Biltong is a type of cured meat that originated in Southern Africa. It is a delicious, somewhat unusual, addition to a charcuterie board. If you are looking for an exotic talking point to add to your next board, we recommend selecting flavorful biltong.
Biltong originated in the Southern African countries of South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana, and Zambia. Wild game and beef were cured in order to preserve it before the introduction of refrigeration. Some sources say that modern biltong evolved from the dried meats carried by the Voortrekkers when they migrated into the interior of Southern Africa during the Great Trek.
Biltong can be made from a variety of meats including beef, kudu, ostrich, and impala. The cut can either be filet strips following the muscle grain or slices against the grain. The most common ingredients in traditional biltong are meat, black pepper, coriander, salt, and vinegar. Today, some biltong also includes balsamic vinegar, chili peppers, garlic, onion powder, or Worcestershire sauce.
Biltong is prepared using a very similar process to European cured meats. It is marinated in a vinegar solution, flavored with salt and spices, and hung to dry. Modern biltong makers often use heat or curing salts to speed the drying process, but traditional biltong makers maintain that slow-dried biltong is of superior quality.
Biltong vs Jerky
There are three main differences between biltong and jerky. First, the meat used in biltong is much thicker than jerky. Biltong is typically slow-dried in cold air, meaning that it can be much thicker. Typically biltong is cut into 1” thick strips as opposed to jerky, which is normally sliced very thinly. Second, biltong is dried with vinegar, salts, and spices. Jerky is not dried using vinegar. This gives biltong a distinct flavor. Finally, jerky is often smoked whereas biltong is never smoked.
Biltong is typically eaten as a snack or as part of an appetizer, such as a charcuterie board. It can also be diced up into stews or baked into bread. The popularity of biltong has spread to the UK, Australia, and Canada. While it is still not very well known in the US, due to the prevalence of jerky, it is a delicious and rare treat that can easily make a simple charcuterie board far more exciting.