A well-seasoned piece of jerky, a result of curing meat, on a wooden board, with spices scattered around.

How To Cure Meat to Make Jerky & Biltong (with Pictures)

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Writer / Enthusiast / Meat Curer / Forager / Harvester | About Tom

For decades, immersed in studying, working, learning, and teaching in the craft of meat curing, now sharing his passion with you through eat cured meat online resource.

Jerky and biltong are similar in some ways, whilst also being different. I want to highlight how I do both methods in detail.

I don’t often buy much red meat; I use a lot of venison and other red meats, which I harvest and cure to make cured meats, and I definitely love making jerky and biltong. I’ve made dozens of variations with many different meats over a few decades of experimentation.

A lot of guys I know just buy topside beef (I wrote a full article about preserving beef in another article)   which works well and is a budget cut of meat generally speaking.

I just wanted to do a quick guide since I have tried through trial & error many different recipes. It’s a great protein snack that can last some time I have found without refrigeration.

Wading through online recipes. Personally, a lot of them really have too much sweetness for my liking, I like just to use a touch of sugar sometimes. I want to have a meaty and savory flavor with some spiciness. Not some candy meat.

Instead of thin, jerky slices, for which you generally need a machine. Biltong is often using 1/2 to 1-inch thick slabs or strips. So, a little bit of easy knife work is required instead.

Biltong’s classic recipe is salt, malt vinegar, and toasted coriander seeds, which I’ll cover below.

It’s funny how, when you add vinegar to fish, it has an acidic reaction, which is very common in dishes like ceviche. For that style of ‘acidic’ cured fish, citric fruit like lime juice or lemon juice is used with a touch of maybe chile and some other spices.

cured meat biltong
Biltong – love this as an alternative to jerky; you don’t need super thin slices of meat for it too. 1/2 to 1 inch thick is ideal to start with

‘Denaturing’ occurs amongst that meat protein.

The same sort of reaction occurs with vinegar and biltong specifically.

Of course, it all really comes down to how thin your strips of meat are. You can mince the meat to make jerky in a squirting device; I haven’t tried that. I like to have the texture and use strips or slabs of meat instead.

The South African way is to use slabs of meat about an inch thick because you end up drying it, and it will probably be half that size once all the moisture comes out.

How to Cure Meat to Make Biltong & Jerky

  1. Use quality fresh meat, leaner cuts
  2. Cut into strips or slabs, cutting with the grain
  3. Marinate in Salt & Malt Vinegar
  4. Cover in Toasted Coriander and other spices of preference
  5. Dry with a Fan, Dehydrator, or Curing chamber
  6. Store in a brown paper bag will dry out, but last 2-3 weeks

Breakdown Curing Method for Making Jerky and Biltong

When I started making this excellent meaty snack, I would leave the meat and the marinade overnight, but I have now cut back to leave it for 4 to 6 hours and find the meat flavor more balanced to the spices.

1. Use Quality Fresh Meat

Whether you are using store-bought meat or wild-harvested meat both can work really well for jerky or biltong. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to have some harvested meat which I can use for quality jerky\biltong.

It goes without saying that fresh meat is best, and the quality of the meat should be decent.

Great leg muscle cuts to use like the top around him bottom round are lean and have good runs of grains through the meat.

2. Cut into Strips or Slabs

So you want to be cutting with the line salt grains of the meat because this all means when you chew off all cut the meat the grains will make the meat slightly less tough.

Jerky Slicing

Jerky is often thinly sliced, so it does dry out a lot quicker, especially using hot drying techniques like a low heat oven or dehydrator.

Jerky Strips in the Dehydrator

The same slicers I use for making jerky (here are some other slicing options I wrote about) as for slicing wafer-thin dry-cured meat.

A few factors make for a decent deli slicer, there are many out there that don’t quite nail it. Don’t get caught with something that can’t do the job as I did.

Here are a few slicers I can recommend with a quick write-up.

