Home > Recipes > Homemade do-it-yourself biltong recipe: part 1, preparation.

Homemade do-it-yourself biltong recipe: part 1, preparation.

Biltong is an absolutely delicious dried beef snack, originating from South Africa. It is, however, very expensive to buy and I’ve been wanting to have a go at making it for a while.

Sainsbury’s helpfully put their Silverside roasting joints on offer at half price, which was too tempting to ignore.

biltong3

Next problem was locating a suitable recipe – there are a great deal of vague and differing recipes out there. About the only thing that they can seem to agree on is to cut the beef into 1 inch, square cross section, strips along the line of the grain of the meat. Also that coriander, salt, pepper and vinegar are involved.

After distilling them down, here’s the recipe and process followed.

Preparation time: about an hour of work. Three hours of curing time. 2-5 days of drying time.

Rough Ingredients

(doesn’t need to be exact quantities):

  • 1.7 Kg Silverside Beef Roasting Joint
  • The Marinade:
    • 300 ml Cider Vinegar
    • 300ml White Wine Vinegar (I decided to mix the two, to tone down the strong cider vinegar taste)
  • The Cure:
    • 500 g Course Sea Salt
    • 200g Demorara Sugar
    • 1 tsp Bicarbonate of Soda
  • The Coating:
    • 1 large handfull Black Peppercorns
    • 1 large handfull Whole Coriander Seeds

Total cost of ingredients about £11.00, largely thanks to the half-price beef joint.

Equipment Needed:

  • Large, sharp knife.
  • Large glass or plastic chopping board
  • Grinder / blender / pestle and mortar
  • Plastic containers to cure the meat in
  • Paperclips (for hanging the strips)
  • Kitchen towel.
  • drying aparatus / very cool, ventilated oven. Approx 35° C

Preparation:

Blend the Salt, Sugar and Bicarbonate of Soda together.

Pre-grind / crush / mortar the peppercorns and coriander to a course consistency:

biltong1

Crushed coriander seeds

biltong2

Crushed black pepper

Cut the beef joint into 1 inch (2.5 cm) thick slices, along the length of the grain of the meat:

biltong4Then cut these slices, again along the lines of the grain of the meat, into approximately 1 inch (2.5 cm) cubic cross-section ‘long chunks’. Trim off any obvious fat or sinew:

biltong6

The trimmed pieces of meat, ready for curing.

Place the strips of meat into a plastic container, and cover with the blended white-wine and cider vinegars leave for 30 minutes to steep. The vinegar helps to sterilise the meat, and tenderise it.

biltong7

The strips of beef marinading in the vinegar mixture.

After soaking, take the strips of meat out of the vinegar keep the remaining vinegar back, as we’ll be using it again later.

From left to right, the Salt Curing mixture, the spice mixture, and the beef ready to be rolled.

From left to right, the Salt Curing mixture, the spice mixture, and the beef ready to be rolled.

Lightly roll in the peppercorn and coriander mixture. Shake off any excess, and keep the remaining spice mixture  for use later too.

Spread a thin layer of the cure (salt/sugar/bicarb mixture) in the bottom of a plastic dish, then lay the strips of meat on top, forming a single layer.

The first layer of spiced and salted strips

The first layer of spiced and salted strips

Cover the layer of meat with more of the cure, ensuring it covers the ends and sides of the meat, then place alternating layers of meat and cure, with a final covering of cure.

All the meat strips, tightly packed and covered with the curing mixture.

All the meat strips, tightly packed and covered with the curing mixture.

Cover the contaner with clingfilm, place it in a shallow tray, to catch any overflowing juices, and place a board or lid on top, and apply some gentle weight — 4 tin cans should be enough.

Leave to cure for 3 hours (do not leave longer than this or the meat will be too salty).

After this time, remove the meat from the cure, and scrape off most of the salt and spices sticking to the meat. Rinse the meat with the retained vinegar mixture, to remove all of the salt.

The discarded curing mixture, and cured strips of meat. Notice how dark the meat now is.

The discarded curing mixture, and cured strips of meat. Notice how dark the meat now is.

Place the meat between pieces of kitchen towel, or a clean tea towel, and dry it thoroughly.

Roll each strip of meat in the remaining spice mixture, pressing it into all the surfaces of the meat.

Take some paper clips, and give them a single ‘unbend’ to a tight S shape, as shown. You could also use wire or string to suspend the meat by. I used plastic coated paper clips to prevent any metal touching the meat.

