Beef Jerky vs Biltong: The Differences | How to Make Jerky

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Beef Jerky vs Biltong: The Differences

Biltong is a form of dried meat, having its origins in South Africa. It's also very popular in Australia.

Beef Jerky is also a form of dried meat, having its origins in North and South America.

Both biltong and jerky were created for the same reasons, to preserve excesses of meat and as protein for long journeys.

To sum things up, both biltong and jerky are effectively the same things. However, biltong has a more specific recipe and process, whereas jerky is much more encompassing.

Jerky, in its most basic form, is simply dehydrated meat. It doesn't have to have any marinade, salt, or other seasonings. All it has to be is dried. Most jerky, however, is marinated in something, be it salt, vinegar, vegetable, or sugar solution, and then seasoned with one or more spices. Jerky can be dehydrated in a smoker, oven, dehydrator, sun dried, or air dried. I've seen them all.

Biltong, is specifically air dried, hung from hooks, and usually dried anywhere from 3-7 days. It's also specifically doused (not marinated) in vinegar, and rubbed with salt. Biltong is commonly seasoned with coriander seed, but may also include other spices. The air drying process lasting from 3-7 days creates an aging that gives biltong its unique meat flavor.

Contrast that to jerky, where the dehydration process lasts anywhere from 2 to 8 hours.

Good biltong is often judged by the quality of meat and the aged meat flavor. The vinegar and salt ingredients are there primarily to preserve the meat, but they do add to the unique flavor profile of biltong.

Good jerky is often judged by the unique combination of marinade and seasoning. It can also go on to include the unique choice of smoke woods, the cut of meat, and even the natural flavor of meat. But it's the unique blend of marinades and seasonings that define one brand from another.

Biltong is dehydrated as one large chunk or strip of meat, and then sliced into bite-sized pieces.  Jerky, on the other hand, is always sliced first, and then dehydrated.

Biltong is always made from whole meat.  Jerky can be made from either whole meat or ground meat.

Biltong is dehydrated in large pieces and then sliced.
Biltong is dehydrated in large pieces and then sliced to eat
Jerky is sliced first into edible pieces and then dehydrated

The word "jerky" has grown to include a wide variety of dehydrated foods. You can now find companies marketing mushroom jerky, cactus jerky, clam jerky, soy jerky, even bacon jerky. Biltong, however, remains limited to red meats, based on its aging process and limited ingredients.

Many biltong experts claim that jerky does not use vinegar, but the fact is the largest brands of jerky all use vinegar for both flavoring, preservation, and tenderizing. Many small gourmet brands rely on different types of vinegar to create tangy chewing.

There is also a belief that jerky is not air dried in the way biltong is. While it's true that most jerky manufactured for commercial purposes is dehydrated in smokers and ovens, that's only because US federal laws require meat to be heated to at least 140 degrees F to kill off bacteria. Otherwise, the earliest forms of jerky were all air-dried under the sun, and there are still people who make jerky this way for personal consumption.

There is also a number of companies manufacturing jerky using the same recipe for biltong, but dehydrating it under US federal requirements. As a result, it doesn't have the same soft, aged flavor as biltong, but still has all the same ingredients.

What that means is that biltong is largely defined by the dehydration process as it is the ingredients.

Meanwhile jerky remains a very broad term encompassing all sorts of dried meats and other foods.

Note:  Interested in trying biltong?  See my reviews here:


Post a Comment