The deer gun season is arriving shortly and by the number of bucks I’ve seen running lately, the rut is here as well. In this week’s article, I want to share with you some tips to help you convert that harvest to an enjoyable table fare experience throughout the year.
The first thing to consider is that not all all venison is created equal. Venison can be excellent table fare but with poor handling and preparation, it can be nearly unpalatable as well. Many factors affect the quality of venison, including deer species, deer age, stress prior to harvest, field dressing, the diet of the deer, contamination of meat, meat temperature, aging of carcass and the butchering and packaging process.
Meat from mature bucks that are harvested during the rut sometimes can have a little off-flavor and be a little tougher than does and young bucks. Nevertheless, mature bucks are usually very edible when handled, aged, and butchered properly.
The first step in having good table fare is to provide a clean quick kill of an unstressed deer. Meat quality usually declines in animals that are stressed or run extensively immediately before death. Secondly, A deer should be field dressed immediately after death, but this can be postponed for several hours during cold weather. Contrary to popular belief, it is not necessary to slit the throat of a dead deer as the combination of the wound and field dressing is usually adequate enough to bleed out a deer. Also, contrary to popular belief, the Ohio DNR says it is not necessary to remove the metatarsal glands because they do not affect the meat after death as long as you avoid disturbing them when handling the carcass.
During the field dressing process, it is important to use methods to prevent contamination of the meat with urine and fecal material. There are plenty of youtube videos and step by step procedures online to show you how to do it. The ODNR website has an excellent pdf file on the step by step procedure to properly field dress a deer.
Soon after field dressing, it is important to wash out the carcass for any contaminants and then it should be cooled as soon as possible. How you do this will depend on the weather you harvest the deer in. Hopefully, it is cold enough that simply hanging the deer in a protected area will be cool enough, but if the deer is harvested in warmer weather, you may need to put bags of ice in the body cavity until you can get it to the butcher. In either situation, it is important to try to get the carcass cooled into the mid-thirties temperature range as soon as possible.
The carcass is easiest to skin the earlier you do it, but skinning can be postponed for a few days as long as the carcass is quickly and thoroughly cooled. Tenderness is generally improved when the carcass or quartered meat is aged at least a week in a dry environment. However, the meat that will be ground and the tenderloins do not need to be aged. Freezing should be avoided during the aging process because it inhibits aging and speeds spoilage after thawing. However, meat does not go bad when it freezes during the aging process.
After the aging process, fat, cartilage, bruised meat, and dried outer meat should be removed. Venison fat seems to be the most common source of off-flavor in venison. Also keep in mind that venison is very lean and does not have the marbling that beef has, thus the reason why many people will add beef fat to the venison that they are going to grind.
Unless cooking the meat fresh, it should be frozen right after butchering. Use quality bags and get as much air out of the bag as possible before sealing. If the meat will be stored in the freezer for more than a few days, freezer paper is a better option and make sure it is sealed with tape and labeled appropriately. Meat prepared and stored in this manner maintains good quality for more than a year. If you have a vacuum-sealer, it is even a better option than than freezer paper.
When cooking the venison, remember to use the best cooking option for the cut of meat that you are preparing. Roasts should be slow cooked in a roaster or crock pot. Steaks and chops are great for grilling, but remember with the lack of marbling, well done venison will become tough and chewy. Medium to medium well steaks are a better choice. Adding a strip of bacon or two (or more) to those tenderloins can add that needed fat and a touch of flavor as well.
Harvesting a deer is quite a thrill and you want to be able to continue that enjoyment as you consume the fruits of your labor. Proper handling of the carcass and processing the cuts will ensure that happens.
Good luck this deer season and until next time, Good Hunting and Good Fishing!
Ken Parrott is an Agricultural Science teacher with Northmor High School.