Bent paperclips make the perfect meat hooks

Bent paperclips make the perfect meat hooks

Hook the larger end of the S-shape through the meat, at the thinner end (carefully avoiding poking a paper clip through your fingers), about 1.5 to 2 cm down the strip, to ensure a good hold.

Carefully hook the meat strips onto the paperclips.

Carefully hook the spiced meat strips onto the paperclips.

Hook all of the meat onto paper clips, then hang them carefully in your drying apparatus.  My electric fan oven runs happily at about 35°C in ‘defrost mode’, indicated by a * symbol. I used an electric thermometer to test the temperature. Any hotter than 40°C and the meat will cook rather than dry. There are instructions, elsewhere on the internet, for various drying mechanisms, involving fans and electric light bulbs.

The slices hooked onto a metal oven shelf.

The slices hooked onto a metal oven shelf.

I added a tray of dishwasher (or water softener) salt, previously baked for 20 minutes at 200°C, and cooled. This is placed at the top of the over, to help absorb any moisture.

The strips in the oven, ready to begin drying

The strips in the oven, ready to begin drying

Place a tray under the strips to catch any drops, or bits of spice that fall off, and start the drying process. Leave the oven door about 1 inch/2cm ajar, to let out any evaporated moisture. I’m running the oven at 35°C all night, and in the evenings, leaving it turned off when I’m at work. It should take about 3-4 days. I’ll post back with progress. It’s done when ‘not squidgy’ to the touch, and feels completely dry and hard.

I started the meat in the oven at 16:00 yesterday, and stopped at 07:00 this morning. The meat felt very dry on the outside, but was quite yielding when pressed. Still needs a fair bit of drying.

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  1. Nicky May
    January 21, 2012 at 12:30 pm

    I love your comprehensive instructions! It all sounds very good and I’m sure your biltong turned out pretty superb. We are in the process of making a biltong box with two lightbulbs and will hopefully be starting to make our own biltong soon. Can’t wait! My husband made a similar biltong box for friends before and they were very happy with it, so hopefully this one will be just as good. I’m saving this webpage on my favourites so I don’t have to go and look for it again when we’re ready to start making our first batch.
    Nicky May

  2. December 6, 2012 at 10:11 am

    I was just wondering if I can just dry it in the normal room temperature? If so, how days will it take?

    • December 6, 2012 at 11:19 am

      It would depend on the room temperature and, more importantly, the humidity. If it’s very dry, low humidity and highish room temperature, it might work. You’d be risking fungal growth and decay, which is not good! Biltong would ‘naturally’ be being dried outdoors in the hot, dry South African climate. Here, in the UK, it’s most certainly not hot or dry.

  3. Elizabeth Puljic
    January 4, 2013 at 12:30 am

    I made my husband a cedar “biltong box” for Christmas, and we have just completed our first batch. It was a rush job, and i used the simplest recipe I could find. The result is dry but a little bland biltong. Have sent him off to the shops, with your ingredient list, and I think this batch will be AWESOME!!!! We live in a mountain town in Southern California, with very low humidity. Our box has a bulb to help with drying, and it took 7 days to dry.

  4. Fysh
    February 9, 2013 at 7:14 pm

    I’m trying this recipe today. I have made my drier with Lightbulbs and fan in a plastic box. Just another hour to go before I put the meat in and start the drying process. I will be sure to come back in a week and let you know how it went!

    • Fysh
      February 12, 2013 at 3:26 pm

      OK, the first few pieces are dry. They are the thin pieces that I washed last. They are a bit salty, but they taste good. I’m very impressed with my first effort! I hope the rest (Thinker bits) wont be as salty. I only applied the cure for 2 and a half hours. Maybe next time just an hour?

      • February 12, 2013 at 3:37 pm

        Saltiness seems to be heavily influenced by the meat type (and, of course, thickness). Freezing the meat (and it’s always possible that it was frozen by the supplier at some time) seems to cause structural alterations that allow the salt to penetrate more. It’s very frustrating trying to control the saltiness, especially if you’re not very salt-tolerant, like me.

      • Fysh
        February 12, 2013 at 3:54 pm

        I used the best cut of beef my butcher could supply. Silver side – Salmon cut. Like you said though, it may have been frozen before it was sold to me. I will be sure to let you know how the thicker pieces are in a day or two. :)

  5. February 12, 2013 at 3:58 pm

    I forgot to mention, the meat continues to ‘mature’, after drying — it turns nicer after about another few days, as I think the moisture and salt levels have time to equalise throughout the meat. It’s horribly dangerous to slice though — I like wafer-thin slices, across the meat grain; as the meat continues to dry, it’s really hard to cut through.