Biltong Slicing

Sometimes if I want the meat to drive faster I will cut it into strips after cutting it into slabs. But I picked up the technique from South African biltong, to use roughly half to 1-inch slabs of meat.

Venison Biltong Chunky Slabs in the Curing Chamber

3. Marinate in Salt & Malt Vinegar

Per pound of meat, you can use 1 tablespoon of salt and 2 tablespoons of malt vinegar. It’s literally as simple as that, it’s a kind of marinade but with curing and acidic reactions (denaturing) going on.

Six hours is generally my guide as a minimum or overnight.

4. Cover in Toasted Coriander & Spices

Now is the time to cut a slit or hole into the thinnest part of the meat. So you can thread some strings through it if you’re going to hang the meat. I would advise using a fork or chopstick to hang the meat, or on a rack in the oven on super low, curing chamber or dehydrator.

If you are hanging the meat it will dry more efficiently then lying on a cooling rack or some other device to create some air circulation around.

Once you pull the meat out of the cure, now is the time to give it a spice bomb on the outside. When the meat is still wet the spices well stick to the meat.

2 or 3 tablespoons of coriander or about 45 g if you weighing it suitable for each pound of meat.

5. Drying Method for Biltong

A fan in a cool place is the easiest way to go.

As mentioned, ideally I like to hang the meat, but if you’re using a dehydrator or kitchen oven, it will work perfectly fine as well.

Different Equipment for Drying


Big Dehydrator in Action

Next on the list is the dehydrator which generally can be running at a higher temperature, it’s designed for doing this type of task, so that works well. I like to dry out at a lower temperature if I can.

A certain type of biltong is considered ‘wet’ which means that it’s not entirely bone dry and still has a lot of moisture in it. I guess it’s kind of like dry-cured meat like braesola, lonza or coppa.

The below methods can take a bit longer, South African do this “wet” style and also dry.

Here is an example below. Its a slower, more even drying to achieve this, just like dry-curing meat, you want to have lost a minimum of 35% weight to make it safe to eat (it generally loses much more than this with jerky or biltong.

For a fine selection of dehydrators to suit your situation – Summarized a useful page of info here.

Since I am all about meat curing, please find a link to that category – info here.

Cardboard Box

I’ve seen jerky made in a cardboard box with a fan and a bulb it really is as simple as that.

A friend of mine got a birthday present which was a display type biltong box.

DIY Curing Chamber

But since I have a DIY curing chamber, I like to use this for drying out my biltong or jerky which will normally take about two to four days running at 50 to 60% humidity and 25°C/80°F.

I have a commercial jerky-making friend who also makes biltong (he is South African). He prefers about 2-3 days of drying.

A tasty and awesome protein snack.

The texture seems to be different when drying over an extended period of time, but don’t let that stop you from giving it a go!

If you want to read more about building a DIY curing chamber, here is a full page I wrote.

6. Store in a Brown Paper Bag

Congratulations, you have cured jerky or biltong.

If you keep the meat in your fridge, it will generally just start drying out quicker. It may be to dry to eat.

In my experience, just keeping the meat in a brown bag, in a coolish area will make it last longer. This could be one to three weeks or maybe longer.

Optional Extra Cold Smoking for Flavor

Cold smoking jerky, your biltong or jerky can add a whole angle to the flavor.

If you’d like to read more about cold smoking I wrote a comprehensive post here. (look out its long! Well it took ages to write)

Related Questions

How Long Does it Take to Make Jerky?

Depending on the method jerky can be made in 1 day with a dehydrator or using an oven to dry the meat. Generally, 1-3 days is the time it takes depends on the method that is used.

Is Biltong healthier than Jerky?

Biltong generally contains less sugar & fat, biltong as a guide contact only 3% fat. Other healthy aspects are, it has low carbohydrates, no gluten (did you know if charcuterie is gluten-free, I wrote about this in detail), no MSG and can last a few weeks.

