A little while ago, I stumbled on a YouTube video showing a South African ex-pat making Biltong at home using simple household items and some ingenuity.
As one-half of the ‘Scoff’s Up’ team has an addiction to biltong, and spends a lot of our meat budget on the stuff from our local butcher, I looked into it a bit more seriously.
What is biltong?
Biltong is dry cured salted meat covered in a mixture of pepper and coriander. In South Africa, the salted meat is hung to dry in the wind until it is fully dehydrated. In the UK, dry air is not an option, so some sort of artificial airflow and air dryer was needed.
To the man cave!
As I am an engineer, hold degrees in science and love making food from scratch, I set about making a dehydrator from which we could cultivate our first batch of home-grown biltong.
Now I am fully aware you can buy premade dehydrators from the internet, but there is something fun about going all Blue Peter in the garage and making your own; so I set about making the Mk1 box out of pine boards, a 40w lamp bulb and a USB computer fan.
Armed with a Black & Decker workbench, a saw, a sander and a drill, I constructed a wooden box with a hinged door and some doweling rails along the top.
In the bottom of the box, I fitted a lamp holder and a 40W incandescent light bulb to provide the heat. Next, I set about adding the computer fan, which would create the airflow. It was here I had options. I could place the fan at the bottom of the box, and have it blow air into the box with vent holes at the top; or I could fit it to the top of the box and have it draw air outwards and have the inlet holes at the bottom.
I opted for the latter (after making sure I got the fan the correct way around!!).
Finally, with the Mk1 built, we needed to take it for a test drive, so set about preparing some silverside beef for curing into biltong.
Below is our first take on the biltong recipe.
After 4 days we removed and sliced the first stick. This was still quite moist in the centre but perfectly cured around the outside with no mould growth at all.
After 6 days we removed and sliced the second stick. This was a lot firmer, and only very slightly moist in the centre, again with zero mould growth.
After 7 days, we removed and sliced the last stick. This was a lot firmer still, and only very slightly moist in the centre; again with zero mould growth.
Overall, this was a simple and cost effective away of making biltong at home.
The general consensus was this was as good as the butcher’s version, and with a few minor tweaks to the recipe, it was a winner we would stick with!
We will now work on other curing recipes and maybe add some more spice (like chilli) to the mix.