    • Fysh
      February 12, 2013 at 4:01 pm

      I’ve just had some more, and I agree with you – it is less salty. It hurt my hand cutting it today! I like it thin too.

      Thanks so much for this blog. You have been a great help!

  6. Richard
    February 17, 2013 at 3:52 pm

    Fantastic instructions – best on the web. I’m using a dehydrator set at 35 deg C. It’s been going for 12 hours so far and I think that it’s got another 12 hours to go. The vinegar-y taste is nicely infused in the meat but it’s a bit salty. Maybe if I used a cleaner/fresh vinegar rub or larger salt crystals? I wouldn’t want to cure it for much less time (I did it for 2 1/2 hours) although I guess I could. I’d appreciate your thoughts. It is delicious so far (I can’t help but sample as it dries…)!

  7. Riley
    February 24, 2013 at 9:52 am

    Can we get an update on the biltong (: Also thanks for the defrost tip, I think my oven has that feature.

  8. March 18, 2013 at 4:10 pm

    I live in Connecticut USA. This time of year my basement is cool and very dry. Takes mine about five days. Just hung 15 pounds both traditional and peri peri flavors.

  9. March 28, 2013 at 3:07 pm

    The ultimate biltong cutter flat anvil hand held pruners – (not the curved bypass type) like these – They work awesome – http://www2.fiskars.com/Gardening-and-Yard-Care/Products/Hand-Pruners/Ratchet-Anvil-Pruner#.UVRcXheG0U8

  10. April 7, 2013 at 7:53 pm

    One of the Best recopies I’ve seen/used. Love the taste of it and I know my biltong. Cheers for sharing this. Fergul

  11. Oliver Kirby
    May 28, 2013 at 10:54 am

    If you’re finding your biltong to salty it could be because of using sea salt in the cure. I would recommend us rock salt instead as this holds its form better where the sea salt can melt away to easily and therefore soak into the meat while being cured.

  12. Oliver Kirby
    May 28, 2013 at 10:55 am

    I have also been wondering do you dry your meat after it’s been in marinade before curing it?

    • May 28, 2013 at 10:59 am

      It needs to be quite damp, after the final vinegar rinse, so that the dry spice mixture ‘sticks’ well to the surface, protecting it and flavouring it.

  13. Oliver Kirby
    May 28, 2013 at 10:59 am

    I should of possibly started with this post. I agree with all the others that this seems to be a bloody good recipe and easy to follow. As it’s pay day i’ll be starting a fresh batch today. Cheers memoryweaver for getting this blog started. I’ve made a few batches with different outcomes but this has definatly inspired me to start my own blog that i will try to get linked up with this one. Cheers for all the advice you’ve layed down. Just hope others will start making their own biltong so we can bring down the monopoly coan and other shop bought biltong makers have put on this most delicious of meaty treats.

  14. June 4, 2013 at 10:09 am

    Why do you cover with spices before curing? It seems a waste to remove al the spices again when removing the salt etc,, only to add the spices again afterwards.

  15. June 4, 2013 at 5:39 pm

    Thank you for the great recipe and guidance. Mine is in the dryer, awaiting great outcome.
    UK folk, the airing cupboard is the overgrown the perfect environment! Tried it there initially and perfect on 3 days.

  16. Grace
    August 7, 2013 at 3:29 pm

    Would I get the best results if I dried it outdoors in direct sun?

    • August 7, 2013 at 3:33 pm

      I’m afraid I can’t help you on that one — it would depend on humidity. If you live somewhere with very low humidity, and could keep insects away, then sun-drying would work. I’m in the UK where it is permanently damp (even if it’s hot and sunny, the humidity is always way too high for safe drying).

  17. Daniel
    August 15, 2013 at 8:50 pm

    Thanks a mil for your indept instructions! I’m busy snacking through my best batch of homemade biltong to date! So happy! :)

  18. Jane.
    September 21, 2013 at 5:59 pm

    Awesome well done. Going to give it a try.

  19. September 28, 2013 at 10:49 am

    Amazing how recipes across the web vary. I’m combining much of your method with some other ingredients today. This is batch no 2 for me – the last one was great but the biltong hanger’s fan broke so I’ve been waiting for a replacement.

    Will post back with updates.

