Tips for Processing Deer and Aging Deer Meat, with Videos
Dress Deer and Hang it to Age for Better Venison Recipes
Processing deer correctly is important, and whether you're deer hunting for a trophy buck or for meat for survival, you should never waste venison or any other meat. If you’re a deer hunter, you probably already know how to field dress deer. If not, watch the video below this article of how to dress a deer. The guy in the video does the job from start to finish in eight minutes. It’s obvious that this ain’t his first rodeo, so to speak. If you watch the video, you’ll notice that after the deer is skinned and gutted, the man hangs the deer in a walk-in cooler to hang. Processing deer is what will be discussed in this article.
Aged venison or deer meat has a much better flavor and texture than venison that hasn't been handled this way. If you've harvested very many deer, you probably have some great venison recipes, just as I do. For the best venison recipe I've ever tasted, click to see it!
Processing Deer Quickly
After you’ve killed a deer, don’t make the mistake a lot of novice hunters make and drive around for several hours with the dead deer in the back of your pickup showing it off to your buddies. The meat needs to be field dressed and cooled as quickly as possible.
For field dressing, you'll need to invest in a quality deer knife or hunting knife. You'll also need to keep the deer knife or hunting knife in prime condition, with a fine, sharp edge. This will make your job a lot easier and a lot quicker.
If you’re deer hunting in fairly warm weather, cooling the venison quickly is of utmost importance. In many parts of the South, it’s still warm outdoors at the beginning of deer hunting season. When that’s the case, some experienced deer hunters will place a bag of ice in the body cavity of the deer once field dressing has been completed. This will help keep the deer meat cool until it can be hung in a meat cooler or meat safe.
Why Age Deer Meat?
The best beef is aged beef. Some beef carcasses are hung for three to four weeks to age. This creates tastier and more tender beef. Enzymes in the muscle tissues break down over time, making the meat tender.
This same principle applies to processing deer meat, or venison. Hanging a deer in a meat safe or meat cooler will make the venison tender, and much of the wild or gamey taste will be removed.
The easiest and best way to accomplish this is to use a walk-in meat cooler or meat safe. The temperature of the meat safe is easy to regulate and to keep at a constant temperature. Air can also circulate around the deer meat while it’s hanging in the meat safe.
If you choose to improve the taste and quality of your deer meat through aging, do not freeze the venison until the aging process has been completed.
How Long Should Deer Meat Age?
As I already mentioned, prime aged beef might hang as long as several weeks. Deer, however, don’t need to hang this long. The length of time you need to age your venison depends on the age, sex, and size of the animal.
A young doe might need to age for only three to five days, while a large, older buck might need to age for eight to ten days. Aging deer meat for longer than ten days isn’t recommended.
The deer meat should be aged at a constant temperature, between 38 and 40 degrees.
To Skin or Not to Skin?
Some hunters who age their deer meat insist that they get better meat if they leave the hide on the deer. Of course, they first remove the entrails. The deer is then hung for several days to age the venison, and only then is the hide removed.
Other hunters prefer removing the hide before allowing the deer meat to age, completely field dressing the deer before hanging.
What if I Don't Have Access to a Meat Safe or Meat Cooler?
If you don’t have a meat safe or meat cooler, you can still age your venison. Field dress the deer as usual, removing the hide. Cut the deer up into sections and age it in a portable cooler for several days.
To do this, cut the deer meat into the hams, shoulders, and loins. Place ice in the bottom of a large plastic cooler, or in several coolers, and place a shallow rack on top of the ice. Rest the venison on the racks and allow it to age for several days. The deer meat should not be allowed to touch the ice. Check the temperature inside the cooler periodically, and change the position of the deer meat every day or so.
After the Deer Meat has Aged
Once your venison has aged, it’s time to cut it up. This is where good butchering supplies are a must. You’ll need a butcher knife, a filleting knife, and a meat saw as part of your butchering supplies. You might also watch to use a small hatchet and a hammer to break through larger bones.
The key to good butchering supplies is keeping them sharp. Start out with a razor-sharp edge, and check your butchering supplies frequently as you work. If you’re using your deer knife or hunting knife as butchering supplies, the edge can become dull from cutting through tendons, cartilage, and bones. Re-sharpen as needed to ensure clean cuts and easier butchering.
One of the most important things you want to do when you process your deer meat is to remove the fascia from the meat. Fascia, also referred to as “silver skin,” is the layer that covers the muscle tissue. This is best removed with a fillet knife.
How you cut up the deer meat is up to you. You might want to leave the hams, shoulders, and back straps whole, or you might prefer slicing them into steaks. Many people grind the shoulders into deer sausage or deer burgers.
If you want to make deer sausage or venison burgers, it’s best to add a little fat to the deer meat. Most venison is very low in fat, so many hunters add some beef or some beef tallow to their deer burger, and they add some ground pork to their deer sausage.
For the Frequent Deer Hunter
If you hunt deer frequently and are successful, you might want to invest in a meat safe. The meat safe can be used for a wide variety of game other than deer. If you find it too expensive, you might want to get a deer hunting friend to go in halves with you on the purchase of a meat safe or meat cooler. This would also be a good investment for a hunting club or a deer camp.
You’ll also need to invest in a good deer knife or hunting knife, along with quality butchering supplies. You'll need to maintain a very sharp edge on all your cutting and slicing tools. If you like to make your own deer burgers and venison sausage, you’ll need a meat grinder, too. You'll find a lot of uses for a meat grinder besides processing deer meat! All of these tools can be an important part of processing deer.
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