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Get Woodworking Week: South African Biltong Maker

Posted on February 4th, by Andy Brownell in Projects. No Comments


Being married to a South African brings with it some pretty interesting experiences and cultural idiosyncrasies. For example, they love dried meats. They call it Biltong, and take it very seriously. Think of Biltong as home-made beef jerky, without the nitrates. The meat (beef is most popular)is cut into strips, then covered in a variety of seasonings and salts, sits in the fridge for 24 hours. Then it is hung in a box to dry for typical 4 days, upon which you remove it and cut it into bite-sized delicious meaty-goodness.original_Biltong

That’s where Get Woodworking Week comes in. My South African brother-in-law of course loves Biltong, or anything meat-based. Since 1977, when that side of my family emigrated to Cincinnati, their only way of making this has been with my father-in-laws cardboard box with a 40 watt light bulb. Time for an upgrade and a perfect excuse for a quick weekend project.

After a quick trip to Home Depot, we picked up materials for two biltong dryers in order to keep up with the family’s insatiable appetite for dry-seasoned game meats. Materials for each came in somewhere around $50 and included:

  • 1 pre-made oak and particle board kitchen cabinet (the hanging type)
  • 1 roll fine metal screen
  • 2 wooden dowels (1/2″ diameter)
  • 1 ceramic light-bulb base and metal electric cable compression nut.
  • 1 extension chord
  • ~1 bd ft of scrap poplar (for shelf and hangar brackets)
  • 60 watt light bulb

drilling holesI know, it’s a far cry from some exotic hardwood, but to be clear, it’s going to have raw meat hanging inside, and we only had 2 hours to knock them out this weekend. No need to re-invent the wheel, so after a quick Google image search for “biltong maker”, we got enough of a well documented idea to fabricate our own.

  1. We cut a new heavy duty shelf for each cabinet and drilled a dozen evenly-distributed 1″ holes in the bottom.
  2. 9 – 1.5″ holes were drilled in the top of the cabinet for ventilation, as well as three on either side of the cabinet, about 3″ from the bottom.
  3. All holes were covered with a piece of metal screen and stapled in place.photo 3
  4. A 4″ square piece of sheet metal was screwed in place on the underside of the shelf, directly in the center. (this serves as a heat shield and drip-guard to protect the light bulb)photo 1
  5. Next we cut and fit the shelf brackets from the scrap wood strips for the bottom shelf and upper hangar brackets. Upper brackets received an evenly spaced set of grooves to hold the dowel hangars in place.
  6. Upper brackets are nailed 2.5″ from the top and 8″ from the bottom for the lower shelf.
  7. A 3/4″ hole is drilled on the bottom for the cut extension chord, and wired to the ceramic light bulb base.
  8. The bulb base is secured in place with screws to the bottom of the cabinet and cable nut.
  9. Finally, cut 4 dowels to loosely fit on the top hanging bracket.photo 4

photo 5That’s it. Low-tech, low-effort, but a project that uses wood, and required a beginner (my brother-in-law) to build something during Get Woodworking Week. Time for a test run.

Tom Iovino of Tom’s Workbench, on behalf of the entire South African contingent of my family thanks for the inspiration and motivation to teach someone to build something that will definitely go to good use. I’ll be sure to bring some samples at this year’s Woodworking in America Conference if you want a taste.

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