Biltong: Air Dried Beef from Southern Africa

A new jerky style snack has been making its way into the US market, but what is it and what makes it different from the jerky we know and love?

This week learn about the origins of biltong, how it’s made, and discover new brands like Kalahari Biltong and Stryve Foods who make this such a uniquely delicious snack.

What is biltong?

Biltong is a form of air dried, cured meat that originated from Southern African countries (South Africa, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Namibia, Botswana, and Zambia). Traditionally it was made using game meat native to the region like ostrich or kudu. However, today it is commonly made from beef. 

Meat preservation has been a survival technique that dates to ancient times. Preserving meat allowed people to have quality protein sources to help them survive winters and embark on long hunting trips and treks. 

Biltong was created by European settlers (Dutch speaking) in South Africa who were migrating across the southern portion of Africa in the early 1800’s. Today it is a South African classic and an unofficial treasure that is slowly making its way into the US market over the last 5 years.

How is biltong made?

Traditionally biltong was made during the cold winter months when the air was dry, and the risk of mold and bacterial growth was at a natural minimum. The meat is immersed in vinegar and spices then hung to be air-dried for 2 weeks. Once it was dried, the biltong was packed into cloth bags which allowed for air circulation to help prevent mold.

The meat usually starts in a vinegar marinade (apple cider, balsamic, red wine vinegar are all excellent choices) for a few hours. The vinegar is excellent at prohibiting the Clostridium botulinum bacteria. The vinegar is then drained off the meat and coated in salt and spices (black pepper and coriander being the traditional spices, but also clove, rosemary, and oregano). Most spices and herbs have antimicrobial properties to help preserve the meat. The meat is then marinated anywhere from 12 – 24 hours then all excess liquid is removed, and it is hung to air dry. Once it is dried, the meat is sliced into thin pieces – traditionally that is done against the grain.

What is the difference between biltong and jerky?

Biltong and jerky are similar in they are both spiced, dried meats; however, their production process is what sets them apart.

The Beef Jerky Process
Jerky uses lean beef that is dried slow and low typically by smoking, salting, and dehydrating. Beef jerky needs minimal fat because fat doesn’t dry well and can turn rancid. Jerky tends to be drier and harder than biltong because of the dehydrating process.

The Biltong Process
Air drying the biltong is what truly makes it unique from other jerkies. The no heat process helps to keep the meat tender and full flavored (beef forward!) while locking in all the meat’s minerals, vitamins, and proteins.  

Biltong is less processed and more wholesome than typical jerkies. The very tender pieces of meat have a meatier, deeper flavor and are made with minimal, all natural ingredients. Kalahari describes their biltong as “a unique cross between jerky, slow-roasted beef and fine Italian prosciutto”. It is paleo, keto, and Whole30 approved! It is packed with protein at 32g per serving, 0g of sugar, and 0g of carbs.

Unique ways of eating biltong 

Biltong is a perfect on-the-go snack that is ideal for long adventures, camping, and as a great post-workout snack. Just eat it straight out of the bag! However, it can also be used in more unique ways:

  • Toss it into your favorite salad greens to add protein  
  • Layer it on sandwiches like you would bacon
  • Mix it into warmed queso dip 
  • Skewer it with olives, lemon wedge, and celery and add it to your Bloody Mary
  • Sprinkle it on top of warmed up nachos  
  • Use as a topping on your next homemade pizza night 
  • Add to your next charcuterie board

Biltong products available in the Green Bean store…

Kalahari Biltong, Original

Original Beef Biltong

Kalahari Biltong, Garlic

Garlic Beef Biltong

Kalahari Biltong, Chili Lime

Chili Lime Beef Biltong

Kalahari Biltong, Spicy Peri Peri

Spicy Peri Peri Beef Biltong

Stryve Beef Biltong, Spicy Peri Peri

Spicy Peri Peri Beef Biltong

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About Organic Beth

Beth Blessing (Organic Beth) has a Masters in Nutrition and is the co-founder of Green Bean Delivery. She is a mother of three who loves supporting family farms and searching for unique, artisanal products. Her goal is to help others eat better and live a more natural, holistic life through healthy recipes and practical tips.


Kalahari Biltong:

September 19, 2021. Biltong. Wikipedia.