Biltong Box

Biltong Buddy

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What Is Biltong?

Biltong is a word that describes South African dried meat. The word is dutch in origin and is made up of the word 'BIL' meaning buttocks and 'TONG' meaning strip. It literally translates as 'Strip Of Buttocks' or 'Strip of Ass' if you prefer. Essentially it is 'JERKY'.

We all love Jerky, don't we? The answer being yes we do... but....

Did you know that you can make your own strips of dried buttocks in your own home in as little as three days? A little more than three days for those of you that like your buttocks crispy... haha!

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Fabulous Tasting Biltong Trivia

Biltong is one of the most delicate beef snacks available. It has been described as the prosciutto of South Africa. It can be bought for much less money, though.
Biltong is one of the most delicate beef snacks available. It has been described as the prosciutto of South Africa. It can be bought for much less money, though. | Source

A Drying Box

A drying box does not need to be a Rolls Royce. A wooden box with plenty of ventilation is all that is required.
A drying box does not need to be a Rolls Royce. A wooden box with plenty of ventilation is all that is required.

A History Of Biltong

Biltong is a South African delicacy and has been around for a couple of hundred years. It first came about in it's more primitive form as a less pungent form of the Dutch Tassal, which was not exclusively Dutch as it was also produced in areas of France during the late Middle Ages.

Tassal was also made in Batavia. (Jakarta on the Island of Java is the capital city of Indonesia. During the Dutch Colonization of Indonesia, Jakarta was called Batavia).

Biltong made it's way to South Africa with the early Dutch settlers in the form of the Dutch Tassal. It was then adapted by use of the local wildlife like Kudu and Gnu and became extremely popular.

Biltong has ultimately been a favorite with South African’s and Zimbabwean’s for the best part of 400 years now.

Biltong is great for when you are off watching your favorite sporting events whether they be LIVE or televised. No sporting event in South Africa is considered to be complete without a few brewskies and a generous supply of the spicy air dried delicacy that is Biltong.

BILL-tong as described in the Epicurious Food Dictionary:

"Developed in South Africa and a staple in many African countries, biltong consists of strips of cured, air-dried beef or game. Though its keeping properties are the same, it is a finer form of jerked meat than American Jerky. The best biltong has been compared to the Prosciutto of Italy."

How To Make Biltong

There are many different ways to make this delicate food at home. In South Africa, Biltong is often made in the home.

Recipes vary and in most cases are passed down from generation to generation.

Biltong can be made from almost any kind of lean red meat. It must be as lean as you can get, because it is very difficult to cure fat. In South Africa Kudu, Impala, and Ostrich meats are commonly used. But for those of you that don't have any of those beasts running around your neighbourhood, you will have to use beef.

You will need to make a drying box - A drying box is needed so as to replicate the dry atmospheric conditions of Southern Africa. In it's homeland, biltong is dried outdoors! If you are lucky enough to live in a cool dry place - you may simply choose to hang your strips of meat on a clothes line. Being sure to make sure that there is plenty of breeze. Humidity will spoil your Biltong.

My Biltong Drying Box

Note the perforated wood that I have used to protect the light bulb in this biltong drying box.
Note the perforated wood that I have used to protect the light bulb in this biltong drying box. | Source

How To Make A Drying Box

A box that can be used for drying biltong needs to have enough width and height so that your strips of beef can hang freely and not touch each other or the sides of the box. It also needs to have enough space so that the air can move freely around the box. Ventilation holes are necessary near the base as well as near the top of the box.

You can use a cardboard box, but today i am going to tell you how to make a drying box from wood. It will last longer...

Go to your local hardware store and buy some timber. Enough to make a box that can be completely sealed. The dimensions of my drying box are: 75cm high, 45cm deep, and 60cm wide. You can use those exact measurements or you may change them to suit yourself.

Make a box with a door and then get a drill and drill some ventilation holes in the sides of your box. Some near the bottom and some near the top. The above picture has ventilation holes in the door, this is also okay!

Now, once you have made the box, you will need to install some rails near the top that you can hang your strips of beef on. 5 or 6 running from side to side evenly spaced should be fine.

The last thing you will need is an electric light socket and a light bulb. This is going to create a dry atmosphere for your biltong.

If you by the mountable type you can mount it with screws. You will have to make some sort of a cover for the light bulb to protect it from the dripping juices in the early stages of drying. A piece of perforated particle board should be fine. It won't  catch all the juices, but it will catch most!!

Preparing Your Strips Of Butt!

I recommend that use use silverside beef or London broil for those of you that live in the US. You will then need to get a very sharp knife so as to slice your strips from the chunk of silverside. 

Now being sure to slice your strips with the grain, cut strips of beef that are approximately 1cm thick by about 15cm long or however long your chunk of beef is. Cut away any excess fat at the same time.

Lay your cut strips out side by side on your cutting board and then assault them with liberal amounts of rock salt. You want the rock salt to stick to all sides of the beef strips. Leave for an hour and then scrape off the excess salt with the back of your knife. DO NOT use water. The idea of salting beef is to remove any excess moisture. Washing your strips of beef with water will just put the moisture back in.

