What is the ideal biltong drying temperature?

One of the stand-out features of biltong is the soft, moist-yet-snappy texture it gets from its unique production method. It’s something hard to replicate with mere heating, and it’s one of the key drivers in the differences between beef jerky and biltong.

If you’re making biltong at home, how do you make sure you find that perfect sweet spot between safety and taste? Today we look at the right temperature to make biltong and some nifty tips and tricks to ensure consistent, flavourful batches.

Why does temperature matter when drying biltong?

There are two solid reasons to get the right temperature when drying biltong. The first isn’t very exciting- but it is critically important.

Because you’re not applying heat to the meat, nor are you pre-cooking it, the meat must be properly preserved. Once it is correctly dried, it will be safe to store for ages (as long as you keep it dry).

Getting it there, however, means ensuring the meat is safe and sanitary throughout the drying process.

More excitingly, getting just the right balance of air, heat, and moisture is how you ensure you get a delicious batch of biltong when it’s ready.

This is, of course, a little open to personal taste- you may like a succulently moist piece, while a friend may delight in crispy chili snaps- but there is definitely a sweet spot every biltong maker should know.

Biltong drying equipment and specifications in scientific studies

According to the Scientific Electronic Library Online (SciELO), South Africa the listed results of drying. times are listed below:

EquipmentTemperature (°C)Relative Humidity (%)Air velocity (m/s)Time
Home-made dryer equipped with a light bulb25n/sn/s4 days
Environmental chamber20-2238-64n/s17-26 days
Drying cabinet35n/sn/sn/s
Drying chamber28-3270n/s1 day
Drying chamber28-3270n/s2 days
Drying chamber353036 days
Source: http://www.scielo.org.za/
N/S: not specified

So, what’s the right temperature to dry biltong?

We’ll skip the science, but as your meat dries, water from the center moves to the outside, and that on the outside evaporates into the air.

So the cut of your meat, and its overall thickness, will play a part in the perfect drying process for biltong. It’s recommended to keep your pieces between 1.5cm and 2.5cm to ensure optimum results.

Biltong of this thickness will lose about 40-50% of its raw weight and become ‘wet biltong’ within 24-36 hours. You will reach 50-60% in 48 hours and 60-70% within 56 hours, creating dry biltong.

Keeping mold at bay is key. In a low temperature (and without a UV drying lightbulb) or at a hot and humid temperature, mold will grow.

While mold won’t affect a product dried too fast at a hot temperature, it will be prone to spoilage later, as the center will not have properly shed its water weight. You’ll also have an unpleasant, dry surface.

The ideal temperature and drying time for biltong is 22°C to 24°C for the first 24 hours and thereafter at 30°C to 33°C for two days. Keeping below 24°C in the initial phases stops the fats from going rancid.

Keeping relative humidity in the box below 50% ensures consistent, quality results.

There’s a couple of other points to bear in mind when making biltong. Don’t overcrowd your box, or allow the meat strips to touch. This will create ‘microclimates’ where the rules don’t apply and encourage mold and bacteria to grow.

Likewise, make sure to clean your hooks thoroughly with a food-safe anti-bacterial medium between every batch.

Using the right temperature for biltong is one of the key elements to getting delicious results, so it’s worth getting right!