It’s been just on 5 months since we arrived in the US. The things we miss are biltong, boerie, Mrs Balls and Crosse & Blackwell mayo. To date we’ve solved two out of the four which are the chutney from World Market and boerie from a relatively local butcher.
The next one to solve, and this is the one that truly has had me chomping at the bit, is biltong. You can get jerky from every corner shop and it’s certainly not bad but it’s just not the same. Over the last few months I’ve done some research on how to build a biltong dryer because although you can buy a dehydrator it’s just not the same.
And so I slowly put the plans together and a few weeks ago built a dryer. The parts that I’ve purchased to date are:
- A Lowes cabinet about a meter high.
- a 2 inch hole cutter bit
- two 4 inch 3200 RPM 110 volt fans
- A 100 watt light and fitting
- A standard dimmer switch or simple 110volt toggle/wall switch.
- mosquito netting
- some gorilla glue
- crimp-able wire joiners
- bathroom silicon sealer
- 1m dowel
The other things I had lying around:
- 18 guage wire
- Dremel – just cos
- crimping tool
- stanley knife
- silicon sealer gun
- jigsaw – cut the fan holes or use a 4 inch hole cutter
- Assemble the cabinet. The cabinet has a single shelf with 8 x 2 inch ventilation holes cut. Allow about two feet between the shelf and the top. The shelf is used to catch any fluids which may be lost during the initial parts of the drying process, I used a tupperware container.
- Mount the light fitting in the center of the bottom of the cabinet. I used the wiring from the light as the ingress from the wall.
- Mount the dowel center across the cabinet. I just drilled it into the side walls with wood screws. You could get creative on this if you wish but I was aiming at efficiency.
- Drill 2 inch holes along the sides at the bottom of the cabinet allowing air to be pulled into the lower area from which the light will heat to pull some moisture. Because I know I’d use fans I put 6 on one side.
- Cut the mosquito netting and glue over all of the holes on the outside of the cabinet.
- I initially wanted to mount four fans on the top of the cabinet but decided to mount two, one on each side and one back, one front. At 3200 RPM there’s a lot of air movement through the cabinet.
- Install the dimmer switch and run one side of the wiring from the fans and light through the switch.
- Wire the other side from the fans and light to the other side of the power ingress.
- use the silicon sealer to make the cabinet bug proof. I sealed every join on the outside to make sure nothing could get in.
- To seal the doors (there’s a 5mm gap) I simply sealed them together and let it dry. Once dry I used the stanley knife to cut away against the door that closes first. I now have a brilliant seal although I admit it’s not the prettiest. Also sealed the top and bottom ridge that the doors close into. To do this I close one door, sealed against it and cut away once dried, then did the same on the other side.
I turned it on and viola, it worked. I let it run for a while to check the amount of heat retained and it was acceptable. I was worried that it may be to hot and melt the shelf but the fans pull the air through quite quickly. I put a batch of ‘tong in and let it run at full tilt for around 55 hours and the pieces were completely cured. The idea with the dimmer is to adjust if necessary and for the last 8 hours I turned everything down to 50%. You may however just want to use a simple switch, it’ll do the job just fine.
All being said and done I could probably put one of these together in an afternoon, make fewer changes/mistakes and a better finish. This is a really simple DIY project and the satisfaction of making my own ‘tong is awesome.
The recipe I used for the ‘tong needs some tweaking but looks as follows:
- 12.5 kg of beef (fillet, rump or sirloin). I used sirloin.
- 560 g fine salt (this may be 10% to much, I’ll try reducing next time around)
- 125 ml brown sugar
- 25 ml bicarbonate of soda
- 125 ml coarsely ground coriander
- 12.5 ml milled pepper (this is too little, I’m going to double it next batch)
- 250 ml brown vinegar
- 2.5 litres warm water
- 10 ml saltpetre (optional)
Here’s how to prepare the meat. I stole this from another website but it’s pretty much verbatim what every site says.
- Cut the meat along the natural dividing lines of the muscles of the meat. Cut into strips of approximately 2-inch thick and any desired length, always cutting with the grain. Thinner and it’ll over marinade, get to salty and to dry.
- Mix the salt, sugar, bicarbonate of soda, saltpeter, pepper and coriander together. Rub the seasoning mixture thoroughly into the strips of meat.
- Layer the meat, with the more bulky pieces at the bottom, in a glass or stainless steel container.
- Sprinkle a little vinegar over each layer, as you add them.
- Leave the meat in a cool place for 12 hours or more, depending on how salty you want the meat to be. (Some experimentation may be required to ascertain the correct length of time to let the meat ‘marinade’ for, according to your taste.)
- Remove the meat from the marinade. Mix the water and vinegar and dip the meat into this mixture. This makes the biltong shiny and dark.
- Once this is complete, the biltong is ready to dry. Pat the pieces of meat dry and then hang them up on S-shaped hooks, or use pieces of string, about 2 inches apart. Hang the meat in a cool, dry place with an oscillating fan blowing on it. Ensure that the air is dry, as too much moisture will cause the biltong to spoil.
- The biltong is ready when the outside is hard and the center part of the biltong strip is still a little moist. Let the center dry according to personal taste.
Here are some pictures of the dryer as a finished product:
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