‘Biltong’ itself originated in South Africa and is meat that has been cured basically through a drying process by spicing it up then hanging the strips of meat until ready to eat. That is not to say that meat preservation is exclusive to South Africans because this is something mankind has pursued since prehistoric times – having discovered that a combination of drying and salting kept the meat edible for months. Then finding that by adding herbs and spices with the salting and done with skill, the meat was not only edible but very tasty as well.
Many different types of meat are used to produce it, beef, game and even ostrich from commercial farms. Basically, the meat is cut into strips, (correctly) sliced along the grain of the muscle or alternatively cut into flat pieces across the grain. The meat is then spiced and left for up to 24 in a tub to allow the spices to ‘marinate’ into the meat. After that it is pierced with a small hook and hung in a drying room until cured/dried. Some prefer the centre a little ‘raw’ others prefer their biltong very dry.
The word biltong is from the Dutch – ‘bil’ meaning rump or buttock of meat and ‘tong’ meaning strip or tongue.
But, having said that ‘Biltong’ originates from South Africa, actually it was the Dutch settler arriving in South Africa in the 17th century who brought in the recipes Biltong uk for dried meats; their preparation involved applying vinegar, then rubbing the strips of meat with a mix of herbs, salts and spices
Southern Africa was a new colony so the need for preserving all foods was pressing. Herds of livestock took a long time to build up, game was abundant but hunting was time consuming. The huge mass of meat had to be brought back, the journeys back from the ‘hunt’ were long and arduous, the climate hot and so salting and drying the sliced up meat solved the problem.
‘Biltong’ as we know it today evolved from the dried meat carried by the Voortrekkers migrating from the Cape Colony needing stocks of durable food as they migrated North-Eastward into the interior of Southern Africa, (known as the Great Trek.) The raw meat was preserved within a day or two and by two weeks had become almost black, dry and 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 due to its widespread availability and lower cost relative to game. For finest cuts, sirloin is used or steaks cut from the hip such as topside or silverside. Other cuts can be used, but are not as high in quality.
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. 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, but there are many South Africans now living in Britain producing a very good product and marketing it successfully through various web sites.