You will then need to get a bowl and fill it with enough vinegar so as to be able to dip your strips of beef in it. Dip your strips and then place them on a wire rack so that any excess may drip off.

Give the strips a sprinkling of spice, black pepper or crushed coriander seeds work well.

Congratulations, your strips of meat are now ready to dry.

The Drying Process

Get some meat hooks - one for each strip and then hang your strips in your drying box on the rails that you inserted near the top.

Switch on your light bulb (don't use more than a 60 watt bulb), and leave your strips for 3 to 4 days. By the fourth day the process will be complete.

The light bulb doesn't produce much heat. You don't need any heat to make biltong. What the light bulb does is produce ever so slightly warmed air that rises and exits through your ventilation holes at the top. The ventilation holes near the bottom are for the air to get in, the holes at the top are for the air to get out. Without these holes there would be NO circulation. 

Eating Your Homemade Biltong

This biltong will become quite dark during the drying process. Unlike beef jerky that remains pinkish when dried.

Don't let the color off your biltong turn you off, because this is absolutely delicious.

Your biltong will also be quite hard and you will need a good sturdy knife to be able to slice it before eating. 

One suggestion is to buy a brand new hand plane (usually used for planning wood) that you can use to shave off pieces of your biltong. These flakes are absolutely gorgeous if sprinkled on a bowl of hot rice. Mouth watering deliciousness!!

Enjoy your first batch while it lasts. My first batch of biltong only lasted 2 days. My wife and kids made sure of that.

A Final Note On Storage

Biltong can be stored for up to 6 months, even longer if the conditions are perfect.

The best way to store it is in an airtight container. The airtight container then needs to be kept in a cool dry place. Alternatively, you can store it in the fridge.

Sour Plum Biltong

Sour Plums - aka Umeboshi are perfect when eaten by themselves and it makes perfect sense to use them as flavoring for Sour plum biltong.
Sour Plums - aka Umeboshi are perfect when eaten by themselves and it makes perfect sense to use them as flavoring for Sour plum biltong. | Source

Sour Plum Biltong

This is a traditionally made biltong that has been spiced with non traditional flavorings that come from Japan. Sour plums (Japanese Apricots), also known as 'Ume Boshi'.

The making of sour plum biltong in Japan is actually very easy, this is mostly because of the fact that the climate is very favorable for making biltong. The air is dry and it is breezy much of the time. Also, for reasons unknown to me – there are few flies. To tell you the truth, I have never seen a fly inside my own home. I have seen them outside the home in and near places where there are animals, though.

Anyway, I chose to use my biltong buddy – aka my trusty biltong drying box – aka my computer desk. It is the desk that my computer sits on. It has a small light bulb (40 watt) inside of it to dry the air. It does not have a fan. It is no biltong making machine, however it is the only biltong maker that I have in my home.

Sour Plums - The Inspiration For Making Sour Plum Biltong

These sour plums still have their seeds. But once they have been smashed and rubbed into the strips of beef that is to become my biltong, the seeds will become irrelevant.
These sour plums still have their seeds. But once they have been smashed and rubbed into the strips of beef that is to become my biltong, the seeds will become irrelevant. | Source

How My Sour Plum Biltong Was Started

Sour plums were the inspiration for my sour plum biltong that is happily hanging in the biltong box that is beneath my fingertips this very instant. For those that do not know what sour plums are, they are pickled and salted Japanese apricots. Many call them plums, though. Not sure what the logic behind that is.

They are made by many of the locals each and every year in around April / May when the plums are ready for harvesting. They are harvested when they are still green, then they are cleaned and washed ready for making either the sour plums that you see in the picture or for making one of my other favorite treats – Japanese Apricot / Plum Wine. I make myself two bottles of apricot wine every year, however, one bottle of pickled plums is enough to last more than two years, therefore I do not make those every year.

The process of making Sour Japanese Plums (ume boshi) is really quite simple. You only need a big pickling jar and the following four ingredients: Japanese apricots (ume plums), coarse sea salt, red shiso leaves (beefsteak plant), and shochu or shochuu ( distilled Japanese liquor). You can use any kind of distilled liquor that is safe for human consumption. Vodka is a good choice due to the fact that it is flavorless and non smelling.

Step One – Now, to cut a long story short, remove the stems from the plums, wash them thoroughly, dunk them in the alcohol which will kill any mold that is on the surface of the plums, then put them on a drying rack or flat basket and put them in the sun to dry for a day.

Step Two – Salt the plums, some like to use as much as 20 percent of the weight of the plums when salting, that means that for a single kilogram of plums you will need 200 grams of salt. i use just 10 percent. So 100 grams of salt per kilogram of plums. Prepare the red shiso leaves in the same way that you prepared the plums in step one, wash them, dry them, then take just a sprinkling of salt and rub them in to the leaves, place them in a plastic bag to mull a little.

Step Three – Take your large pickling jar and put a layer of coarse sea salt, then a layer of plums in the bottom, then top that off with a layer of salted red shiso leaves (perillo leaves), more sea salt, then another layer of plums, then more red leaves, and so on and so forth until you have no more plums left to place in the pickling jar. The salt will run out before the plums, don’t add more than the specified 10 percent though. Otherwise you could wind up pickling your little old self when you eat them.

