The traditional way to make biltong is by air-drying it. Originally biltong or dry wors was hung from a shady tree in the breeze, protected from insects – or from the open rafters of an airy room(like those found in thatch roof homes).
This can be replicated by using a “biltong box” as described below (built at home or purchased), a dehydrating machine (best for thinner pieces or “biltong sticks” see below) – or even in a low temperature oven with the door open a crack.
Making a Biltong Box
How to make a basic wood biltong box at home:
If you want to make your own biltong box from scratch (as I suspect many South Africans will), the instructions below provide a basic framework to work off. Alternatively you can purchase a wood cabinet – e.g. from Ikea or your local used or wholesale furniture outlet – then install the pieces such as the light, fan, ventilation, netting.
Size – the box pictured here is made from plain 1 foot wide planks purchased at Home Depot. I recommend plain hard wood such as oak. I don’t recommend using particle board or any other wood treated with chemicals, resins or glues as these can diffuse odors and toxins when heated.
Each side is 1 foot wide and the box is about 2-3 feet high. The box shown below is large enough to dry approx. 5 lbs of biltong (thick pieces of biltong up to approx. 1-1.5 feet in length). The box could be made larger if you are going to be making more than this at a time – e.g. 2 feet wide by 3 feet high. The box needs to be large enough that biltong strips or dry wors (droëwors) do not touch each other. This ensures good airflow and therefore proper drying. Meat that touches other pieces is also more likely to develop mold.
Attach a wire or synthetic insect mesh that covers the top of the box when making biltong or droëwors. The mesh should be secured to keep flies and other insects out of the box while at the same time allowing proper airflow.
Join each side of the box with corner metal braces, screws or nails. If you plan on having a permanent top attached to the box then you will want to hinge one side to open up for hanging your biltong or droëwors and also drills a few holes in the sides or top for airflow (cover all holes with insect mesh).
Insert a lamp bulb or fan (or both, especially in humid climates) in the bottom of the box to circulate air. A small computer cooling fan works well. If you have one, use a jigsaw to cut the hole.
For the light bulb you can use a standard bulb socket with wire like these (click on image to buy on Amazon):
For the fan, a USB (PC type fan) is cheap (they sell for $10-$15), easy to install and plugs into any USB charger (e.g. a phone charger) similar to this (click on image to buy on Amazon):
An alternative – easy option – for the fan is a portable USB or even rechargable / battery operated fan that you simply place into the bottom of the biltong box (click on image to buy on Amazon).
Cut holes to place wire or wood rods from which to hang the biltong strips or droëwors. A cheap effective way to hang the meat is by using plain metal paper clips bent open (large ones tend to work better with heavier pieces of biltong) or you can use plastic clips or string.
The picture below is a nice example of quality built home machine. This is great a project especially if you are handy with woodworking or would like to learn some woodworking skills and have the time! This box has a glass door to see the progress of the drying, a light bulb for heat and small fan (a PC fan can be purchased cheaply online) for airflow.
Nice home made biltong box
Easy Starter Option for a DIY biltong box:
Alternatively, an easy option to start with (no woodworking skills required) is to use an empty cardboard box with a fan in it. It won’t last as long but works fine. This is a great way to start out and experiment.
Biltong box example found in the Karoo, Western Cape, South Africa
On a recent trip to South Africa I stopped the small town of Heidelberg in the Karoo and had lunch on the patio of a great little local restaurant called Delish. Like many places in South Africa they make their own biltong on site. I snapped the picture below as this is a great idea if you want to make a larger biltong box – essentially a converted media cabinet with glass front to see the biltong or droëwors, with bulbs for heat and airflow. If you are ever traveling through Heidelberg, this is a nice place with a shady patio to take a break.
large biltong cabinet
There are a few manufacturers that make biltong driers.