Curious about what a Biltong Box is? Read on to get the lowdown.
A Biltong box is named after the meat cured in it. It is a South African term, and it’s somewhat similar to Beef Jerky in the US or Charqui in South America. It is basically a preservation method. The fan is there to continually extract air from the box. This way the moisture is drawn out. The whole process takes anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, it all depends on the thickness of the meat. I typically use thinner strips, that way it doesn’t take more than 1-2 weeks. The process is extremely simple on the other hand, all you do is wait, there is zero effort once the meat is hung in the box.
The box can be bought off the shelf or hand made from cheap parts. I built my own from a plastic storage box, a few round bars, a fan and a vent. Most if can be found at Home Depot and similar stores. I did make sure to place the intake vent at the top, and the extraction fan at the bottom, on the opposite side. The reason I did this is to make sure there are no stale air pockets in the box. The air now has to travel diagonally.
Some (larger) boxes contain a (traditional) lightbulb. The lightbulb is there not to warm things up too much, but it will warm up the surrounding air. Warm air rises, and that creates a natural draught. I’m advocating a fan instead, that way you have zero temp increase, and the moisture is drawn out anyway. If you have a heat source there is a risk that the outside of the meat dries faster than the inside.
I place my box in the basement where it is 15 deg C (60 deg F). It is slightly cooler than room temp, and that is good.
Types of meat
Any meat can be dried in the box, really, but I believe beef is most common.
When prepping the meat, always apply good hygiene. You don’t want foreign growth on the meat. I use nitril gloves. In order to get the most flavor, I strongly recommend a wet brine. I normally recommend dry brining, but for this type of application it is easier to control the salt level. I typically use an 8-10% brine. Read more about how to create a wet brine here. Leave the meat in the brine overnight, then take it out and pat it dry with a paper towel.
A Note on Vinegar
Many recipes call for vinegar in some sort. Sometimes for flavor, sometimes for purposes of preventing mold. I typically don’t use it, but many people associate the vinegar flavor with Biltong. As for the mold prevention: If you place clean meat in the box with a good low rpm fan, then you don’t need vinegar.
I apply one of my bbq rubs, but choose whatever herbs/spices you have at home, or prefer. Apply the spices/rub, and leave it in the fridge (covered) for a few hours. You want to give the rub some time for the flavors to blend before starting to dry the meat.
This is the easy part. Simply hook the meat, making sure it doesn’t touch any part of the box. Put the lid on, start the fan and wait. Easy, right?
How to tell when it’s done
Look at it, and pinch it with your fingers. The outside should be dry and leathery, but you still want some softness in the middle. There should be a slight ‘give’. In the photo(s) above I dried some Wildboar tenderloin, and they are quite thin. They took 2 weeks to dry. But start checking (with nitrile gloves) after a week. If you over-dry them they will be very tough and chewy.
Here’s a video where I show how it’s done and used: