Biltong vs Jerky, the ultimate dried meat battle. But which is better and how do they compare? We’re going to give you three key facts and hopefully a non-biased opinion.
They are kind of similar in that they are both dried meats, a bit like house cats and lions are both from the ‘cat family’. However, the production process is totally different giving them both a very different taste and texture. When it comes to Biltong vs Jerky similarities, that’s where it stops.
What came first Biltong vs Jerky?
The word “jerky” derives from the Quechua word ‘ch’arki’ which means “dried, salted meat”, originally part of the ancient Inca empire, as early as 1550. It’s thought that jerky meat would have originated around this time in its earliest and most basic form.
The Quechua used meat from alpaca and llamas that was boned and defatted, cut into slices and pounded thin, and rubbed with salt, then sun-dried or smoked over a fire. The Spanish picked up on this and named it Charqui. When they invaded the Americas they noticed the North America natives were drying meat from buffalo, elk, and deer as well. It did not take long before the term Charqui eventually evolved into the word “jerky”.
Biltong is traditional dried and cured meat that originated in Southern African countries (South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana and Zambia). The Biltong has some similar threads to the Jerky story, but we have the Dutch to thank for introducing Biltong.
The Dutch East India Company decided to establish a colony in the Cape of Good Hope in the 17th century. The wagon-travelling Voortrekkers spread out from the Cape Colony reaping havoc and tribal wars with the local African Khoikhoi tribes. Find out more about the origins of biltong.
So in the Biltong vs Jerky round one battle, Jerky takes it – but only by about 150 years.
1: Biltong vs Jerky ingredients
Both of these meaty snacks use a flavorful blend of spices. But that’s about the extent of their similarities, biltong relies on vinegar and often Worcestershire sauce as part of its preservation. Salt and spices (such as coriander seeds) are added and whole steak slabs are used during the drying process. As the biltong industry grows, variations of ingredients included are expanding. A few other increasingly common add-ins include Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, chilli peppers, garlic powder and onion powder.
Jerky usually doesn’t use vinegar. It relies on heat from a dehydrator or oven for its drying process. It also relies on sauces and flavouring (usually containing sugar and salt) to increase the flavour.
Beef is the most common meat used for both, but game meat also works really well. The beef used in biltong is typically from thicker cuts of meat and takes a longer time to dry. Whereas jerky is almost always made from thinner presliced cuts.
2: Biltong vs Jerky processes
The biggest differences between Biltong vs Jerky is how they’re made.
How to make biltong: meat is marinaded overnight (often longer) with the savoury spice mix and vinegar-based solution. Once cured, the large meat steaks are air-dried at around 20-35°C. Finally, it’s cut into thick pieces or thin strips and sometimes it’s kept in its large slab form.
How to make jerky: the meat is first sliced into strips then dried (usually in a dehydrator or sometimes slow-cooked in an oven). This often results in drier, tougher pieces of meat compared to biltong. A lot of jerky is soaked in sweet marinade and salt to help it stay tender and flavorful.
3: Biltong vs Jerky taste and texture
Beef Jerky is sliced before it’s dried, this makes it dry and usually quite sweet. As biltong is cured and dried in larger slabs of meat, it has a lot more moisture. A good Biltong also has more of a savoury taste.
When it comes to fat, jerky typically has less fat which also contributes to its drier taste. Biltong, on the other hand, often has a higher fat content depending on the cut of meat used. This doesn’t mean that all biltong is high in fat and bad for you. The fat packs a big punch and a more diverse flavour profile contributing to its juicier flavour.
The final difference and in my opinion the most important is the texture. Biltong essentially is a cured dried steak. Meaning you can enjoy biltong wet (rare), medium, or well-done (hard and super dry). However, jerky is served one way only, dry! Because of the way it’s prepped and dried (in the dehydrator) or cooked in an oven, the texture is always drier than biltong.