Which is better, biltong made in a biltong box (primarily air-dried with little or no heat) or biltong made in a commercial dehydrator like the Excalibur (using air circulation and also heat)?
The biltong box is definitely better for larger pieces of biltong that need to be hung vertically to dry (e.g. up to 1 foot in length, 3 inches in width and about an inch thick). That size would not fit well into the traditional flat tray dehydrator and also does better in the slower process of the biltong box. But what about smaller pieces – which is better?
To test each and rate and review the end result I purchased approximately 2lbs of top side and made half in the biltong box and half in the dehydrator. I cut the meat into strips about 8-10 inches long, 1 inch wide and about 1/2 inch thick. This size is a good middle ground, an intermediate size that fits well in both machines.
I prepared the biltong in the usual way, vinegar/worcester for about 4 hours, then a mix of ground coriander + coarse sea salt + ground black pepper + raw brown sugar, for about 6-12 hours.
The meat is layered flat on the bottom tray of the Excalibur machine, the setting at slightly less than 170 (i.e. the “jerky” setting), flipped after about 4 hours, and left in the machine for about 10 hours in total. Since I did not want the biltong too dry and hard, I took it out when it was just hard on the outside – i.e. hard outer but could bend without breaking. Below is a picture of the biltong in the dehydrator tray and after taking it out. The biltong pieces from the dehydrator are those on the left of the knife. On the outside they look pretty much the same as the biltong pieces from the biltong machine (those are on the right of the knife). On the outside they actually look like they are pretty similar.
I hung each piece vertically in the biltong box (which has a small fan and a light bulb to provide a little heat and airflow). The biltong took approx. 3 days to achieve a nicely dried outside with a slightly “wet” inside. See the pictures below of the biltong in the box and then after ready (whole and sliced). Note that the biltong box is able to make larger pieces so I used the larger cuts in the box and the smaller pieces in the dehydrator.
Review results and Pictures
Both the dehydrator and the biltong box produced good quality biltong. The dehydrator is obviously a lot quicker (1/2 day vs 3 days) – so if in need of a quick fix this is the way to go. I also found that the dehydrator is better for smaller pieces and biltong sticks as it tends to dry the meat out a little more. For larger pieces the box was better as it both accommodates larger pieces and also you can make thicker pieces that are more wet inside. From a taste perspective I like the larger pieces from the biltong box, although the smaller biltong sticks from the dehydrator are good snacks to take along when hiking, golfing, road tripping etc..
Below are are a few more pictures of the biltong – first shows both from the dehydrator and the biltong box and the others are of larger pieces that I made in the biltong machine.