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What is the best meat for biltong?
The easy answer is that almost any meat will do- there are even people making tasty dried meat with chicken and fish- but to get the very best results every time, there’s some biltong making tips you should know starts with getting the perfect cut of meat.
Choosing the best type of meat for biltong
While there are experimental forms of biltong, you’ll generally want to opt for beef, venison, or, if you’re feeling adventurous, ostrich. Remember that the better the cut and quality of the meat you use, the better your biltong will be.
Topside and silverside, both cuts of rump, are perfect for biltong. Tenderloin, sirloin, and steak from the rump or hip are also suitable.
Always buy the best meat you can afford – the results will be worth it! Look for lean cuts of meat with even but minimal marbling. Some fat in the meat makes it tastier, but too much fat – especially in lumps – will go rancid instead of drying properly.
You can trim your cut if it has an edge of fat.
Buy at least double the amount of meat as you wish to make biltong, as it will reduce considerably in size and weight during the drying process. This reduction in moisture is what makes biltong such a high protein snack, though, so it’s all good.
It’s commonly asked, “Can I use brisket for biltong?” The answer is a resounding no. It will be dry and chewy. Trust us- you don’t want to try it!
Can you freeze meat for biltong?
Dry-aged beef that has been frozen and thawed once can be used for biltong. Note, however, that the cycles of freezing and thawing will affect the meat’s texture and moisture content, so your biltong will taste slightly different.
If this doesn’t bother you, it’s not a problem – but we advise avoiding it if possible. Freezing damages the fibers of the meat (due to jagged water crystals) and softens the meat. This sounds like a good thing, but it gives the meat a mushy flavor that doesn’t always go well with dried meat.
If you must use frozen meat, you will probably use a venison/wild game cut rather than a beef cut.
How to slice your biltong meat
Thin and consistent is the best way to cut biltong meat. This enables it to dry thoroughly and evenly. Typically, you will use 1cm to 2.5 cm thick portions and size their length to fit your available drying space.
This will increase drying efficiency and prevent you from using too many hooks or crowd the meat. Remove any trace of gristle, connective tissue, or sinew. Remember that you will need to have constant air circulation around each strip for it to dry properly.
It should never touch another piece of meat. Try to cultivate constant pressure and use a very sharp knife. While little cuts and nicks won’t affect the meat’s taste, it will make your biltong look ugly. The more consistent your hand, the better, so take a deep breath and stay focused.
The quality and cut of the meat you use will greatly impact your biltong, so it pays to buy just the right cut! If you have a butcher in your area, it can be worth building a good relationship as they can advise you on the best meat of the week. Don’t be afraid to experiment a little either.
Different meats and cuts will affect the taste of your biltong in subtle ways, so you may find a new favorite waiting for you.