Braaitime Can Sate Your Biltong Cravings (Or Start Them!)
As you might have remembered, Duc has become obsessed with jerky lately and making it to satisfy the salty snack urges he gets from time to time. Easy for me if he makes his own - I don't have to worry about doing anything! He recently discovered biltong, a South African jerky, through one of the jerky subreddits he subscribes to (yep, Reddit has everything) and purchased a sampler pack right away. I have had biltong in the past and really enjoyed it but he hadn't before so this was an exciting venture. It was like opening an early Christmas gift for him when the package arrived in the mail.
Anyhow, from what I understand, there aren't many places that make biltong outside of South Africa so finding a company in the country that did was a neat find. The packages we bought were from Warren Pala at Braaitime which is based out of New Jersey; the flavors were Traditional, Peri Peri, Cajun, Garlic and Parsley, and BBQ Mesquite. If you're curious what makes this South African jerky unique, you should know that it is nothing like traditional American beef jerky. I would liken it more to bresaola or a dried prosciutto. It is tender but not juicy, flavorful but not salty, and not at all chewy. What's also interesting is that Braaitime's particular product is hand-sliced and all-natural.
I was curious about the history of Braaitime seeing as biltong is not exactly the traditional American jerky that everyone laps up here. Because it is cured with a brine composed mostly of salt and vinegar, the meat takes on a much different texture during the process. In addition to the curing process being different, the meat handling varies as well; the beef is sliced after it has hung for 21 days instead of being sliced prior which makes it similar to European cured meats.
The owners of the company, Warren and his wife Nicolle, originally lived in South Africa and upon moving to New York, could not find one of their favorite foods - biltong. Nicolle often had it at home through her family's age-old recipe so the couple decided they had to start doing it themselves if they wanted to sate their cravings. What started out as a hobby for personal consumption ended up becoming their business to spread the deliciousness of biltong around to the tune of approximately 40,000 bags a year.
What I liked about the story on their company processing was how much attention to detail goes into their product. The hand-carved pieces are monitored frequently, even when the makers are abroad (that's right - they have cameras on their products), and they go for all-natural. What comes of this is a tender, well-balanced product that we just about devoured once we got our hands on the bags. I also noticed that Braaitime sells other South African meat products (droëwors, chilibites, and boerewors) so in time, we'll have to see what that commitment to authenticity means for those as well.
So all this talk about what it's supposed to taste like and where it originated but how did it really taste? Fantastic! The Traditional was bold on the beef and served as a good standard against which to measure the flavored versions. Soft, tender, and balanced, the traditional version needed no frills to be enjoyable. Their Peri Peri, which is an African pepper, had an initial kick of heat that luckily did not linger so it created a nice zing throughout the experience without burning up one's mouth. This was the favorite between the both of us. Their Cajun paled in comparison to the Peri Peri because though it had that cajun feel to it, the flavor did not last very long. My father really enjoyed the Garlic and Parsley which we chucked his way because he has an affinity towards garlic (we do too though!); we actually thought it would do with even more garlic too! As for the BBQ Mesquite, because biltong is not smoked like traditional American jerky, this flavor made sense to have but the smokiness didn't do it for us.
Overall, we assumed that the flavors were more subtle due to the process of making biltong (sliced after curing) but that was a major plus though. I personally like whole ingredients to shine through in anything, and we have to give the thumbs up to Braaitime. Now...when should we order next?
Photography by Duc Duong.