Biltong and beef jerky: most people know that they’re not the same thing but what exactly is the difference between the two? Taste the difference for yourself at http://bullandcleaver.com/
Most obvious, of course, is where they come from. Biltong comes from South Africa. And the word itself comes from the Afrikaans words “bil” and “tong” which mean “buttock” and “strip”.
Jerky, on the other hand, comes from America. The word jerky comes from “Ch’arki”, which is a South American word for “dried, salted meat”.
Of course both biltong and jerky can be made of pretty much anything but most commercial versions of both are made out of beef.
But what you do with that beef matters. Biltong and beef jerky have different ingredients, different methods of production, and a different taste.
First let’s take a look at the ingredients.With beef jerky the beef is cut into thin strips with no fat. It’s then marinated in a mixture that often includes sugar before it’s dried. And that’s what gives beef jerky its texture and caramelized looking outside.
Biltong on the other hand is made with no sugar and is marinated for about 24 hours in a mixture that includes vinegar and salt. And the reason biltong makers do this has a lot to do with where biltong started.
Biltong was first made in South Africa by the voortrekkers during the Great Trek when they moved from the western colonies to the rest of the country. They would kill big game, cut it into strips, and then hang it outside to cure during the cold winter nights.
And that method is pretty much what is still used today where the meat is left to dry for about two weeks before being cut. But while biltong is dried in the absence of heat, jerky is the opposite.
Beef jerky is cured in a dehydrator for 6 to 12 hours which essentially cooks the meat at a very low temperature and removes the moisture from it which makes it last longer. That’s why beef jerky is a tougher more smoked tasting meet while biltong is more moist and tastes more like steak or prosciutto.
The final difference is when the two are cut. While beef jerky is cut before it’s processed, biltong is only cut after, and as close to consumption as possible. So biltong actually retains the living enzymes in the meat until the moment you eat it.
And that is the difference between American beef jerky and South African biltong.