Left: 3rd Generation Biltong Box
Right: 4th Generation Biltong Box
Below: 5th Generation Biltong Box
The biltong box has come a long way since the 1st version in 2007. When I first had the idea to build a biltong box I decided that I wanted the best possible biltong box available. Yes, I could have grabbed a cardboard box and add a hot light and called it a day, but I faced a few problems traditional biltong makers avoided.
To begin with, I live next to the beach, which is great, but it's not the ideal climate for making biltong. I enjoy biltong all year round and I'm sometimes a little lazy and prefer to pick up meat at the local super market rather than the butcher. I also needed a box that would look good in the kitchen as I don't have a shed and hanging meat isn't exactly elegant. How was I going to bring biltong making into the 21st century?
The first light bulb idea was the fan. I initially used a light like the traditional makers but found that the air transfer was really slow and hardly efficient especially in the more humid months. I tried a few fan positions and filled the biltong box with smoke to see the results. Sucking air out from the top of the biltong box rather than blowing the air in from the bottom gave the best results. An air distributer has been added to maximise air flow consistency and create an even drying enviroment. I now had a sperb method that would make biltong in more unsuited climates. I added a 3 speed fan for more control.
I now had the method perfected and needed the right meat cut. Biltong needs to be hung with the grain of the meat going length ways as opposed to being cut against the grain. Many cuts that you fined at the supermarket are against the grain. I tried my local butcher but it was not a cut that he supplied. My initial cuts were from David Jones, which were picked up on a Monday as they got their meat stock in on a Monday. The butcher from David Jones would cut me a portion of beef eye silverside. The beef eye cut is essentially the rump side of a T bone, cut lengthways. It’s a great piece of meat for making biltong. This was all good, but it meant that every time I wanted to make biltong I had to go to the butcher at David Jones. I could not go to a small butcher either as it was not a common cut. I needed a more accessible cut.
After a few months I realised that Coles and Woolworths regularly sell the beef eye cut. Coles sells it in a vacuum pack and Woolworths in a baking tray. Harris Farm regularly sells the fillet beef eye at half price, which is also makes great biltong, although softer. Please note that this is not the cured salted beef eye, which is the same cut but has gone through a salting process. I now had a regular meat source. Rather than making a special trip I could easily pick up a cut of meat from a few sources and a week later have some great biltong.
The original large biltong box is 56cm high which was designed for the lengthy cuts; I created a Medium biltong box at 40cm high that is perfect for the 1kg beef eye cuts. You can dry more meat by all means however for personal use I find that 1kg every week to week and a half is a great. It’s a great biltong cycle. Every time you make biltong, you make it slightly differently, more or less spices, thicker or thinner pieces, more or less fat, longer or less drying, faster or slower air speeds, more or less vinegar and salt. It’s an art and one that tastes great.
I decided on 9 hook positions to hang the biltong. Usually when I get a 1kg cut I cut it into about 4 or 5 pieces, unless I want it to dry quicker. So there's plenty of space. I do know that some people would prefer to hang many small pieces so I added holes where paper clips fashioned as hooks can be inserted. The 9 holes are evenly spaced and positioned for easy access.
Handles were added because we are after the best possible product and for those odd occasions that the box needs to be moved it makes transport effortless.
The original biltong box came as a glue pack which took about a day to slowly assemble as each piece dried. The upgrade came with pre tapped bolt holes and bolted together. This added a fairly amount of time onto the construction process but was easier to assemble. The next design had an 8 bolt system. 8 rods were positioned horizontally in the box which kept the box together. A great design but it added to manufacturing costs and whilst I was after the best biltong box possible I also was conscious of the market price I wanted to reach. Up to this stage the biltong box was 200% more expensive than where I wanted it to be. Although this is a high end product and it was selling at the higher price I was determined to get to a price bracket where everyone could have a designer biltong box. The clip system was the final combination piece that made production and assembly effecient.
The final step for the 4th generation was to add a catch to the bottom of the biltong box to fit a standard size tray to collect any excess vinegar and spices that drip off the initial stages of the curing proces to enable dehydration of meat in a cleaner efficient environment.
Although I was happy with the 4th generation I found that the clip system would be subject to the manufacturer. Depending on the laser thickness the clips would be tighter or looser. They worked but I was not satisfied. I also found the permanat rods for hanging the meat a bit tricky when cleaning. And I wanted an option to have a second fan to help with those wetter months and to give more control over the drying process. Each generation also had many minor tweaks causing almost each biltong box to be unique. The disadvantage is that should a panel crack or a part be misplaced that was the end of your purchase.
I decided that the 5th generation would finally be standardised and to allow for interchangeable fan panles. It would have clear rods for haning as much or as little meat as you disired and that it would be assembled with a more robust hinge system. I also found a supplier of packaging boxes which gave the final proffesional look that I was after.
I hope you enjoy making, eating and sharing biltong as much as I do.