Make your own biltong dryer in an afternoon

  • The components required to build the biltong dryer. Image credit: Sean Woods
  • You most probably already have most of tools required to build the dryer in your tool box. Image credit: Sean Woods
  • The finished dryer. It took just three hours to complete. Image credit: Sean Woods
  • Cutting up a sliverside roast. Image credit: Sean Woods
  • Adding spices. Image credit: Sean Woods
  • Hanging meat. It takes about four days to dry. Image credit: Sean Woods
Date:12 May 2010 Tags:, , , ,

If you think Soccer World Cup tickets are expensive, you obviously haven’t bought any biltong lately. Selling for around R180 (about R260 in 2016) per kilogram, often more, it has to be one of the most expensive delicacies on the omnivore’s hit list.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. When a friend recently asked PM reader Grant Immelman to make a doggy treats dryer for her business, it was a perfectly logical choice. After all, he’d been in the industrial air treatment and ventilation business for years, and had a solid reputation among friends and colleagues for his DIY prowess and problem-solving skills.

Says Immelman: “I’ve always been interested in building things. It sounded like an interesting project, so I agreed to help her out.” This man knows his stuff. Previous projects include designing and building his own Hi-Fi speakers and amplifier (he’s a hardcore audiophile) and the construction of solar water heating systems for his Somerset West home. The doggy treat dryer proved an easy one (he came up with a nifty modular solution) –but it got him thinking. “Personally, I find biltong much tastier than dried liver strips, so I decided to make myself a biltong dryer while I was at it.”

Immelman had a few specific criteria for his dryer. The system had to be modular, to allow for easy expansion. It also had to be hygienic, constructed readily available materials, and affordable (in fact, it cost him under R300 to complete). It was about this point that PM got wind of the project, and in no time, Immelman had knocked up a prototype to make sure everything worked as envisaged. About four days later, a piece of perfectly dried and delectable biltong was delivered to my desk (then reluctantly shared among my appreciative colleagues).

Building the dryer for PM’s June issue took no longer than three hours to complete – and that included pauses to chat, drink coffee and take photographs. Says Immelman: “It’s an easy weekend afternoon project that can involve the kids. And if you don’t want to make biltong, I suppose it can always be used to dry fruit.” Fruit dryer be dammed!

Even though Immelman knew nothing about making biltong (he’s a self confessed techie, not a butcher!), the batch that went into the dryer for the story tasted as good as anything I had ever bought, and I buy a lot – I was seriously impressed.

To find out how to make the stuff, Immelman went online and found the extremely useful Web sites www.3men.com/biltong.htm and www.biltongmakers.com, and then relied on the Freddy Hirsch range of biltong spices (they also have easy to follow biltong making instructions on their packets). While researching the article I was supplied a tried and tested biltong recipe by Rodney Downs, an ex-butcher and now owner of a Spar supermarket in Hilton, KwaZulu-Natal. Here goes…

Ingredients

* Silverside or Topside (the quantity of biltong you want to make will determine the amount of meat you’ll need. Remember: you’ll lose about 40 per cent of the mass once the meat has dried).
* 1 kg coarse salt
* 200 g brown sugar
* 50 g white pepper
* 20 g salpetre/saltpeter (acts as a preservative)
* Vinegar (acts as a preservative)
* 20 g Bicarbonate of soda
* A number of different spices can be added depending on your taste e.g. Garlic; Chilli; 100 g ground Coriander

Method

1. Mix all dry ingredients together.
2. Cut meat into strips (the thicker you cut the strips, the longer the meat will take to dry).
3. Sprinkle salt and spice mixture on the bottom of your container.
4. Pack meat strips flat on top.
5. Sprinkle a bit of vinegar over the layer of meat, followed by another layer of salt and spice mixture.
6. Place another layer of meat on top.
7. Continue the process until the meat has been used up.
8. Place in fridge overnight to marinate. The thicker your strips of meat, the longer you might need to marinate the meat.
9. The next day, soak a cloth in vinegar and then use to wipe lumps of salt off of the meat strips. 10. Hang up meat strips in a well-ventilated, cool, dry area. It is advisable to use a fan to help the meat dry faster.
If you are making biltong in an area with high humidity, it is essential to use a fan. 11. It will take about a week for the biltong to dry. The thicker the meat strips, the longer the biltong will take to dry. It will, of course, also depend on whether you like wet or dry biltong. The 40 W light bulb in Immelman’s dryer produces a temperature of about 35 degrees Celsius and a relative humidity of 45 per cent. It will easily accommodate 2 kg of meat.

Basically, says Immelman, it all comes down to experimentation. For example, you might want to try using a 60 W bulb instead, or fit an extra fan. He generally allows the meat to hang for about four days before removing it, but sometimes even that can seem like a lifetime. “I like my biltong wet, so I usually start tucking into the thinner pieces after just two days.”

