The best venison is fresh venison. But when you arrow a deer, you can’t eat 50 pounds of meat before it spoils. What’s the best way to save and store venison for year-round feasts?
To answer that question, we contacted Stacy Lyn Harris, blogger and author of three cookbooks, including her latest, “Stacy Lyn’s Harvest Cookbook: Cook Fresh Food Every Day of the Year.”
Harris and her husband, Scott, have seven children. Their family shoots 12 to 20 deer each year, and processes the meat themselves. By season’s end, the Harris clan has 1,000 pounds of meat preserved and stored for year-round meals.
“We eat venison every day,” Harris said. “It’s the best meat in the world. It has good flavor, and you can pair it with all kinds of ingredients. It’s also low in fat and cholesterol, and high in vitamin B6 and B12, and Omega 3 fatty acids.”
To ensure the best-tasting venison, you must take care of it from field to fork. That process includes good field-dressing tactics and butchering techniques, as well as cleaning the meat and removing as much fat and silver skin as possible before storing it.
Harris dries, cans, cures, smokes and freezes meat, but her favorite way to preserve venison is freezing it.
“I like the texture of venison after it’s thawed,” Harris said. “It’s pretty much the same as it is when it’s fresh. Plus, it stores easily, and can be cooked and served in many ways.”
Freezing meat is a popular storage option for all big-game hunters and processors. However, they differ on the best freezing methods. Some use vacuum sealers and others prefer freezer paper. Still others use plastic freezer bags or a combination of all three methods.
Whatever their preference, the goal is to protect the meat from oxygen, which causes bacteria growth; and freezer burn, which ruins its taste, texture and appearance. Weigh the pros and cons of the three options, and decide what’s best for you.
Vacuum sealers are household appliances that suck the air from stored food. They’re effective and preserve food three to five times longer than food stored in plastic bags or containers. Vacuum-sealed meats can sit in the freezer one to three years. The downside? Vacuum sealers are expensive. Most cost around $100. Larger or commercial-grade sealers can cost over $300. They also require specialized vacuum-sealer bags, which further increase your bill.
Freezer paper is inexpensive and available at grocery stores. It’s excellent for preserving meat, if you wrap each package tightly to remove all possible air. Meat wrapped correctly in freezer paper should last at least six to 12 months. Put the paper’s waxy side next to the meat, and double-wrap it for extra protection. This process can be time-consuming, but it’s worthwhile.
High-quality, thick-walled plastic freezer bags are inexpensive and easy to use. Simply fill your bags with venison, squeeze out the air and zip! Although this method is quick and easy, it’s a short-term option. Plastic-bagged meat is subject to freezer burn after about six months. You can extend the meat’s lifespan inside freezer bags by using a hand pump to extract air from the bag, but that can be tricky.
Harris uses the first two options, but prefers freezer paper because everyone in her family can use it at the same time. She seals the meat in Saran wrap before wrapping it in butcher paper. She also recommends a paper stand or dispenser with a built-in cutting edge to speed the process.
Don’t use wax paper and aluminum foil. Wax paper is difficult to label and wrap tightly, and aluminum foil can leave a metallic taste.
It’s easiest to label freezer bags or vacuum-seal bags before adding the meat, but you’ll need to label paper-wrapped meat after it’s packaged to ensure the label shows. You can make labels on your computer, but permanent markers work great.
Label your packages with the date, cut of meat and harvest location. For example: “11/22/18, Tenderloin, Cedar Creek WMA.” Add as many other details as you’d like. Harris includes the deer’s age, if known, because older deer can have tougher meat. She also specifies what the meat is good for, such as “pot roast.”
Watch Bowhunting 360’s video, “Packaging Venison for the Freezer,” for step-by-step instructions. Then, when you’re ready to thaw and cook your venison, check out the “Wild Meat” section of Bowhunting360.com for recipes, techniques and cooking tips.