Biltong boys just want to have fun

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Luke Rathbone, Rory Rathbone, Tom Hutchison and Matt Laing… “I think being together all the time helps to grow the culture behind the business, and we also keep each other on track healthwise,” says Rory. Photo by Andrew Finch

IT may have all started with a camping trip, granny’s old cupboard and a fondness for traditional South African biltong, but new local company Barbell Biltong is making strides for its “insanely good” product.

Run by South African brothers Rory and Luke Rathbone, and their friends Matt Laing and Tom Hutchison, the boys say that biltong is marinated beef that’s hung to air dry in a controlled environment for 10 days before being sliced into strips.

“We made some to take camping, and it took us back to our South African roots,” says Luke.

“Then our friends started asking for it and after making a few batches for them, we wondered if there was something in this – no one was making biltong as a health product. And if you’re eating a paleo diet it can be hard to find healthy options when you’re travelling that have a decent shelf life.”

Although they started out with beef from the supermarket, Luke says they quickly realised the gap that existed between the farmer and the meat being sold.

“We switched to using organic grass-fed beef from a farm in Bombala and now it feels like the business is an extension of our values and ourselves,” he says.

The boys have all lived together in the inner south of Canberra since June and say that so far they’re finding the close living and working relationships work in their favour.

“I think being together all the time helps to grow the culture behind the business, and we also keep each other on track healthwise,” says Rory.

“We all get along surprisingly well and it has grown our friendships, although we definitely debate, argue and talk things through!

“We are always looking to improve, so we will suggest to try this or that.

“We all share our values of healthy living, exercise, the outdoors, the environment and ethics, and while we are all really into movement we feel that good food is the foundation of that.”

Luke, 26, and Tom, 24, both completed degrees in economics and finance, while Rory, 24, is a personal trainer and Matt, 23, is a nutritionist.

“All the different elements we bring are crucial to the business, and we have a creative mindset, and try to make the most of social media and really sell our lifestyle and how our biltong fits in with that,” Luke says.

“We want to give an insight into our lifestyle, our philosophy and our values, our focus on health and nutrition.”

Luke Rathbone with bags of biltong, marinated beef that’s hung to air dry in a controlled environment for 10 days before being sliced into strips.

The boys have a regular stall at the Capital Region Farmers Market at Epic and say they love meeting their customers and talking about biltong.

“We all do the markets and it’s been great for getting feedback,” says Luke.

“We find that people may not know much about biltong and think it’s like jerky, so it’s been good to explain the difference – for example, biltong is uncooked and more tender as it softens in the drying process. Jerky is sliced first, marinated and then heated, and usually contains nasties.”

The boys say they are always working on improving the quality and consistency of their biltong.

“It’s getting better all the time and we believe the business will grow organically if we continue to provide value to our customers, and as we learn more,” Luke says.

“We’re honestly not in this for the money, but we are stoked at what we’ve achieved so far,” says Rory.

“We decide when we work, and we have the freedom to do our own thing. There’s a variety of tasks involved but we really do love it and we’ve learned so much already.”

“It was daunting initially but if you break anything down into small steps it’s just problem solving and it’s not insurmountable,” says Luke.

“The hardest part is not getting distracted but at the same time we all pull our weight and motivate each other. We really enjoy being able to work together,” Rory adds.

“If we’re having fun, we’ll carry on. We just want to have as much fun as possible.”

Barbell Biltong costs $25 for a 250g bag. Visit

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Kathryn Vukovljak
Kathryn Vukovljak is a "CityNews" journalist with a particular interest in homes and gardens.

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