If you’re into high-protein snacking, chances are you’ve heard of biltong, the dehydrated meat that’s suddenly everywhere. But do you know what it is? You’ve probably heard someone compare it to jerky and left it at that. Turns out there are a ton of differences between the two, so to break it down, we made you an illustrated guide. By the end of it you’ll be a cured-meat pro.
- Beef biltong starts with a slab of top round steak (the same lean, low-fat cut used for roasts and juicy steaks). It then gets coated in a mixture of spices, salt, pepper, and vinegar—typically in a tumbler—for roughly 30 minutes. Spice blends vary by type, but coriander and allspice are popular additions.
- Beef jerky also starts with top round steak, but instead of getting dusted with spices, the meat usually soaks overnight in a marinade. Many marinades are high in sugar and loaded with preservatives, so if you’ve ever thought jerky tastes like candy… yeah, that’s why.
- Biltong meat is hung on a hook where it dries in the open air for 14 to 21 days. The secret to proper curing? Drying the meat in a warm room with low humidity.
- Jerky gets popped into an oven where it bakes for a couple hours to expedite the drying process. While it cooks, temperatures often fluctuate, which gives jerky its thick, rough casing and chewy texture.
- Once the biltong is cured, it’s sliced against the grain to give it a more tender texture and uniform shape (the thin slices look a little like ribbons). It has a spicy-salty flavor with a zing of vinegar (which, bonus, is good for your tummy). The experience is similar to eating steak without steak sauce. Also, worth noting: There’s practically zero sugar in biltong (Stryve, for example, has only 1 gram per serving).
- Jerky gets sliced pre-cooking with the grain in big, long cuts, sometimes up to 18 inches long. Then it gets broken up into piecey chunks. The finished product is often a mixed bag, no pun intended: Some pieces might be chewy and juicy, others tough and dry, depending on how it was sliced and cooked.