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  1. 1.Cas I use a plastic box instead ?
    2.Then connect a light bulb and a fan to it ? Then hang the meat on the racts .
    3. What temperature does it have to be in my garage ?
    4. Will the meat get a weird taste from all of my things stored in the garage ?
    5. About how long do I leave the meat in the plastic box ? John

    1. Author

      1. yes!
      3. moderate, not cold or hot 15-30C
      4.as long as you don’t have weird things in the garage! Toxic? etc.
      5.depends on temp 3-6 days?! (box should have holes for circulation too)

  2. Hello Tom I am new to smoking and thought i would try jerky first I bought a cheep smoker from Amazon and modified it making a bigger fire box because the original one was super tiny. and sealing up the smoking chamber to prevent too much smoke leaking out and I fitted a small 80cm 23cfm fan to an aluminum box that i made that attaches to the fire box air inlet to blow air into it and I have a temperature controler to turn thr fan of if ther temp gets too high and control the temp. I decided to put a single burner hot plate in the bottom of the fire box also controlled by the temp controller and put a stainless steel smoker box on top of it loaded with apple pellets. and an aluminum loaf pan beside it with water to humidify the smoke then put my marinated beef slices on the grills in the smoker charmer. O only did about 1 lb I used a spice rub and Worcestershire sauce and soy sauce and a bit of v8 and marinated for a few hrs then onto the smoker the smoke box put out smoke for about 2 hrs before there was no more smoke coming out of it i expected the temperature to be higher with the hotplate 1000w at high it only got to about 120F. after the smoke stopped i removed the water pan and smoke box but left the burner going and the fan running all night and pulled the jerky off in the morning and after about 14hrs it was a little more dried out than I wanted but it tasted really good. i did not add anything sweet to it so it came off a little bit bitter but still tasted great. I then made another batch same recipe but added about a tablespoon of maple syrup to it and cut my beef a little thicker the first time i cut 1/8 strips and some of them almost disappeared after drying so I cut about 1/4 strips this time and I had some room left in the smoker so I decided to try some extra old white cheddar since my temp was only 120F I thought the cheese should not melt, I froze the cheese before I put it on the smoker and used the same method as before and took the cheese off after 2 hrs of smoke and let it cool and dried the sweat off and wrapped it in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge to rest I was told to rest it for a week to let the smoke soak into the cheese.
    now I have read some of your stuff and I was not cold smoking or hot smoking I was smoking somewhere in between I think it is called the danger zone?? also I did not use any Prog salt#1 curing salt I don’t know if soy and Worcestershire and spice rub have enough salt to do the job of a cure. and since my jerky did not get up to 160F is it safe does drying it make it safe. The 2nd batch turned out better than the first i took it off at about 11 or 12 hrs. I believe that after I remove the smoker box and water pan from my smoker the electric element and the fan turn it into a dehydrator. The cheese turned out great as well I will have to see how it is in a few more days but it tasted smokey when I first pulled it from the smoker. If it is too strong I may need to pull it sooner.
    I have a couple questions
    1 Do I need to use the Prog salt cure to make jerky safe?? even if I am smoking it?
    2 Can the prog salt cure just be added to my marinate and then let it cure overnight before smoking and dehydrating.
    3 Should I try just lighting a corner of the smoker box without running the burner under it and see how much smoke I get and how long it will burn this would be a more cold smoke especially when winter comes here in Canada.
    4 You did not mention curing salt when you were talking about Jerky and Biltong
    Alton Brown dries his jerky in air filters strapped to a box fan and does not use curing salt and says it is fine because there is no moisture for the bacteria to live on?
    I just want my jerky to be safe I don’t want anyone to get sick from it.
    Please let me know what you think
    Thank you it has been interesting reading your stuff. very informative.

