Meat from wild game is a superior product because it’s lean, delicious and packed with protein. By taking some easy steps after arrowing a deer, you’ll enjoy many fabulous meals from the animal, no matter its size. All you need is a little creative cooking to make a variety of great meals.
How do you ensure the best possible venison meals for friends and family? Let’s review some basic steps for transforming wild game into delicious table fare.
Heat: The Enemy of Great Steaks
Treat deer just as you would any other perishable food. That is, keep it cool and clean. Would you buy a box of steaks and leave them inside a hot car or the back end of a pickup truck? No. They would quickly go from delectable to inedible. The same loss happens when leaving a deer in warm places. Warm doesn’t just mean 90 degrees. Warm is anything above the temperature inside your refrigerator, about 40 degrees. Anything warmer spurs bacteria growth, which spoils meat.
How can you beat the heat? Start by making a good shot.
Well-placed arrows mean short blood trails and quick deaths.
Poor hits can also cause deer to pump more adrenaline into its muscles, which can give the meat a strong taste. Likewise, a hit to the paunch or intestines can cause stomach fluids and other bad stuff to taint the meat.
Even so, the meat isn’t necessarily wasted. If it’s immediately cleaned, cooled and packaged for freezing, it should be fine. Try samples of the meat, and if it’s not to your liking, don’t give up. Make sure you’re following recipes and cooking techniques that do justice to venison.
A final reminder on shooting: The best way to ensure you make good shots – and quickly fatal wounds – is to use reliable equipment, practice often and take lessons before the season.
You made a great shot and found your deer. Now it’s time to remove the organs. This job is important because organs spoil easily, and removing them quickly lowers the carcass’s temperature. Take care to not puncture any organs, especially the bladder, stomach and intestines. If you do cut one of them, either with your broadhead or knife, wash the body cavity with fresh water after field dressing the animal.
If it’s warmer than 40 degrees and you’ll be driving awhile before butchering it, place bags of ice in the body cavity to help cool it.
Two other important factors help ensure tasty venison: butchering and meat packing. If you intend to use the same knife for butchering that you used for field dressing, wash it to prevent contamination. You’re processing food, so your tools and work area should pass a health-department inspection.
After skinning the animal, wash your blade or use a different knife for meat cutting. Hair holds dirt and bacteria, which you don’t want touching your meat.
As you separate meat from bone with your knife, also trim away all fat and sinew. Deer fat isn’t as flavorful as beef fat. In fact, it’s waxy and tastes unpleasant. Remove all the fat before packaging and storing the meat, because freezing intensifies fat’s strong flavor. Sinew, meanwhile, makes for tough chewing, and so slice it off while processing the meat.
Although fresh wild-game meat is delicious – especially over an open flame – most of it gets stored in the freezer. If you improperly package the meat, it can all go to waste – along with all your hard work – if it gets freezer-burned. That’s when oxygen gets between the meat and the packaging material. If it’s not severe, cut away the freezer-burned portions and eat the unaffected sections.
Venison should be packed airtight. Tightly wrap it in butcher paper or vacuum-seal it. Both methods are effective if done properly, and let you store venison a year or more in the freezer.
Taking wild game from the field to your plate takes preparation and the right tools. Head to an archery shop to get the knives, vacuum sealers and processing supplies you need, along with professional advice.