Good biltong is often judged by the quality of meat (texture and taste). This is possible as the taste is not overwhelmed by added or artificial flavors.
The vinegar and spices used in the curing process also a distinctive extra flavor to biltong.
Biltong is made from a variety of different cuts of meat, some of which can contain up to 50 per cent fat volume. Due to the process of curing and air-drying biltong any fat left on the meat does not go “off”(i.e. become rancid). See this post for the best meat to make biltong.
Depending on how you decide to make it, biltong can be dry and with no fat or “wet” which means softer and chewy, sometimes with more fat left on it. With biltong you have a similar option of how you order a steak, well done, medium or rare. You do not have this option with jerky as it has to be “well done” / cooked until dry as it is not cured like biltong.
If biltong is less dry it should be stored in a cool place and not wrapped in plastic. Read more about proper biltong storage here.
Since jerky is really meat that is dried through the use of heat (see process below), it results in a dry, sometimes leathery textured piece of beef with little natural flavor. As a result commercial jerky makers often soak their beef in a sugary marinade, which allows the beef to appear more tender as the sugar retains moisture.
Jerky usually cannot be judged by the quality and taste of the of the meat as that is often overwhelmed by added flavors and seasoning such as teriyaki and . Rather, good jerky is often judged by the unique combination of marinade and seasoning. It can also go on to include the unique choice of smoke woods, the cut of meat, and even the natural flavor of meat. But it’s the unique blend of marinades and seasonings that set jerky apart. That said there is definitely a recent trend towards more natural jerky with less artificial flavors.
Jerky often has a dry and smoky taste, (note that jerky is often smoked, while biltong is never smoked). Read how to make your own smoked jerky here.
The thin strips of jerky also contain very little fat as it is cooked out through the drying process.
Process to make biltong and jerky
At its core, biltong has no need for added preservatives as it was originally made due to the need for meat preservation by South Africans undertaking long trips into the interior of South Africa.
Vinegar, salt and spices are added to biltong and, together with the drying process, cure the meat. Vinegar is used as a curing agent and also adds a unique flavor.
One important distinction from jerky is that biltong is made with the absence of heat. In fact a cooler drier environment is best suited to making biltong. This is why you need to be more careful if you are making biltong in humid environments such as Florida in USA or Natal in South Africa.
Biltong is air-dried for up to a week by hanging the cured and spiced meat vertically on hooks in a biltong machine, room or even outside, where there is airflow and it is typically low moisture. Air drying takes around 4-5 days for medium to large pieces of biltong, although I have seen large pieces air drying g very slowly for up to 14 days.
Biltong is typically made in large strips or pieces of meat and cut after it is made.
Learn how to make your own biltong here.
On average, 100 grams of beef jerky contain about 33 grams of protein. An extra benefit of jerky is that it is a very lean cut of the meat that has been trimmed of any excess fats.
In general jerky is a good healthy snack option, however, beware of the use of chemicals or preservatives that are used in some commercial jerky. Some jerky is loaded with sodium, nitrates and MSG. For example, some jerky has up to 700 mg of sodium in a 3 oz bag, more than 4 times the amount you would find the same size bad of chips. Also look for jerky that has a lower sugar content as jerky is often laden with sugar.
NOW – Try the grass fed biltong!