    1. Author

      Hey Wayne, wooah big write up!
      1) I make biltong mainly and use vinegar, salt and spices, jerky can be cooked or dried – you are somewhere in between! For in-between, the Europeans call this ‘warm smoking” they always use No. 1
      2) yes, please be very accurate using pink curing salt/Prague powder -generally 0.25% of the weight of meat 1kg = 2.5grams
      3) hard to comment on your smoker, under 20C is what I like for cold smoking, or I cook things ie hot smoking until internal temperatures are reached – too different thing! Here is a cold smoking post I did
      4) I don’t comment on other recipes generally, pink curing salt/prague powder is a personal choice. If you remove most moisture from jerky then bad bacteria cant take hold of the environment generally. I am making more biltong where vinegar helps also (Worcestershire and some other condiments can help in this way). Acidity has a denaturing effect which is similar to cooking.


  3. Do you need curing salt Prague powder#1 for jerky that is cold smoked and or dehydrated?

    1. Author

      Depends on the recipes, so many variations with meat and method too

  4. Hi Tom, Great info you were the closest I’ve seen to perfection.
    Moved from South Africa 25 years ago and after experimenting on replicating perfect biltong for the last 20 years I think I have finally dialed it in.
    Meat: whole center round prime (Costco sells it in bulk)(silverside in SA) with fat cap, cut in 3/4 in pieces with fat on one side.
    Cover in course salt on countertop for 1 hr. then scrape off salt
    rinse in Malt vinegar and 2tbs of worchtershire, 4tbs brown sugar. wait another hour and let meat sit in juices.
    toast Coriander in pan then grind lightly in coffee grinder with pepper, then coat meat and I use zipties at the top.
    Hang in desired location for about 5 days. Dehydrators ruin the texture and flavor.
    Hope any purists looking to achieve perfect South African Biltong find this… BTW my whole family eats this, the only issue we have had is not wanting to share and stashing pieces away. Happy to send some pictures.
    P.S a touch of curing salt can be used, but I have only done so a few times.

    1. Author

      Thanks! I’ve always listened closely to the African guys I’ve met, and their recipes! I’ll give this a crack too! Not so keen on sugar, and I prefer to use an equilibrium curing to get precise saltiness of my choosing.
      Appreciate authenticity, but I guess Worcestershire sauce is a more recent addition in modern times.

      I met another South African here in New Zealand the other day, his biltong was delicious- he didn’t divulge exact amounts, but his ingredients were kinda similar:
      Worcestershire /malt vinegar/salt
      garlic/coriander/smoked paprika/pepper
      24 hrs
      15g salt per 1000g meat

  5. Hi Tom

    Although I’m from South Africa I’ve never made my own biltong (do I have to give my membership back?). I was given a homemade dryer once in a plastic tub but I’ve never liked the idea of food exposed to plastic even when only slightly heated. I toyed with the idea of building a wooden one with the same components but was recently wondering if an electric smoker would do the trick, albeit without the smoke.

    The dryer is basically just the incandescent bulb and a computer fan…

    1. Author

      Hey there! Your memberships is revoked! 🙂 Definitely any area will do, cardboard box and fan. Plastic box and fan. So say just oven with fan and no heat.
      Since vinegar and salt are used, the meat is ‘cooked’ (denatured) with vinegar . Whilst the salt cures it. Top tip from a few South African’s with 20+ years each of making biltong. Use 50/50 Worcestershire Sauce / Malt Vinegar…

  6. How much is the allowable level of use of a vinegar needed in curing meat?

    1. Author

      vinegar is ‘cooking’ the biltong or denaturing. It more of a marinade I think than an equalized ingredient at a measured amount.

  7. Hi Tom,
    I made biltong for the first time out of wild boar. It is currently air drying…. Then I became concerned if it was safe to eat …. Made from pork?

    1. Author

      hey, guess depends on how pork was handled, cooled etc. I do it with wild venison all the time. Unless you let the meat go off. I would be fine with it. you are curing and denaturing/cooking with the salt/vinegar. Biltong is made from all sorts of birds like ostrich in South Africa and many other white or red meats!

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