    • September 29, 2013 at 10:19 am

      So, these were my tweaks; my coriander mix was made up of 2 parts regular crushed seeds to one part freshly toasted and ground seeds. To that I added 1/2 tsp of white pepper, mixed herbs and crushed dried garlic flakes. The vinegar mix was 200ml cider, 200ml white wine and 50ml Worcestershire sauce. 30 mins in the vinegar, 3 hours in the rub and cure layers.

      Now peacefully hanging in the garage while I count the hours to the first taste :)

      • October 8, 2013 at 3:51 pm

        The results are in;

        Flavour was superb; much better than my first attempt.

        Saltiness was still a little too strong on some pieces though; be very, very thorough in your rinse stage.

        I think next time I will actually use a clean batch of rinsing vinegars alongside the marinating one to have a double rinse stage and get rid of more salt.

        Total drying time for me was 7 days in a pretty cool garage in the UK. Finished product is thoroughly dried and should be good to keep for a while….at least until I can eat it all.

  20. Kevin Kruger
    October 8, 2013 at 3:03 pm

    This sounds fantastic, just bought a Biltong Dryer and expecting delivery tomorrow – I’m like a kid waiting for Christmas morning! Cant wait to try this recipe and the Fredi Hirsch seasoning I bought. First thing tomorrow its down to see my butcher and start the prep!

  21. Kevin Kruger
    October 10, 2013 at 9:08 am

    Kevin Kruger :
    This sounds fantastic, just bought a Biltong Dryer and expecting delivery tomorrow – I’m like a kid waiting for Christmas morning! Cant wait to try this recipe and the Fredi Hirsch seasoning I bought. First thing tomorrow its down to see my butcher and start the prep!

    So glad I bought a biltong box, only been 18hours and the biltong looks ready to eat, only hope I can wait another day or 2……..

  22. Kevin Kruger
    October 17, 2013 at 5:57 am

    Kevin Kruger :

    Kevin Kruger :
    This sounds fantastic, just bought a Biltong Dryer and expecting delivery tomorrow – I’m like a kid waiting for Christmas morning! Cant wait to try this recipe and the Fredi Hirsch seasoning I bought. First thing tomorrow its down to see my butcher and start the prep!

    So glad I bought a biltong box, only been 18hours and the biltong looks ready to eat, only hope I can wait another day or 2……..

    Kevin Kruger :

    Kevin Kruger :
    This sounds fantastic, just bought a Biltong Dryer and expecting delivery tomorrow – I’m like a kid waiting for Christmas morning! Cant wait to try this recipe and the Fredi Hirsch seasoning I bought. First thing tomorrow its down to see my butcher and start the prep!

    So glad I bought a biltong box, only been 18hours and the biltong looks ready to eat, only hope I can wait another day or 2……..

  23. Kevin Kruger
    October 17, 2013 at 5:58 am

    Just taken my 3rd cure out and it’s the best yet! any ideas on how to thwart greedy family???

  24. AJ
    January 3, 2014 at 1:53 pm

    Well I’m South African and I have been making biltong for around 20 years.
    The way you are making your biltong is very complex.

    3kg Any grade of beef ( Fat or no Fat )
    60ml Brown Vinegar
    60ml worcestershire sauce
    Half a handful of crushed peppercorns
    Half a handful of crushed coriander seeds
    Quarter hand of coarse sea salt
    Add dried Chilli is you want to add a little heat.

    1. Mix all the ingredients together
    2. Dip meat into mixture making sure you cover all parts of the meat.
    3. Add to container and put in the fridge for an hour.
    4. Hang up to dry

    Simple, and taste fantastic and never taste over salted :)

    • January 3, 2014 at 1:57 pm

      The recipe’s adapted for the damp UK climate — the salting stage helps ensure that the meat won’t harbour any mould or bacteria during the slower drying process.

      • AJ
        January 3, 2014 at 6:16 pm

        Ive been making biltong in London for the last 3 years this exact way :)

    • Hans Bongarts
      April 25, 2014 at 7:17 pm

      AJ…Although I presently live on Vancouver Island, in British Columbia Canada, where we really don’t have humidity problems, I intend to produce this product in Central America where both the heat and humidity could be a problem…Any suggestions?
      Also, what should I add to bring out a more vibrant red colour on the finished product….food colour, msg, potassium nitrite? thank you.

