Venison makes delicious table fare and provides a healthy alternative that’s more nutritious than any meat you’ll find at grocery stores. Some might argue that wild game is tougher than beef or trickier to cook. Both points are debatable, but you can easily tenderize it and create unforgettable meals.
Nothing tenderizes venison more naturally than aging it. This process requires hanging it in a temperature-controlled environment for up to three weeks. As venison ages, a crust develops on the meat’s outer surface, signifying slight decomposition. Don’t let that scare you. The aging process tenderizes venison and adds flavor as the meat dries and its connective tissues naturally break down.
Aging venison is as simple as hanging it in open, circulating air for 18 to 21 days, but you must maintain a temperature of 34 to 37 degrees. Walk-in coolers are ideal for the job, but you can age your meat other ways if you don’t have that luxury.
The simplest aging method is called “air aging.” As the name implies, you simply hang your venison in open air for an extended time. That’s ideal for hunters who are camping on an extended trip, or don’t have access to a refrigerator or walk-in cooler. You must be very conscious of outdoor temperatures if you use this method.
Temperatures under 34 degrees can freeze meat, while anything warmer than 37 degrees speeds decomposition that creates unsanitary meat and possibly food poisoning. Pay close attention to weather when aging venison in open-air settings. This method also exposes your meat to bugs or other critters seeking easy snacks, so wrap your venison in a game bag or cheese cloth. That will ensure your meat stays clean and free of unwanted bacteria.
A spare refrigerator is excellent for aging venison. Remove its racks and hang the meat so it doesn’t touch a contaminated surface. That precaution reduces the chances of bacteria growth. Refrigerators provide a controlled environment, so you can age your meat much longer than what’s possible in open air.
Even so, the most effective way to age venison is with a walk-in cooler. You can age multiple deer at once while precisely controlling the temperature for long-term aging.
Regardless of the aging method you choose, cut away the meat’s dried exterior before cooking. The caramelized exterior is easily noticeable, and can be trimmed with a sharp knife. You might lose small amounts of meat by aging it, but the rest of your venison will be tender, tasty and worth the small sacrifice.
Aging meat isn’t for everyone, of course. If you lack a spare refrigerator or walk-in cooler, and you shoot your deer when weather and air temperatures create problems, you can still tenderize it and add incredible flavor with a brine. A concoction of water, salt and other seasonings work great if you want to tenderize your venison, but can’t age it.
Hunters have many options for getting the most out of wild game. If you care for your game in the field, and properly prep your meals in the camp or kitchen, you’ll be rewarded with delicious meals everyone enjoys.