Chewy and flavourful, the best biltong is the perfect on-the-go snack for meat lovers
An increasingly popular snack in the UK in recent years, biltong is a form of dried, cured meat originating in South Africa, with the best biltong marrying a deeply meaty flavour and a pleasant, chewy texture. Not only is it a more nutritious on-the-go snack than unhealthy temptations such as chocolate or crisps, but biltong also tends to have less sugar and additives than other dried meat options such as jerky, making it a prime pick for a carnivorous lunch snack.
If you have any questions, queries or just general curiosity regarding biltong, our simple buying guide will quickly take you through the ins and outs of how it’s made, what it tastes like and how it compares to other similar products. Below that, you’ll find mini-reviews of our favourite biltong, highlighting the comparative strengths of different brands, flavours and types. So read on and find the perfect midday meaty treat or post-gym snack for you.
Best biltong: At a glance
- Best biltong overall: From our Farm Variety Pack | £16
- Best biltong for protein: Bulk High Protein Biltong | £7.99
- Best biltong for snacking: Smally’s Original Biltong | £15
- Best droëwors: The Original Biltong Company – Biltong Sticks | £13
How to choose the best biltong for you
What is biltong?
Biltong is a traditional South African snack whose production involves treating strips of raw meat with salt, spices and sometimes vinegar, before slowly air-drying over a number of days.
There are many variations in recipes and methods of preparing biltong based on region, preference and level of adherence to tradition. For example, different types of meat can be used, including a range of cuts of beef, chicken, ostrich, kudu or fish. Similarly, different recipes can include vinegar in the preparation stage and if vinegar is used, a recipe might call for grape, balsamic or a cider-based vinegar.
Traditionally, the drying process would take place over a long period of time, ultilising cool winter air to slowly dry out the meat and eke out a deep flavour, as well as minimise the risk of bacterial growth. Commercial biltong, however, is usually treated with nitrates and dried via temperature-controlled rooms or with the aid of ovens.
Biltong can also take some very different forms based on the initial cut, with commercial biltong tending to come in thin, flat pieces, which are cut against the grain of the muscle, while traditional or smaller-batch biltong is more often produced in thick strips that are cut along the grain of the muscle, giving this variety a chewy, more fibrous texture.
Jerky vs biltong
A more recognisable product to UK and especially US readers is jerky – more specifically, beef jerky. Jerky differs from biltong in a number of ways. It’s usually made from thinner cuts of meat, is cured without vinegar, is often smoked as part of the preparation process, and is much more likely to involve sugar at some stage of production. Therefore jerky tends to have a softer texture and a sweeter, smokier flavour, when compared with biltong.
Why do people eat biltong?
As a snack, people enjoy biltong for its spicy, umami flavour, as well as its meaty, fibrous texture. Aside from its delicious taste, biltong is also useful for gym regulars looking for a natural, high-protein snack that’s simple to carry and eat on the go. Biltong is a particularly interesting option for protein lovers, as its preparation process is conducive to preserving natural proteins, compared to other methods of treating meat.
Is biltong safe to eat?
While there are many valid health concerns around drying and curing raw beef, they really only apply to hobbyists trying to make biltong at home, which we would generally advise against.
When enacted correctly, the curing process renders biltong perfectly safe to eat. Moreover, large-scale, commercial producers of biltong will often take further steps, involving the addition of preservatives and other additives, to ensure that the product is safe for consumers.
How do we test Biltong?
After taking note of the ingredients list and dietary information, our biltong testing process is relatively straightforward. Upon opening the bag or packet we look for an initial pleasant, natural, savoury aroma, as well as notes of spice or seasoning if the biltong is flavoured. Shaking the biltong out onto a plate we’re after decently large, fibrous pieces that are visibly meaty and generally dark in colour. Tasting the biltong, a chewy, meaty texture, strong natural umami flavours and notes of spice are signs of high-quality, well-made biltong.
The best biltong to buy in 2023
1. From Our Farm Variety Pack: Best biltong for meaty texture
Price when reviewed: £16 (6pk) | Check price at Amazon
Super-low on carbs, high on protein, and relying on traceable, local Welsh beef, From Our Farm has all the right biltong credentials. This would mean nothing, of course, if the biltong itself wasn’t also up to snuff. With nice thick pieces and a proper meaty chew to it, we’re happy to say that this isn’t the case. Excellent texture aside, the brand listed offers a well-executed range of flavours. The original variety has a deeply beefy, umami flavour, which is incredibly moreish; the tomato and basil pack brings a unique Italian twist; while the chilli and blazing turmeric varieties are satisfyingly spicy.
