Ok, this isn’t strictly airgunning, but I often get questions about what I do with the animals I hunt. In this post I’ll talk about what I do with the deer I shoot. One deer a year supplies my family with all the venison we’ll need; backstraps, a few steaks, and a lot of ground for burgers, spaghetti, and chilies, and I prefer a young doe for this purpose.
But I’ll also shoot a couple of deer, buck or doe, in it’s prime or old doesn’t matter, to make biltong. Biltong is the South African version of jerky, though it’s air dried and not smoked, and is really a national dish. Everybody eats it, you can buy it anywhere, and there are many biltong shops that specialize in it, made from every type game imaginable in addition to domestic livestock. In South Africa I’ve had kudu, springbuck, bleesbuck, buffalo, bushbuck, and elephant biltong, and when I lived in Australia our South African butcher made kangaroo, emu, lamb, as well as beef biltong. In the following I am going to explain how I’ve been making it out of the deer I’ve been harvesting with my big bore airguns.
I’ve lived all over the world and have spent almost as much of my adult life outside of the States as inside our borders. But my wife is South African, that’s where we were married, it’s where I hunt every year, it’s been one of the constants in my life and my second home. There is a lot I love about the country, the people, the land, the game, and on the food front, the thing I hold above all others ……. Biltong!
Biltong fills the niche inhabited by jerky in the Americas, and served the same purpose. In the past it was a way of preserving meat without refrigeration, and it’s a fantastic use for one of the deer you shoot for the larder. Unlike jerky, which is smoked, biltong is treated with spices and air dried. The final product is similar, but even though I am a true jerky aficionado (a connoisseur even), have to admit I like biltong even more. Every year when visiting family or out on safari we consume mass quantities of the stuff. You can ask my buddy Kip next time you call AOA, we put away a mountain of the stuff on our hunt on the Eastern Cape a while back. The problem is that you can’t bring it back into the country and we haven’t found a place to buy it locally. The result is we have to go through a biltong drought eleven months of the year.
On a trip a few years back I asked one of my friends to teach me how to make it, and found that the process is very straight forward and needs only a simple and easy to use bit of equipment, called naturally enough a biltong box. Out on my friend’s farm on the Eastern Cape this box is actually a walk in drying room, but I found several plans for a smaller scale box that can make a couple pounds of the stuff at a time.
The box I made started as a typical 38 gallon plastic storage box, which I stood lengthwise and mounted a set of metal wheels. I cut a 4” diameter hole in the top of the box and mounted a fan to draw air out of the box. This fan was a computer fan that I picked up at an electronics store for $5-$6. I then drilled 1” holes around the middle part of the box and used duct tape to affix a covering of mesh to keep out insects. I mounted a light fixture with a 60 watt bulb at the bottom of the box. ½” doweling pins were fixed at the top to form a rack to hang the meat strips. I bought a coil of heavy gauge steel wire to cut in 6” lengths and formed into hooks used to hang the meat strips from the dowels. Many of the plans call for a shelf between the light and main body of he drying box to keep any fat from dripping on the bulb, but I used a metal lamp cover to shield the bulb. I put foil on the floor both to reflect heat upwards and to make clean up easier.
A true Afrikaner protects his biltong recipe as though it was written on the deed to his property. My own recipe is a good starting point, but with experience you’ll probably make your own improvements along the way. You will need 1.5 cups vinegar (apple cider vinegar is preferable), 3 cups of course salt, 2 cups of brown sugar, 5 ml bicarbonate of soda, 12.5 ml of coarsely ground black pepper, and coriander seeds.
Just about any type of meat can be used, but I make it out of deer and sometimes beef, using the backstraps and loins cut into 6 – 8 inch strips.
These strips are thoroughly brushed with vinegar and left to sit in a serving dish placed in the refrigerator. As the meat is cooling my wife gets busy preparing the spices. She cooks the coriander seeds in a frying pan until roasted then crushes them with a mortar and pestle. This is then added to the salt, black pepper, sugar and bicarbonate of soda.
After a half hour the meat is taken from the refrigerator and rolled in the spices, then placed back in the cooler for about three hours. After this period the meat is removed and rinsed in the vinegar, dried in paper towels, and suspended from the hanging rack. The lid of the box is then replaced and the box left sealed for 3-4 days.
At the end of this time the box is opened and the biltong is ready to eat. I like to take out a strip and place it on a wooden cutting board, slicing off strips to munch on as needed. We’re going to have to add an extra box so I can keep a batch curing at all times, as it doesn’t seem to last very long in my house.
Once cured, biltong can be kept for several weeks in a dry environment. If you intend to keep it for several months the best storage method is to seal it in a vacuum pack and freeze it, and once frozen it can be kept indefinitely. But as mentioned, in my house it doesn’t last long enough to warrant freezing! You can experiment with different spices and find one that best suits your taste. If you like jerky, I really recommend you give biltong a go, it’s fast and easy to make, cost effective, and a great way to treat those deer you bring home every season. The other thing that is great about biltong is that you can use meat from those tough old bucks as well as a tender yearling or doe, and the end product will not suffer.
The South Africans were as tough and resourceful a group of pioneers as you’d find anywhere, and biltong was an important part of that past. I think this is one of the best uses for the deer I harvest, and as more states allow airguns for deer I ten to take several every season now. Some get donated to hunters against hunger programs, but 2-3 will surely pass through my biltong box. Give it a try, most of my American friends have liked it!