Biltong is a kind of cured meat that originated in South Africa. Many different types of meat are used to produce it, ranging from beef through game meats to fillets of ostrich from commercial farms. It is typically made from raw fillets of meat cut into strips following the grain of the muscle, or flat pieces sliced across the grain. It is similar to beef jerky in that they are both spiced, dried meats, but differ in their typical ingredients, taste and production processes; in particular the main difference from jerky is that biltong is usually thicker (from cuts up to 1" (25 mm) thick), while jerky is rarely more than 1/8" (3 mm) thick and biltong does not have a sweet taste.
The Dutch settlers who arrived in southern Africa in the 17th century brought recipes for dried meat from Europe. Preparation involved applying vinegar, then rubbing the strips of meat with a mix of herbs, salts and spices. The need for preservation in the new colony was pressing. Building up herds of livestock took a long time. There was native game about but it could take hunters days to track and kill a large animal such as an eland and they were then faced with the problem of preserving a large mass of meat in a short time in a hot climate during a period of history before iceboxes had been invented. Desiccation solved the problem. Biltong as it is today evolved from the dried meat carried by the wagon-travelling Voortrekkers, who needed stocks of durable food as they migrated from the Cape Colony north-eastward (away from British rule) into the interior of Southern Africa during the Great Trek. The raw meat was preserved from decay and insects within a day or two and within a fortnight would be black and rock-hard, having been fully cured.
Prior to the introduction of refrigeration, the curing process was used to preserve all kinds of meat in South Africa. However today biltong is most commonly made from beef, primarily because of its widespread availability and lower cost relative to game. For the finest cuts, fillet, sirloin or steaks cut from the hip such as topside or silverside. Other cuts can be used, but are not as high in quality.
Biltong can also be made from:
- Chicken, simply referred to as 'chicken biltong'
- Fish in this case, known as bokkoms (shark biltong can also be found in South Africa).
- Game such as kudu and springbok
- Ostrich meat (bright red, often resembling game)
Ideally the meat is marinated in a vinegar solution (cider vinegar is traditional but balsamic also works very well) for a few hours, this being finally poured off before the meat is flavoured.
The spice mix traditionally consists equal amounts of: rock salt, whole coriander, black pepper and brown sugar. This mix is then ground roughly together, sprinkled liberally over the meat and rubbed in. Saltpetre is optional and can be added as an extra preservative (necessary only for wet biltong that is not going to be frozen).
The meat should then be left for a further few hours (or refrigerated overnight) and any excess liquid poured off before the meat is hung in the dryer.
It is typically dried out in the cold air (rural settings), cardboard or wooden boxes (urban) or climate-controlled dry rooms (commercial). Depending on the spices used, a variety of flavours may be produced. Biltong can also be made in colder climates by using an electric lamp to dry the meat, but care must be taken to ventilate, as mould can begin to form on the meat.
A traditional slow dry will deliver a medium cure in about 4 days.
An electric fan-assisted oven set to 40–70 °C (100–160 °F), with the door open a fraction to let out moist air, can dry the meat in approximately 4 hours. Although slow dried meat is considered by some to taste better, oven dried is ready to eat a day or two after preparation.
Comparison to jerky 
Biltong differs from jerky in two distinct ways:
- The meat used in biltong can be much thicker; typically biltong meat is cut in strips approx 1" (25 mm) wide – but can be thicker. Jerky is normally very thin meat.
- The vinegar and salt in biltong, together with the drying process, cures the meat as well as adding texture and flavour. Jerky is traditionally dried with salt but without vinegar.
Biltong is a common product in Southern African butcheries and grocery stores, and can be bought in the form of wide strips (known as stokkies, meaning "little sticks"). It is also sold in plastic bags, sometimes shrink-wrapped, and may be either finely shredded or sliced as biltong chips.
There are also specialised retailers that sell biltong. These shops may sell biltong as "wet" (moist), "medium" or "dry". Additionally, some customers prefer it with a lot of fat within the muscle fibres, while others prefer it as lean as possible.
A 2013 study analysed samples of game meat from South African supermarkets, wholesalers, and other outlets. It was found that some types of biltong labelled "kudu", "springbok", or "ostrich" were made of hartebeest. Of 146 samples, 100 were mislabelled, which revealed a great problem in meat labelling in South Africa.
Biltong can be used as a teething aid for babies. Some retail stores offer a mild form of biltong especially for this purpose which does not contain the spices used for flavouring.
Biltong worldwide 
Biltong's popularity has spread to many other countries, notably Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and now India which have large South African populations, and also to the United States. Biltong is also produced within South African expatriate communities across the globe, for example in Germany and even South Korea.
Biltong produced in South Africa may not be imported into Britain, according to rules governing the importation of meat-based products from non-EU countries laid down by Customs & Excise department, thus it is made in the UK.
See also 
Foods similar to biltong include:
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- "What to do with Biltong". Retrieved 2007-09-10.
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- Boase, Tessa (10 January 2005). "African snackshot". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 2008-09-29. "[Biltong is] particularly good for teething babies"
- HMRC. "FAQ: Meat, food and plants". Her Majesty's Customs and Excise. Archived from the original on 2 February 2009. Retrieved 2007-09-10.
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