If you’re a true chillihead, however, you may want to leave off the variety pack and go straight for the delicious and insanely hot Carolina Reaper biltong (the reaper is one of the world’s hottest peppers). This product is the result of a collaboration between From Our Farm and local growers Pembrokeshire Chilli Farm and can be labelled a proper success, bringing tears to the eyes of this seasoned spice veteran.
Key details (Original variety) – Size: 35g; Protein: 16.7g; Carbohydrates: 0.1g, of which sugars: 0.1g
2. Bulk High Protein Biltong: Best biltong for protein
Price when reviewed: £7.99 | Check price at Bulk
If you’re a regular gym goer who likes to pack as much protein as possible into your diet, you might already be familiar with Bulk, whose powder-based supplements have appeared before on our best protein powder and best mass gainer lists. If you’re looking for an extra protein boost to add to your basket or you’d simply prefer a more substantial snack to a shake, then this high protein biltong is a great option. Its thick and chewy pieces are made from cuts of silverside beef and come in three flavours: original, peri-peri and garlic cracked pepper, the latter of which we’d recommend most strongly, not only for its tasty flavour but also for its higher protein content, with it coming in at 55g of protein per 100g bag.
Key details – Size: 100g; Protein: 55g; Carbohydrates: 1.5g, of which sugars: 1.5g
3. Jack Links Original Biltong 12pk: Best biltong for jerky lovers
Price when reviewed: £19 (12pk) | Check price at AmazonA reliable offering from a well-known brand, Jack Links’ take on biltong makes for a solid introduction to the snack. Anyone who has tried its jerky before should recognise and enjoy the meaty and mildly spiced flavour, which lingers pleasantly on the tongue. The pieces themselves are admittedly a little small and fairly thin, but the chewy texture of the beef helps differentiate it from its softer, slightly sweeter jerky cousin.
While those looking for a super-natural product may find the ingredients list a little long, there isn’t an overabundance of preservatives and the levels of protein are high while sugar remains low, so there’s not much to complain about.
Key details – Size: 25g x 12; Protein: 12.5g; Carbohydrates: 0.6, of which sugars: 0.3g
4. Smally’s Biltong Original: Best biltong for snacking
Price when reviewed: £15 | Check price at AmazonBesides offering a lot of the things we like in a biltong – a good helping of protein; an ingredients list lacking added sugars, colours and flavourings; high quality, grass-fed UK silverside beef – Smally’s Original Biltong is also put together with enjoyable snacking in mind. Nicely seasoned with rock salt and cracked black pepper, this biltong achieves depth of flavour thanks to addition of roasted coriander and apple cider vinegar. With a robust taste, this biltong pairs perfectly, in true South African tradition, with a beer or craft beer of your choosing.
If you’re intrigued but want to branch out a little more in terms of flavour, Smally’s boasts a great range of fun and interesting biltong and droëwors varieties, with the standouts being its Garlic biltong, Chili Chutney biltong and Jalapeno beef snack sticks.
Key details – Size: 250g; Protein: 52.8 (per 100g); Carbohydrates: <0.1g; of which sugars: <0.1g (per 100g
5. The Original Biltong Company – Biltong Sticks: Best droëwors
Price when reviewed: £13 | Check price at AmazonThese biltong sticks from The Original Biltong Company, more accurately classified as droëwors, are another traditional South African snack made from beef sausage. And as they’re close enough cousins with regular biltong, we’re happy to put them on the list. Made with British and Irish grass-fed beef, these meat sticks have a slightly softer texture than biltong, but still maintain a satisfying snappy quality when breaking off a piece or taking a bite.
Flavour-wise, the original version is seasoned with much the same ingredients as the other biltongs on the list, marrying a mildly spicy herbiness with a rich, meaty flavour. There is also a Piri Piri version, which is a fun option for those after a little more spice, with the chillies bringing a uniquely southern African flavour to the table. In terms of nutrition, this snack has an impressively barebones ingredient list containing just beef, seasonings and a sole preservative, all housed in a natural lamb casing. Beyond that, they have the expected high protein for a biltong-type snack, with some of the lowest carb and sugar content you’re likely to find anywhere.
Key details – Size: 250g; Protein: 144g; Carbohydrates: 3.3g, of which sugars: 1.8g