Biltong vs Jerky – What’s the difference (and does it matter)?

Ask a biltong lover if it’s the same as beef jerky, and you’ll earn a sharp word or two! Yet it’s tempting to assume these two very similar snacks have a lot in common because they do!

It’s the differences between beef jerky and biltong, however, that count the most.  Let’s take a closer look at why biltong is so different from jerky and how that affects the taste and texture of this healthy, diet-friendly snack.

The ‘raw’ debate

Of course, both are preserved red meats that can be stored for long periods of time and remain delicious (and safe to eat). They also have huge fan bases worldwide. There the similarities end.

Beef jerky originates from Northern America, whereas biltong is from South Africa. Biltong uses a very simple seasoning profile and spice to bring out the best in the meat, while you’ll find complex and highly processed flavours in beef jerky.

Biltong will often use a little salt in the blend, but beef jerky is packed with it, and there’s often added sugar in the recipe too.

For many brands, that sugar is a big issue- with very little fibre to offset the quick carb fix, it means you’re chomping on a snack that looks protein-heavy and healthy but is actually packed with empty, unsatisfying carbs that will help pack on pounds at your waist.

For this reason, you can look at biltong as a diet food when used sensibly as part of a holistic meal plan, whereas jerky is a fun snack but certainly not as good for you and shouldn’t really be used in a calorie-controlled meal plan.

Biltong will also have a higher protein content than the equivalent amount of jerky, making it very satiating.

A difference between biltong and beef jerky you likely didn’t consider, however, is that the beef for jerky is pre-cooked before being preserved. Biltong is slowly dehydrated from the original raw meat without applying heat.

This is why you will find ‘moist’ biltongs that are still very soft and why all biltongs (even crispy varieties) have a richer texture and flavour profile than jerky.

Ingredients, texture, and flavour: the key biltong vs. jerky differences

Another key difference between the two snacks lies in the cuts of meat used. While beef jerky is naturally made from beef, as is most biltong (although game, ostrich, and even chicken biltong are available), jerky uses far leaner cuts.

Unfortunately, this can also mean cheaper meat, which is hard to avoid in biltong production. Most biltongs, even after dehydration, aim for a healthy 15% to 30% fat content. Biltong meat is cured in a simple spice mixture, while jerky is never cured but dried.

On the other hand, some jerkies are smoked, while biltong is almost never smoked – smoking would interfere with the drying process.

The flavors and spices used to affect the final texture and taste of both dried types of meat and the different preservation methods. Jerky has a “chewy bite,” like a steak, while biltong can vary greatly depending on moisture and fat content.

You’ll find everything from a dry, crunchy “breadstick” known as a stokkie to tender, soft pieces. Biltong retains a lingering meat flavour that jerky doesn’t, as it’s typically overpowered by heating and the nature of jerky flavours.

That said, if you like strongly flavoured meats, jerky has a stronger impact than biltong, which often has a more subtle flavour profile.

Most biltongs are made in a thicker cut that is cured and gently air-dried under controlled conditions for up to a week. It is then cut into bite-sized pieces and packaged. Jerky requires thin slices to begin with, which are cooked on a long, slow heat to speed dehydration.

While beef jerky is a popular snack, there’s a reason people who try biltong often say they’ll never go back.

From the meat’s succulence to the subtle, delicate flavour profile, the unique way this dried meat is made gives the palate a punch that’s hard to match with even the best beef jerky. After all, that’s why we love it!