Step Four – Find some kind of heavy ‘ish weight like a bag filled with salt water to weigh down the plums whilst the salt extracts all of the liquid from them. This process takes about a week. I recommend using something heavy like a bottle filled with water or a bag filled with salt water (if it breaks it won’t dilute your plums). Then once the reddish liquid is about 2 cm above the level of the plums you may remove the weight and let them bathe in the salt brine.

Step Five – Drying the plums. Take the plums and the red shiso leaves out of the red liquid brine that they have been immersed in. (Make sure that you do this on a sunny day!!!). Lay the plums out on a drying rack or drying basket with the shiso leaves and put them out in the sun to dry. IMPORTANT: Do not throw the liquid away, because it can be made into vinegar. Perfect for biltong making wouldn’t you think?

A Colorful Display Of Sour Plums Drying In The Sun

Umeboshi sour plums are nearly always dried in the sun.
Umeboshi sour plums are nearly always dried in the sun. | Source
After being dried in the sun, they are pickled in brine.
After being dried in the sun, they are pickled in brine. | Source

Drying Plums For Sour Plum Biltong

The round marble shaped thingies are the sour plums and the tea leafy looking red stuff is the red perillo leaves (shiso – beefsteak plant leaves). They need to be dried in the sun for a couple of days. You will hae to bring them inside during the night, though.

They can be dry stored by placing them in a jar dry like the ones in the picture you see on the right, or you can pour in some of the liquid from your pickling bottle to moisten them a little bit. You may even go the full nine yards and put in some peeled, whole garlic gloves to absorb the flavor of the plums…. Amazing!

This jar of sour plums (pictured right) has some of the pickling brine to help keep the plums soft. We need them to be soft and squishy for sour plum biltong. It makes it a lot easier to squish the plums and spread them all over the meat.

Preparing the beef for Sour Plum Biltong

A slab of beef ready to be cut into strips before being made into beef biltong.
A slab of beef ready to be cut into strips before being made into beef biltong. | Source
Beef strips ready to be rubbed with sour plums. Already starting to look like beef biltong.
Beef strips ready to be rubbed with sour plums. Already starting to look like beef biltong. | Source

Preparing The Beef

The piece of beef that you see on the right was the largest piece of beef that I could find at my local supermarket.

The beef was bought, then it was sliced into long strips of about 150 grams each. I ended up with four pieces. I know it is not enough, but as I have already said, it was the largest piece that my supermarket meat section could provide.

The strips of beef were then liberally salted with organic sea salt that I buy from my local Costco store. It is delicious tasting salt and therefore I don't mind using a lot of it.

After the beef strips were salted and then left in the fridge for a half an hour, I washed off the salt with vinegar and prepared the strips for the umeboshi (sour plum) rub. Japanese sour plums are very soft and squishy and they contain quite a large seed that is not edible. Anyway, I just squished them and rubbed the juicy flesh all over the strips of meat, seeds and all, then I put them in a container and refrigerated them for a half a day (overnight), until the next morning.

Marinated Strips Of Salted Beef For Sour Plum Biltong

My Computer Desk - AKA Trusty Biltong Drying Box (Homemade)

The Inside Of The Biltong Drying Box

Biltong Drying Box Details

The biltong box that is pictured above and to the right cost me about US$12 to make. The materials were bought new and then I spent a couple of hours putting it together.

The actual dimensions are as follows:-

Floor to the top of the box - 80cm

Left to right (width of box) - 60cm

Front to back (depth of box) - 40cm

It has a 60 watt light bulb fitting in the bottom that provides the dry air needed for drying the biltong, and it has ventilation holes near the top to create an up draft so that the hot air can be drawn up and around the biltong during the drying process.

Sour Plum Biltong - The Drying Process

The four strips of biltong shortly after they were hung in my biltong drying box. (day1)
The four strips of biltong shortly after they were hung in my biltong drying box. (day1)
The same four strips the very next day (day2). You can see that they have already dried quite a lot and the surface of the strips of biltong has darkened.
The same four strips the very next day (day2). You can see that they have already dried quite a lot and the surface of the strips of biltong has darkened.
Sour plum biltong on day 3. The strips of biltong have shrunk a little bit. Shrinkage is expected because of the fact that drying the meat reduces the moisture content a lot and moisture takes up a lot of space.
Sour plum biltong on day 3. The strips of biltong have shrunk a little bit. Shrinkage is expected because of the fact that drying the meat reduces the moisture content a lot and moisture takes up a lot of space.
Sour plum biltong on day 4. These strips of biltong are ready to eat. They have hung in the drying box for 3 and a half days. In this picture the light is on, but that is only for the picture. I actually turned the light off toward the end of day 2.
Sour plum biltong on day 4. These strips of biltong are ready to eat. They have hung in the drying box for 3 and a half days. In this picture the light is on, but that is only for the picture. I actually turned the light off toward the end of day 2.

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