What is the Difference Between Biltong and Beef Jerky?

I am 100% proudly South African. The land of biltong and droë wors. I have had to explain the difference to both South Africans and foreigners, as many people think that because they are both dehydrated meats, they are one and the same products; however, they are not the same!

biltong vs beef jerky

Both biltong and beef jerky are made from beef, both are dehydrated, and both are delicious! Dehydrated meat lasts for months or even years if it is properly stored.

Whether you are a prepper, a hiker, a camper, a football-watching couch lizard, or just a carnivorous savage, biltong or jerky are probably close at hand.

But what are the differences between biltong and beef jerky?

Beef jerky is made from lean cuts of beef, while biltong can be made from fatty cuts. Beef jerky is seasoned and immediately dehydrated, while biltong is marinated, and hung on hooks to air dry. Jerky has a smokey taste, while biltong has a meaty taste.

As you can see, the differences between biltong and jerky are based in the preparation, flavoring agents, and the different procedures used to make each.

Here is a side-by-side guide to the differences between biltong and beef jerky.

BiltongBeef Jerky
Originally from South AfricaOriginally from South America
Simple tastes with salt as the main flavoring; sometimes spiced with peri peri, barbeque spices, or home-made blends of spicesWide range of flavors based on and made with sauces and spices to be sweet or salty
Biltong has a lower sugar content, but a higher sugar contentBeef jerky has less salt but more sugar
Can be made from lean or fatty cuts as per desired tasteMade from very lean cuts of beef
Seasoned with salt, vinegar, and simple spicesSeasoned with sauces and spices
Marinated for 24 hours before dehydration beginsMeat is seasoned and immediately dehydrated
Slightly acidic taste due to the absorption of the vinegar during the marinating or curing processSweet, smoky, sticky taste and texture
Because of the simple spices, biltong has a very meaty tasteBecause of the cooking process used to dehydrate the meat and all the sauces and spices that flavor the meat, jerky has a very smokey taste
The texture varies according to fat content; lean biltong is dryer while biltong with a higher fat content is softer and can be chewy; biltong can contain more than 50% of fatBecause there is very little fat on the meat, jerky is tougher to chew
Biltong can vary from the same thin cuts jerky uses to very thick – one or more inches thick – large chunks of meatJerky is thinly cut or thin strips of meat
Hung on hooks to air dry for one to three weeks depending on the thickness of the cut and how wet the consumer likes his or her biltong to be (rare, medium rare, or well done – dry); this is often done in a dehydration box with a fan and a light to keep flies off of the meatCooked at low temperature in the oven or dehydrator to slowly dehydrate for 3 to 12 hours
Made from beef, venison, or ostrichMade from beef, but – if you want to stray from meat – it also can be made of mushroom, cactus, soy, coconut, or bacon

Biltong is made with thick or thin cuts of beef (although it can be made with other meats) that are marinated for 24 hours before being hung up to air-dry.

The marinade is made of very simple, basic flavors including vinegar, salt, white or black pepper, and spices to taste. The meat is preserved by the vinegar and salt. The process takes 1 to 3 weeks. It typically has a higher fat content than jerky.

close-up of biltong ready to eat
Close-up of biltong ready to eat. Photo by Jeanie Beales.

Beef jerky is made of very thin cuts of lean beef or strips of beef, seasoned with sauces and spices to taste and then cooked or dehydrated at very low heat for 3 to 12 hours – much faster than making biltong.

In addition to the heat from the oven and dehydration, the meat picks up preservatives found in the sauces.

Quick Recipes

I am giving you two of my own recipes here. But I have not put amounts of ingredients, partly because I have been doing this for so long that I have gained my own guiding star for the quantities needed, and partly because the amount of each ingredient is not of any consequence.

To make jerky, you are just coating the meat, so you do not need much marinade. The main preservative is found in the different sauces – they are not all-natural, they contain preservatives.

To make biltong, you will need to make enough to soak the meat, the only liquid typically used in South African biltong is the vinegar so you will need enough to almost cover the meat, with the other spices added in to taste. The vinegar and the salt are what preserve the meat.

Here is a basic recipe for you to try to make delicious beef jerky:

Mix together in a bowl:

  • Soy sauce
  • Salt
  • Barbeque sauce
  • Spices to taste
  • Brown sugar

Dip the thinly sliced pieces or strips of beef into the marinade. Coating both sides thoroughly.

Place the beef on a rack in the oven with the oven on its lowest heat setting. Check on it after 2 ½ hours to monitor it until it is dehydrated to your preference. You can check a full biltong recipe here.

Here is a basic recipe for biltong:

Mix together in a marinade dish:

  • Vinegar
  • Salt
  • Black pepper
  • Coriander
  • Red pepper
  • Mixed spices

Place the beef cuts in the marinade dish to soak for 24 hours. Turn the marinade dish over every 2 to 3 hours (when you are awake) to ensure the meat is thoroughly soaked on both sides and between all the nooks and crannies between cuts of meat.

Remove the meat from the marinade, and place hooks in the individual pieces or skewer the pieces on a kabob stick.

Hang the meat in a dehydrator (with a good fan and light for heat and air movement).

Leave the meat to dehydrate for 1 to 3 weeks (check the meat frequently to ensure that if you prefer your biltong to be rare you do not leave it in the dehydrator for too long; if you prefer your biltong to be very dry, leave it in the dehydrator until it is no longer springy when you squeeze it).


Both are healthy snacks – sugar and salt aside – as they are a brilliant source of protein. Dehydrated, they are edible long after they have been made.

They can both be vacuum sealed and then frozen and removed from the deep freeze as needed, and stored in a cool, dry place.

They are both very easy to make and convenient for long-term storage. They are perfect for stockpiling, or to use leftover uncooked meat as your ducklings fly the coop and you are adjusting purchase portion sizes (i.e. you still shop for 5 even though there are only 3 living permanently in your home).

They are both convenient, tasty treats that are perfect for any occasion.

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