  25. Jb87
    January 6, 2014 at 9:33 am

    I am South African and I have been making biltong in scotland for the last while and what I will say is that having a fan blowing on the meat is by far the most important thing to having it dry properly! Also 3 hours in the salt cure is far too much I would cure mine for an hour at the most

  26. Hans Bongarts
    April 25, 2014 at 7:13 pm

    I built a biltong box from a plastic tub. Have gone through a lot of meat and a lot of different recipes. I put a screen on one end, two 60 w lightbulbs in front of screen, dowels across for hanging along the length of the box and two computer fans to suck out the air at the other end.. Total drying time was about two and a half days, with a temperature reading of 30 and the humidity also dropping to 30 degrees the last day. I replaced one 60 w buld with a 100 w built for a period of time when I saw the temperature drop a bit too much, but then also had to open the lid a bit when it got too warm…it climbed to 36 at one point..Did both pork and beef.
    Marinated both products in white wine vinegar and regular vinegar 50-50%….soaked for 45 minutes.
    I initially made my cure spices up and coated meats with spices prior to packing together with coarse salt and baking soda. Afterwards, dipped out pieces of excess salt but found that most of the spices came off too. Thought this was a waste of spice. Did other batches from vinegar mix to salt and baking soda cure and after taking them out and dipping them off with vinegar, sprinkling spices on prior to hanging…found this cheaper to do and easier.
    Have tried twenty different recipe combinations……Like the simplest the best. …would like to have suggestions about how to make my product both a lot sweeter and then another a lot hotter. If you are wondering, the pork came out beautifully. It is lighter in colour to the beef, but tastes great. I do use an electric slicer to slice the final dried product and it looks great evenly sliced. You do have to be careful not to cut off your fingers though. Please give me some suggestions as to my sweeter and hotter inquiry.

  27. Duncan Rounding
    April 26, 2014 at 7:14 am

    This is what I do:

    Materials
    Around 2.5Kg cheap roasting meat – A little fatty is good for a full flavour.
    Half cup of white wine vinegar
    Quarter cup of cider vinegar
    Bicarbonate of soda
    Biltong spices from ebay – Freddy Hirsch Original (http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Freddy-Hirsch-Original-Biltong-Spice-1kg-/321268836037 ) and Safari Spice (from Crown National http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Crown-National-Safari-Biltong-Spice-1kg-/390748937182 ). I find this is much easier and better than trying to do it yourself.
    Large flat glass dish
    Drying Box – almost any box will do that has good airflow but I have made my own from a cheap toy box from IKEA (http://www.ikea.com/gb/en/catalog/products/20078031/ ). I mounted an incandescent lightbulb to the back and two computer fans at the top. Holes are drilled all the way around the bottom and the fans draw the air through the holes and out of the box. It also has a couple of dowels to hang the meat from. The bottom is lined with tin foil to catch any drips. See my Facebook pictures of the box and the first batch here https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151558705244209.1073741827.720489208&type=1&l=e70b39cf64
    Paperclips to bend into hooks to hang the meat or other hooks.

    Note I don’t use any other spices, salt or preservatives. The biltong dosen’t last long enough in our household to worry about that. You can however freeze the biltong sticks if you want to by wrapping the sticks in clingfilm and placing in the freeezer, just ensure you let it defrost hanging up so as not to stay wet.

    Method
    Cut the meat into strips with the grain about 1 inch thick. The biltong will dry to less than half this size. You can leave any fat if you wish..
    Put the vinegar in the glass dish and add mix in the bicarbonate of soda.
    Add the strips of meat coating well.
    Coat each side of the meat with the Freddy Hirsch Original spice and rub in. About half a teaspoon a side is sufficient, not too much otherwise it may be salty.
    Cover with cling film trying to remove as much air as possible and place in the fridge. Leave in the fridge for 2 days turning the meat twice a day.
    After marinading is finished remove the meat and dry the surfaces by pressing on the meat with paper towels to remove most of the marinade moisture.
    Lightly coat the meat with about half a teaspoon a side of Safari Spice and rub in.
    Hang the meat in the box taking care to not let any pieces touch or drip onto the lightbulb.
    Leave to dry for as long as you want. Drying time will depend on the temperature, airflow and how dry or wet you prefer your biltong. We like it firm but red inside, for my setup that takes about 4 days or so, longer in winter shorter in summer.

    A few more recent pictures here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10152173815049209.1073741869.720489208&type=1&l=00b51e92a6

    Enjoy!

  1. September 16, 2009 at 9:14 am
  2. April 21, 2011 at 5:05 pm
  3. January 24, 2012 at 12:49 am

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