially coriander, it reduces the growth of bacteria throughout the drying process.
Want the Ember touch to your biltong? Use spirit vinegar, coriander, salt, black pepper, garlic powder, nutmeg, ground clove, and chilli for your biltong marinade and you'll be feeling like you just opened a pack of our Original Biltong.
The tools you will need to make your biltong may vary depending on your chosen drying method. But here are some essentials that you will need and may well be already in your home:
Drying hooks or even bent open metal paper clips to hang the meat
Mortar and pestle or spice grinder to ground your biltong spice mix
Biltong box or a room with a fan on low for airflow - a steady stream of air running past the meat is good to prevent mould and draw away moisture but not too strong as it will over-dry the outside of your biltong.
In the old days, biltong was dried through sun drying which was literally hanging pieces of meat on tree branches to be dried out in the sun. Some people have kept this tradition alive but we've come a long way since then and have developed modern methods to dry biltong in the comfort of your own home.
This method doesn't require any special equipment, just your good old oven. It's super easy and great for first-timers who are just trying their hand at biltong making and are not yet ready to invest in a biltong box or dehydrator. Once you're done with marinating your meat, pat it dry and arrange it on your oven's wire rack in a single layer, make sure to leave some room in between the slices so that they aren't touching. Pop it in the oven with the light on to get some warmth in there while leaving the door ajar to create a little air movement to dry the meat. Your biltong should be ready in about 2 to 3 days.
For people who love making biltong at home, this one is the most common route as it can be homemade or bought online . A biltong box is simply an enclosed container where you can hang your meat to dry. It will usually have small holes on the sides and a low wattage bulb to aid the drying process which can take up to 4 to 7 days. In some cases, you can also have a fan on low blowing near the holes to have good airflow. This can be easily bought online or DIY at home with just a few pieces of wood or a storage container, some people even use old refrigerators as their makeshift biltong box. As long as you have good air circulation within the space you're drying your meat and indirect source of warmth, you're well on your way to making good biltong.
A food dehydrator is a helpful appliance for people who thoroughly enjoy dried fruits, veggies, fish, and meat. It has a built-in fan and a low amount of heat, which creates warm airflow that reduces the moisture and dries the food. It's especially handy for someone who makes biltong on a regular as it can be quicker than using all the other methods. Keep in mind though that to get amazing biltong, you need to keep the temperature of your dehydrator to 30 to 40 degrees Celsius max and have thinner slices of meat to will keep the airflow going. You will have your biltong ready in about 2 to 3 days.
You've already bagged the biltong basics by now, let's get on with how to make your own biltong at home.
We said you can make biltong out of any lean meat you like but let's take baby steps and master beef first. Since beef does shrink as it loses moisture, you may want to start with 1.5kg to 2kg of silverside beef. To prepare the meat, remove any excess fat and just leave a few bits for flavour. Tip #1, remove the gristle or sinew as these become tough to chew when dried and that will not make for an enjoyable biltong experience.
Cut the meat along the grain into 1cm thick strips - this is standard for biltong but you can change it up according to your taste, just remember, thicker strips take longer to dry while thinner strips will dry quicker. If you’re in the market for nice little bite-sized pieces, it’s best to go against the grain - and for a longer and chewier piece, you’d cut the meat along the grain.
Next up is the biltong spice and marinade. With a mortar and pestle or spice grinder, ground your coriander, salt, black pepper, and any other spices you like. Tip #2, lightly roast your spices before grounding them to amp up the flavour. Place your sliced meat in a tray in a single layer and sprinkle your choice of vinegar and biltong spice mix covering all the meat whilst turning and rubbing the meat. Cover and leave in the fridge for 6 to 24 hours to cure the meat. Tip #3 you can turn the meat every now and then during the curing process to make sure the marinade is absorbed evenly.
After the curing process, take the meat out of the marinade and pat dry. Add the hook to the thickest end of each strip. Tip #4, just before you hang the meat to dry, sprinkle it again with your biltong spice mix to finish it off. Hang the meat in a well aired, isolated space - like a biltong box or dehydrator, making sure that none of the meat are touching.
Fair warning, one of the important ingredients in making biltong is time as that is where flavour and texture development happens. So drying time may vary between 5 to 10 days depending on the drying method you use, the climate, and doneness that you like for your biltong. You can test the doneness of your biltong after 4 to 5 days by gently pinching them and if it still has some give to it, it may need more time to crisp up.
Once you've reached your desired doneness, your biltong is ready. Cut your biltong into thin slices and savour each piece, it'll be gone before you know it!
Now you know how to make biltong at home - pretty easy, eh? Biltong perfection may take some time but it's definitely well worth it. Go on and try our biltong recipe below, don’t hesitate to show off and tag us @embersnacks.
Prep time: 15 mins
Drying time: 5 - 10 days depending on your preferred texture
2kg free-range silverside beef
250ml spirit vinegar or cider vinegar
43g ground coriander seeds
2 tbsps. freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsps. sea salt
2 tsps. paprika
Cut the meat along the grain into 1cm strips and place flat in a tray.
Combine all spices and vinegar and sprinkle over the meat covering both sides.
Refrigerate for 6 to 24 hours to cure the meat.
After curing, remove the meat from the marinade and pat dry with a paper towel.
Hook the meat on the thicker end of the strip and sprinkle some of your spice mix.
Hang the meat without them touching in a well aired, ventilated, isolated place to dry or use a biltong box or dehydrator.
Dry the meat for 5 to 10 days depending on the drying method or personal preference of doneness. Check this by pinching the meat and if it's still soft that may indicate it is still wet inside and will take more time to crisp up.
Once there is no more give to the meat, it is done and ready to be cut into thin slices.