Biltong vs Jerky: what is the difference?
This is easily the most common question put to us by customers and understandably so given the two dried meat favourites seem at face value to be the same thing. The truth, however, is that biltong and jerky have less in common than you might think. So, here is the definitive lowdown to ensure that you don’t have to bite your tongue at the next braai or barbecue 😉
Biltong and jerky, like most charcuterie, originated as a means to preserve meat in times before refrigeration existed. Biltong was developed by early European settlers in South Africa while jerky has roots in the Americas (whether first introduced by Native North Americans or South American Inca Tribes is a question hotly debated to this day).
Woza was founded by a proud South African and Londoner who wanted to offer authentic biltong made using best quality, sustainable British produce. You can read more about the Woza biltong recipe and ethos here.
Traditional biltong and jerky recipes were developed for red meat as beef and venison were the prevalent livestock and wild game in these regions at the time. This is in contrast to the pork and duck-centric charcuterie of Europe which has to be fermented and matured for longer to be safe to eat and actually encourages bacteria growth – the worst enemy of biltong and jerky.
Beef jerky is usually made from flank or another steak cut whereas biltong is traditionally made using beef silverside or topside. Woza biltong, however, uses a unique cut of British grass-fed beef specially selected for its complex flavour and surprisingly soft, moist texture, which shall remain unnamed (we can’t give all of our secrets away!).
Biltong is always cured and air-dried while jerky tends to be dehydrated by heat, usually through smoking or slow cooking. A further difference is that jerky is sliced into thin strips prior to drying while biltong is dried in whole cuts of beef and then thinly sliced to be eaten.
All of this means that jerky tends to have a drier texture than biltong and can be produced in a comparatively short time – just a few hours – as opposed to the 4-7 days it takes biltong to cure and air dry.
Everyone has their preference of biltong texture, some like it soft (or ‘wet’ as we say in SA) and others drier. The Woza standard is soft and moist biltong but we are happy to make it drier , if requested, always being careful not to over-dry 😉
Additional Ingredients & Spicing
The curing agents in biltong are salt and vinegar, the latter of which imparts a distinctive flavour too. Jerky on the other hand is made with salt but never vinegar and usually contains sugar. As for spicing, coriander seed and pepper are common in traditional biltong recipes (and in the old days also helped keep flies off the biltong!) but Jerky doesn’t seem to have a foundational spice profile, the spicing varying more from maker to maker.
Today there are countless jerky and biltong products of all types and flavours, many of which stray far from tradition. It has become commonplace, for instance, to add artificial preservatives, like sodium nitrite, to extend product shelf-life.
At Woza, we’ve tried to create a product range that includes classic biltong flavours and more innovative options. Our core biltong recipe, however, is and always will be rooted in traditional South African methods. We also pride ourselves on offering a natural product so you can rest assured that our biltong is free from artificial preservatives, sugar and gluten 🧘