AskDefine | Define biltong

Dictionary Definition

biltong n : meat that is salted and cut into strips and dried in the sun

User Contributed Dictionary



From Afrikaans, from bil (“buttock, hindquarter”), from Middle Dutch bille, + tong (“tongue”), from Middle Dutch tonghe.


  1. A South African dish of beef or other meat spiced with corriander, salt and pepper, then dried. Similar to American beef jerky.
    • "For the uninitiated Biltong is a dried meat product made mostly in South Africa. It literally translates to "Bum Strips". Many countries have similar products but none are exactly like biltong and so representative of the taste of South Africa. It's not a pretty process or a cheap one as you lose about 50% of the weight of the uncured meat.

Extensive Definition

Biltong is a kind of dried meat that originated in South Africa. Many kinds of flesh can be used to make 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 differs significantly in typical ingredients, taste and production process. The word biltong is from the Dutch bil ("rump") and tong ("strip" or "tongue").


The Dutch who arrived in South Africa in the 17th century brought recipes for dried meat from the Old World. 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 we understand it 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 (Cape Town) into the interior of South Africa during the Great Trek. The meat became stable against decay or attack by insects within a day or two and within a fortnight would be black and rock-hard.


The traditional ingredients are:
Other ingredients often added include:


Biltong is most commonly made from beef. For finest cuts, sirloin is used or steaks cut from the hip. Other cuts can be used, but are not as high quality.
Biltong can also be made from:
  • Venison such as Kudu
  • Ostrich meat (bright red, often resembling venison)
  • Fish in this case, the prepared article is known as Bokkoms
  • Chicken, simply referred to as 'chicken biltong'
It should be noted that Bokkoms should not be confused with other cured fish such as Dried Angel Fish and Dried Snoek. Shark biltong can also be found in South Africa in a variety of locations. It is favoured more as an oddity than a delicacy, having a very acquired taste as sharks urinate through their skin.


Ideally the meat is marinated in a vinegar solution (cider vinegar is traditional but balsamic also works very well) for a few hours. This is then poured off and the meat thoroughly mixed with the spice mix. Traditionally 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 in wet biltong that is not going to be frozen), however if eaten in excess, it can contribute toward cancer.
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 night 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 mold 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 Celsius (100 Fahrenheit to 160 Fahrenheit), with the door open a fraction to let out moist air, can dry the meat in approximately 4 hours. Although slow dried meat often tastes better, oven dried is ready to eat the same day as preparation.

Biltong vs Jerky

Biltong differs from Jerky in two distinct ways:
  • The meat used can be much thicker, typically biltong meat is cut in strips approx 1 inch wide - but can be thicker. Jerky is always very thin meat.
  • The vinegar in biltong has at least as much to do with the preservation of the meat as the salt and drying process as it chemically 'cooks' the meat, further helping to preserve as well as adding texture and flavour. Jerky is traditionally just salted and dried.


Biltong is a common product of Southern African butcheries and grocery stores, and can be bought in the form of wide strips (known as stokkies, meaning little sticks). It is presented in packets, either finely shredded or sliced as biltong chips. There are also specialised stores that retail biltong.
When customers at a retail shop ask for biltong, they will request it either as wet (moist), medium or dry. As it is sold by weight, wet is best for the seller, but the price is insignificant either way. Additionally, some customers prefer it with a lot of fat within the muscle fibres, and some with as little fat as possible.


Biltong is renowned for being chewed as a snack, it can also be diced up into stews, added to muffins and pot bread. Several popular restaurants have also included biltong as an option for a pizza topping. Biltong-flavour potato crisps are also popular.
Biltong has been said to be best enjoyed with a beer. It is an excellent camping food, containing a high-degree of protein and (sometimes) fat, in a lightweight package. Animals (especially dogs and sometimes cats) are also known to enjoy it.
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 the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand which have large South African populations, and also to the United States, where it is FDA approved.
In Britain, Biltong produced in South Africa is prohibited from import by UK Customs & Excise department , under their standard rules concerning the import of meat-based products from non-EU countries. It is still able to be purchased in the UK, as home grown South African-style biltong.

See also

Foods similar to biltong include:

Notes and references

biltong in Afrikaans: Biltong
biltong in German: Biltong
biltong in Spanish: Biltong
biltong in French: Biltong
biltong in Italian: Biltong
biltong in Malay (macrolanguage): Biltong
biltong in Dutch: Biltong
biltong in Polish: Biltong
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