Making Biltong (dried meat)
Learning and perfecting the process of storing meat is a great skill for any person seeking self-sufficiency. Whether you live in the country or in the city you should be able to find space to practice making Biltong, gaining confidence in knowing that you can store meat for later consumption. Biltong is a method of curing strips of meat in order to preserve what is available at a time of abundance, for use when meat is not available. The type of meat extends to almost any animal, yet I normally use Beef or game as for me it is so easily available.
The process of making Biltong is not overly complicated, and the majority of the ingredients are inexpensive to purchase.
Vinegar (I prefer Apple Cider as I find it adds great flavor)
Salt (preferably Himalayan Pink Salt, yet any salt will work in a pinch)
Ground Black Pepper
Ground Corriander Seeds
Many types of meat can be used, some people have had great success with Fish, Chicken and Game meats. I usually stick to Beef, yet I know that Kangaroo Biltong is a very tasty variety. The above list of ingredients is just the basic requirements. It is not uncommon for personal taste to play a factor in the ingredients. Chilli, Garlic, Brown Sugar and Worcestershire sauce do make for some great modifications to the recipe. I will leave it to you to consider your own tastes and modify accordingly.
Traditionally the meat is cut into strips of around an inch (2.5 cm) in width, making a rectangular prism (or box) shape. I have found that I get much more enjoyment from the biltong when it is cut thinner, perhaps around 25/64 of an inch (1cm). The length of the strip is only limited to the location you intend to dry the meat. I use a meat dryer that I built, so the strip is limited to 9 inches (20 cm). I prefer to remove all fat from the meat while I am preparing the cuts. The fat won’t spoil the biltong, yet in my opinion it can make the taste of the meat less palatable (or waxy) and can also make it tougher.
[picture of cut meat]
Once the meat is sliced into the appropriate dimensions it is placed into a large bowl and soaked in the vinegar. It is recommended that you allow between 12 to 24 hours for the meat to marinate in this liquid, yet I have had no problems with as little time as one minute in the vinegar. The vinegar will add flavour to the meat and, more importantly, will create an acidic environment that will almost eliminate any chance of botulism. Once you are satisfied with the marinating it is time to add the spices.
To prevent wastage and to ensure a proper coating, it is wise to add each ingredient individually. I place the meat on to a work area (for example, a chopping board). I usually start with salt, taking a pinch of salt and evenly spreading over each side of the meat. I have tried several types of salt in this step and I have had the best results with Himalayan Pink Salt. It is very subtle and does a great job of drying the meat without adding too much saltiness. You can easily add too much salt here, so I find the less the better. One pinch of salt can be used for an entire slice of meat.
Once I am satisfied that the meat is very lightly coated, I sprinkle on a dash of black pepper and a liberal coating of ground coriander seeds. It is at this stage you could add your other spices.
Once you have coated the meat you are ready to set them aside in a refrigerator to start the process of drying. In more simpler times you would have set the meat out to dry and hope the insects could not find them. Now you can leave the meat in your fridge (preferable sitting on a cooling rack which is placed over a tray to catch the fluids, yet that isn’t too imporant) to begin the drying process far from the attentions of curious flies. I have been told that flies will not land on the drying biltong due to the faint aroma of vinegar and the black pepper… I do not believe it. I have seen flies land on many things much more disgusting than drying meat so I do not believe they are too finicky to try some of the biltong.
If you own a meat dehydrator you could follow the unit’s instructions to dry the meat, yet I prefer to use more simple solutions. This is to either use my custom built, passive meat drier, or to hang the meat on strings which I have placed in a shaded area. I would recommend that you place the meat inside (at least for the first few days) if you are not using an enclosed container so that insects are not attracted to your work.
It is important that the meat be placed out of direct sunlight, as well as in a location which has easy access to fresh air. I prefer to do this in the summer, so that I am guaranteed to get a gentle warm breeze which helps to dry the meat. To hang the meat I use paper clips, which I have modified by bending them slighting and skewering the meat at the thicker end before hanging the meat to dry.
After a couple of days you can, if you can’t wait, try the biltong. It normally takes around 5-7 days for my biltong to be dried to a stage which I like (as dry as cardboard). I would recommend trying it daily till the meat has reached a stage which you are satisfied.