This is not a review of a specific brand or flavor of dried meat, but more of a comparison between the two: Traditional jerky, often made from beef, and Biltong, a thinly sliced dried beef that is South African in origin.
Let’s look at them both:
Who among us has not enjoyed a chewy strip of beef jerky? And I bet many of you have made your own, possibly with venison or another game.
Ripping off a piece of beef jerky when on the trail makes me think back to our forefathers who probably did the same thing, possibly even on the same trail. It seems to me to be a very traditional American trail food, but apparently the native Americans in both North and South America made jerky and it was adopted by both the Spanish Conquistidors and the early North American fur traders and settlers.
As jerky evolved, spices were added to make it tastier. Today, you can buy it sweet, spicy, hot, peppered, smokey, hickory, or with a teriyaki flavor. And while a few big brands seem to dominate the big box stores, one of the things I always enjoyed about going to the gun show was getting free samples from the different jerky makers whose booths would appear seemingly at random between the pistols and rifles.
- Many flavors
- Available from different meats, including beef, turkey, and even salmon
- Available everywhere, from convenience store and gas stations to grocery stores and club stores
- Commercial jerky packed with oxygen absorbers is usually good for up to a year
- Does not require refrigeration
- Recipes abound for making your own, which can be done in an oven, smoker or dehydrator
- Can be tough on your teeth and eating it may make you thirsty
- Can be expensive (salmon jerky can cost up to $10 per ounce.)
- Most commercial brands use preservatives
While I have been eating jerky since I was a kid, I am admittedly new to biltong. I was give two packets of it this Christmas by my daughter and wow! I was pleasantly surprised at the texture and flavor. While Jerky is dried almost to just slightly less than crispy and is quite chewy, the biltong I had was softer, far more tender, and easier to chew. It was also sliced much thinner, which I understand is not the case with traditional biltong.
Unlike jerky, biltong is not smoked. It is soaked in vinegar and often flavored with coriander, a combination that does a remarkable job in killing bacteria that might otherwise contaminate the meat. According to Wikipedia, biltong was developed because it was difficult to preserve large African game animals prior to refrigeration. By leaving the meat to dry in the cold winter wind, it was preserved for use in the spring.
This reminds me of how some Alaskan natives would dry their salmon: simply slit them open, remove the guts and drape them over a rack in the fall or winter. The combination of the cold and the dry air would preserve them for later consumption.
In my opinion, biltong is definitely worth exploring more thoroughly, and I plan to do so over the next few months. The two-ounce packets I was gifted would be great in a bug out bag, car emergency kit or day pack. I’d like to experiment with different brands, flavors, sizes, and thicknesses
- Tasty and tender
- Usually sugar free and low carb
- Shelf life up to a year
- Versatile. Often eaten as a snack, but can be used to replace meat in a soup, omelet, salad or other meal.
- Not as widely available as jerky
- Can cost up to $2 or $3 per ounce
Jerky vs Biltong
In my opinion, biltong beat jerky because of its versatility and tenderness. I feel a little bad voting against the great American snack of jerky, but tender beats leathery in my book. I also enjoyed the more subtle flavor of the biltong.
If you have never had biltong, I encourage you to try it and leave me a comment below. Do a taste test and let me know, which did you prefer?
The Importance of Dried and Cured Meats for Preppers
In a post-SHTF scenario where there is no electricity and no refrigeration, preserving meet from a large game animal becomes a challenge. If you butcher a chicken or a rabbit, chances are you can consume the meat before it goes bad, but if you kill a deer, butcher a goat, or slaughter anything larger, you will need to preserve the meat unless you are serving a crowd. Curing fish is also useful after a large catch.
If it is cold out, below 40 degrees, you can hang the meat on a high rack or off a tree limb and it will keep for days. If the temperature is below freezing, it will keep for months. But what if it’s not cold?
Pressure canning is an obvious way to preserve meat, and canned meat is a staple in our prepper pantry. You need a pressure canner or two, jars, lids and a well-controlled fire or heat source. You also need instructions and someone with experience. So start canning meats now so you can become an expert at it.
Salt has been a common method of curing meat, including ham, for centuries. Like air-drying, salt removes moisture from the meat, minimizing or eliminating the growth of bacteria. The salt curing process requires a large amount of salt, preferably pickling salt. There are other chemicals and compounds, including nitrates and nitrites, that can also be part of the cure.
Once salted, the meat is often left to hang and dry or may be smoked. If you are interested in this approach, read up on it (here’s an article from Outdoor Life to start with) stock up on the required salts and spices, and get some practice. Who knows, maybe you’ve become an expert at making salami, summer sausage, bacon, or another treat. That could be a great side gig after TEOTWAWKI.