What’s the difference between biltong and jerky?

We get it — biltong and beef jerky share similar characteristics. As you may know, beef jerky originated in the Americas, and biltong is a South African snack. Both snacks were created as a sort of “survival food” — allowing our ancestors to preserve meat and stop it from spoiling on long journeys. While both are dried meat foods, there are various differences between them.

One of the key differences when it comes to biltong vs. jerky is how each snack is dried. After the jerky is sliced and covered in sauces, it’s very rapidly dehydrated in a drying oven for just a few hours. The very high temperature of these ovens (usually around 70ºC) essentially cooks the beef jerky instead of drying it. On the other hand, Biltong is slowly air-dried as a whole steak and only seasoned with simple spices. The low ambient temperature (between 20 – 25ºC) and the gentle airflow causes the meat to dry slowly — usually over 7 to 10 days. This gives biltong a softer texture and a more natural flavour compared to beef jerky.

Another one of the main differences between biltong and jerky is in the seasonings used. Biltong steaks are marinated in a pool of vinegar and a unique mix of spices and then taken out where they are manually seasoned with more spices before being hung up to airdry. Jerky is not flavoured in the same way; it is more often than not marinated in sugary sauces and then dried (more like cooked) in an oven.

Believe us, you can’t eat a horse no matter how hungry you get but you can jerky a horse….not that we’ve tried!

Biltong vs. jerky — which is better for you?

You might be able to guess which option is healthier for you based on the ingredients used to season these different dried meat foods. The answer is: biltong! Most beef jerky is loaded with preservatives and sugars from the sauces used to marinate the meat (think BBQ sauce). Our biltong is significantly lower in sodium, has no sugar, and it also has healthy fats.

Now don’t get us wrong, it is possible to make healthy beef jerky. But what you’re left with after removing all the “bad stuff” is something that resembles biltong anyway! So why bother (if you ask us).

A perfectly good pan ruined by some ordinary beef jerky.

Why did we choose to make biltong over beef jerky?

Although beef jerky isn't as popular in Australia as it is in the “wild west”, the truth is that we’ve never really been fans of jerky ourselves — and that’s not just because some of our founders are South African.

Growing up in South Africa, two of our founders Rory and Luke, were eating biltong even before they could walk (this is pretty normal as biltong is known to help with teething). Arriving in Australia many years later, they found the culture, climate and love for sports similar to South Africa, but the biltong consumption wasn't.

Although beef jerky is easy to come across in Australia, finding healthy beef jerky is rare. When we were looking for healthy protein snacks for our own lifestyles, everything we found was artificial or packed with preservatives and sugar. This was when we teamed up with best mates Tom and Matt — beginning our journey of creating healthy biltong in Australia to complement our own lifestyles.

DIY beef jerky being dried in a standard oven.

What’s so good about biltong compared to jerky?

Not only is the taste of biltong more natural and “beefy” than jerky due to the drying process and ingredients used, but the nutritional differences when it comes to beef jerky vs. biltong are clear as day. With no sugar or carbohydrates and almost half the amount of sodium, biltong is the clear winner. Also, biltong is higher in protein and healthy fats — making it the ideal nutritional snack (especially for those on a keto or carnivore diet). 

For us, the natural choice when it comes to biltong or jerky is the healthier, tastier and more nutritious option — and that’s biltong. And at Barbell Foods, we are committed to making the best biltong in the country. Never compromising on ingredient quality and using a natural drying process, you too can enjoy the goodness of our biltong. Browse our full range online today.

Biltong steaks drying in their natural habitat.