What is the Difference Between Biltong and Jerky?

With a growing interest in biltong outside of South Africa, many people are asking what is the difference between biltong and jerky. 

The difference between biltong and jerky is more than you would think as they are really quite different products – in spite of both being essentially a dried meat snack. The differences are evident in the way they look, the way they are made (including both the process and the ingredients), the texture, and most importantly, the taste. They also differ in nutritional value.

One similarity is that they are both great snacks for on-the-go and both have origins dating back to early expeditions to discover new territories. In addition, both can be made with meat other than beef and it is common to find both made from wild meat such as venison (deer, Impala, Kudu, Eland etc.) and ostrich.

difference between biltong and jerky

 

Below is a summary of the difference between biltong and jerky

Appearance

Biltong:

Biltong is made in larger pieces and is either sold (stored if home-made) as large pieces or cut up into thinner slices. It can also be made into thinner stick or strips (AKA stokkies) that are usually drier than the large pieces. Pictured below are home-made pieces about 12 inches long and 1 inch thick. Click on the picture to have biltong shipped to you.

buy biltong

 

 

Jerky:

Jerky is usually thinner and flatter and is often cut into squares or rectangles. It can also be made from a type of ground beef that is squeezed into a long rectangular strip shape. It is also often made into meat “sticks”.

Pictured and linked below is Laura’s Beef Jerky, a great option for grass fed non GMO, no nitrates jerky!

 

Laura's beef jerky grass fed non gmo healthy

Ingredients

Biltong:

In general the only ingredients used in the making of biltong are vinegar, salt, black pepper and most importantly coriander which provides the distinctive flavor.

Sometimes a few other spices are used as well as a raw brown sugar will be used to add even more flavor. Worcestershire sauce is also sometimes added to the vinegar for the curing process. 

Although many people making their own biltong profess to have some secret recipe, at its core  biltong has remained very basic and thus more simple in terms of ingredients. A common variation is to add cayenne pepper or pepper flakes to make biltong chili sticks.

 

biltong ingredients and spices

Jerky:

Many commercial jerky products contain a rather high chemical content because of added ingredients such as MSG/monosodium glutamate, sodium nitrate and artificial coloring, for flavoring and as preservatives. There are definitely a few jerky companies out there doing a good job by avoiding artificial ingredients, however, be careful in choosing jerky as there is often a long and dubious ingredient list. More and more people are choosing more natural jerky, make sure you are one of them. If you prefer to buy pre-made quality biltong spices look here.

Pictured and linked below is high quality organic grass fed Ramsay Hill Beef Jerky, a great healthy option!

grass fed organic natural beef jerky non gmo paleo no nitrates free range grass fed organic natural beef jerky non gmo paleo no nitrates free range

Taste and Texture

Biltong:

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.

Jerky:

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

Biltong:

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.

 

biltong box

Jerky:

Jerky is also dried, but generally without the addition of vinegar and salt.

Most jerky is “cooked” in a dehydrator for 6 to 12 hours at approx. 140-160 degrees Farenheit. Jerky can be dehydrated in a smoker, oven, dehydrator, sun-dried, or even air-dried. However, jerky is not hung vertically like biltong but rather laid flat on a tray or grid or wide thin strips are hung over wires.

Jerky can be made from either whole meat or ground (minced) meat unlike biltong that is never made from ground meat. Note – South African dry wors (droe wors) (BUY HERE) is made from a ground product but is very different to both biltong and jerky. 

Jerky is usually sliced into thinner pieces (often large sheets) of meat before being dried as opposed to biltong that is made from thick pieces and then sliced after it is finished.

Learn how to make your own jerky here. I used the Excalibur dehydrator to make great jerky and even some tasty strips of biltong. Below is an example of the larger Excalibur (click picture to see on Amazon). Note, for jerky you should use the highest temperature setting and for biltong you should use the lowest temperature setting but leave the meat in for a longer time.

excalibur 3926 dehudrator for jerky and biltong

excalibur 3926 dehudrator for jerky and biltong

 

Excalibur dehydrator biltong machine

Home-made biltong strips in an Excalibur food dehydrator machine

Nutritional value

Biltong:

A common question is how much protein is in biltong vs jerky? A 100 gram serving of beef biltong contains almost 60 grams of protein, where 94% of that is digestible, meaning your body will absorb almost all of it. Protein is crucial to muscle growth as it restores our supply on amino acids.

Biltong is also packed full of other vitamins and nutrients including iron, Vitamin B12, Zinc and Creatine, making it a beneficial addition to those following an active and healthy lifestyle. It is also a great for people on the paleo diet and also very low in carbohydrates.

Biltong contains no added chemicals or preservatives.

Look for biltong made from grass-fed beef. Overall, grass-fed beef contains less total fat, more omega-3s, more linoleic acid and more vitamin E than grain fed beef. Omega-3s are vital for heart health, while linoleic acid serves as a cancer defense. If you are making your own biltong look for grass-fed beef to use to make it, you will taste the difference.

Jerky:

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.

Some recommendations for healthy high quality jerky products:

All of these choices are:

Image result for gold starImage result for gold starImage result for gold starImage result for gold starImage result for gold star Made from Non-GMO, grass fed, organic beef with no added hormones or antibiotics

Image result for gold starImage result for gold starImage result for gold starImage result for gold starImage result for gold star No added nitrates, nitrites or preservatives

Image result for gold starImage result for gold starImage result for gold starImage result for gold starImage result for gold star Limited number of ingredients, all natural

Image result for gold starImage result for gold starImage result for gold starImage result for gold starImage result for gold star Have multiple buyer reviews of 4 stars or more on Amazon

Laura’s Lean Beef Organic Grass Fed Jerky

Golden Valley Natural Organic Beef Jerky

Pacific Gold Organic Beef Jerky

Graze Bar Beef Jerky Sticks

Ramsay Hill Beef Jerky (small farm, veteran made)

Perky Jerky 100% Grass-Fed Beef Variety Pack

 

NOW – Try the grass fed biltong!

Kalahari Biltong (This is delicious high quality biltong, I have tried it and loved it!)