To read the article that appeared in the June 2010 issue of Popular Mechanics explaining how to make your own biltong dryer,  click here

  • Phil Devine

    After mulling over this article since it was first published, I’ve finally cobbled together a mini-dryer for biltong using bits and pieces of hardware I found. Right now my spare PC cooling fan is drying my first batch of biltong. Thanks, guys for the info and inspiration

  • After mulling over this article since it was first published, I’ve finally cobbled together a mini-dryer for biltong using bits and pieces of hardware I found. Right now my spare PC cooling fan is drying my first batch of biltong. Thanks, guys for the info and inspiration

    • Matthew

      did you use a standard pc cooling fan? like a 12v ? as i notice the 220v ones a really expensive..

  • Matthew

    did you use a standard pc cooling fan? like a 12v ? as i notice the 220v ones a really expensive..

  • Matthew

    hello Sean, could i ask if it HAS to be a 220v fan? can i just use a standard pc cooling fan?

  • Matthew

    hello Sean, could i ask if it HAS to be a 220v fan? can i just use a standard pc cooling fan?

    • You can purchase the 220V, 80 mm fan plus filters at Mantech Electronics (mantech.co.za), they have offices in JHB, CT and KZN (contact numbers: 011-493 9307 / 021-535 3150 / 031-309 7686). The fan and filters cost R115 and R12,93 respectively. I have spoken to them and they assured me that they ship components to outlying areas on a regular basis, so getting hold of the fan and filters shouldn’t be a problem.

      Alternately, you can just do what another of our readers has done. Here’s his e-mail:

      “I can get a 12v fan for R30 at a computer store. I made a biltong box using the computer fan and an old Nokia charger to convert the 230v to 12v and used scouring pads for the filters (these you can buy at any pick and pay). I used a metal grid to hold the filters on the out let and the fan holds it on the inlet. The problem is that a Nokia charger is only 3,6v but it was free because we have like 5 lying around we never use. You can buy those adjustable converters and go from 3v to 12v (I think that would be the best because now you can actually regulate your wind speed of the fan). Tie down the converter with cable ties and voila. I don’t know if you can use this information but the computer fan is cheaper and I think everybody has an extra Nokia charger lying around.”

      • Solar Solutions WP

        the fan i used is a 12v 50ml. but it really shunts. got it off one of my old dc/ac inverters so its designed to be power efficient and produces more air extraction than most 120mm fans.

  • Popular Mechanics SA

    You can purchase the 220V, 80 mm fan plus filters at Mantech Electronics (mantech.co.za), they have offices in JHB, CT and KZN (contact numbers: 011-493 9307 / 021-535 3150 / 031-309 7686). The fan and filters cost R115 and R12,93 respectively. I have spoken to them and they assured me that they ship components to outlying areas on a regular basis, so getting hold of the fan and filters shouldn’t be a problem.

    Alternately, you can just do what another of our readers has done. Here’s his e-mail:

    “I can get a 12v fan for R30 at a computer store. I made a biltong box using the computer fan and an old Nokia charger to convert the 230v to 12v and used scouring pads for the filters (these you can buy at any pick and pay). I used a metal grid to hold the filters on the out let and the fan holds it on the inlet. The problem is that a Nokia charger is only 3,6v but it was free because we have like 5 lying around we never use. You can buy those adjustable converters and go from 3v to 12v (I think that would be the best because now you can actually regulate your wind speed of the fan). Tie down the converter with cable ties and voila. I don’t know if you can use this information but the computer fan is cheaper and I think everybody has an extra Nokia charger lying around.”

  • Ridwaan

    Hi does the fan blow air into the dryer or does it extract air from the dryer?

    • Solar Solutions WP

      it extracts the air from the dryer. the goal is too keep extracting the moisture as it evaporates from the meat in order to prevent mould

  • Hennie Kruger

    Hi, thanks for the inspiration. All seemed to work out perfectly. I could not get my hands on a 80mm fan but took a 120mm instead. My box is a 60lt box so i think it wont hurt. I also changed my globe to a 60w as advised. Holding thumbs for my first ever try at biltong to succeed. Hennie Dbn.

  • JustSayingIre

    Hi! I’ve made a box and I’m ready to try my hand at my first batch of biltong. What I’d like to know, is can I dry liver as dog treat in this box on the same principles as biltong; should I spice it? Thank you.

  • Mike Bennett

    Hi All, I am from Cornwall,UK, I have just got into the Biltonging and I have a box like this but Blue see through Plastic about the same size as well,right I have got three fans at 120mm two blowing in and one out,I was wondering if this was to much and just have one in and one out?the other question I would like to be put straight on is this,if I have these two fans going will I need holes in the box to vent out as I would have thought maybe that a 120mm fan going in and one going out would be enough,but what do I know I `m just a Cornishman,any help would be good,also lastly how about the size of a wooden box does it have to be a certain size,Cheers All.

  • This looks fantastic – just what I was looking for! Thank you for this!