Deer Processing Tips to yield good venison.

Beekissed

Mountain Sage
Joined
Jul 12, 2008
Messages
12,381
Reaction score
2,923
Points
417
Location
Mountains of WV
Every year we run into the same information on the net at hunting season and it's usually the most misleading information available for insuring good flavor and meat integrity for the venison harvest.
  • Hanging deer for a week or more to "age" it
  • Soaking the meat in brine water over night to remove the "gamy" flavor
  • Canning it with bouillon or bacon to cover the "gamy" taste

I'd like to help people understand that their deer or elk meat should never have a "gamy" flavor in the first place and, if it does, it's likely a result of mishandling of the carcass during gutting, skinning and what follows after.

Let's address aging. Unless you are unaware, aging is just controlled rotting of the muscle fibers. They call it aging because calling it "letting it rot awhile" is less attractive. :D

Effect of aging on beef flavor and tenderness
Aging or "ripening" of beef is simply holding a carcass or wholesale cuts at refrigerated temperatures to allow "natural processes" to improve flavor and tenderness.

The muscle of beef, and of other meat animals, undergoes progressive changes after slaughter that affect tenderness of the cooked product. First, muscle goes into rigor, a shortening and stiffening process. Rigor generally lasts for a few hours up to one or two days. During this period, the meat will be least tender if cooked. After the rigor process, muscle undergoes changes that result in a gradual improvement in tenderness.

While muscle is undergoing changes associated with tenderness, chemical breakdown of certain muscle and fat constituents occurs, resulting in a more intense flavor and aroma. In general, these changes in flavor and aroma are desirable to most consumers.
However, undesirable flavors and aromas can develop during aging due mainly to the effects of microbial growth, rancidity of the fat and absorption of off-odors if present in the chill room.

Aging environments
Temperature, relative humidity, air movement and general sanitation of the aging room are essential considerations in successfully aging beef. Temperature of the aging room should be maintained at approximately 34 to 36 degrees Fahrenheit, relative humidity at 85 to 90 percent and an air flow of 15 to 20 linear feet per minute at the surface of the product.

The aging room should be clean and free of all off-odors at all times. Floors and walls of the aging room should be thoroughly washed with an alkaline cleaning solution and an approved sanitizer applied weekly or more often if needed. Sawdust should not be used on the floors because it contributes to air contamination.

Cured and smoked meat, poultry, vegetables, fruits or shipping cartons should not be stored in the aging room because of the off-odor produced by such items, which will be adsorbed by the meat. Except during cleaning, walls, floors, and ceiling of the aging room should be kept as dry as possible.

Carcasses and wholesale cuts should be properly spaced on trolleys or hooks to allow complete circulation of air around the product.

Problems associated with aging
Beef carcasses and wholesale cuts are quite perishable and several problems or conditions can contribute toward the product becoming spoiled or unacceptable during the aging period. Most beef spoilage and off-odors and flavors can be attributed to one or more of the following causes:

  • Improper chilling of the carcass. The internal temperature of the round and other thick parts should be lowered to 40 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit within 24 hours after slaughter. Failure to do so may result in bone sour.
  • When the carcass is chilled and aged in a chill room containing an off-odor, the carcass will adsorb the odor. Most common off-odor is from excess growth of bacteria, yeasts and molds on the meat and chill room walls and floor. Also, storing any other product in the room that has an odor will contribute to the problem.
  • Poor sanitation during slaughter, chilling and processing. This contamination with microorganisms causes off-odors, off-flavors and spoilage.
  • Excessive aging will result in an accumulation of microorganisms. In addition to the off-odor produced by microorganisms, their presence in large numbers on a carcass or cut results in a slimy-appearing surface. The most likely places for microorganisms to grow are on the moist, lean surfaces of the carcass such as the neck, flank and round. If these growth-contaminated areas are not completely trimmed off and discarded during processing, the end products of microbial growth will produce undesirable flavor and odor in the finished product, especially the ground beef.
  • Shrinkage will occur during the aging period. The longer the aging period, the greater the total loss in weight; also the longer the aging period, the greater the need for trimming of lean and fat surfaces that have dried excessively or have detectable growth of microorganisms.
  • Aging under-finished carcasses will result in excess shrinkage, surface drying and discoloration. Dried and discolored surface areas should be trimmed and discarded. This trimming can amount to a considerable loss in product.
Aging period
For practical purposes most of the advantages of aging well-finished beef will have been achieved by the end of seven to 10 days at 34 to 36 degrees Fahrenheit. The fat cover on well-finished beef minimizes drying and discoloration. In general, a carcass should be of Good, Choice or Prime grade. Carcasses with little or no fat cover should not be aged beyond three to five days.

http://extension.missouri.edu/p/G2209


gamy

or gamey
[gey-mee]
adjective, gamier, gamiest.
1.
having the tangy flavor or odor of game :
I like the gamy taste of venison.
2.
having the flavor or odor of game or other meatkept uncooked until slightly tainted:
The roast was still edible but was slightly gamy.
3.
plucky; spirited.
4.
lewd or suggestive; risqué.
5.
gross or squalid; unwholesome.
In short, very few people have the facilities to properly age a deer or elk and simply hanging it in a tree or unheated garage just won't produce the desired result. What it results in is rotten meat...essentially, that "gamy" flavor and odor everyone is trying to disguise.

When you home butcher hogs, lambs, chickens, and turkeys, do you let them hang for a week in a tree or a garage to tenderize them? Not likely. If you do, it's likely your domestic animals also have a "gamy" smell or flavor that you will have to disguise to consume it.

We've been harvesting 3-9 deer each year for the past 50 yrs and have yet to taste a "gamy" deer, even bucks in full rut. No, it's not because we don't have a refined palate and can't tell the difference, but because we've learned how to process meat properly to insure a fresh and flavorful product.

Most deer in the US will eat greens all year and, in the fall, will consume mast~nuts, acorns, grains, etc. and fruit to augment their grass fed existence, plus feeding on corn, oat, soybean and wheat crops, and corn put out by hunters. This will usually yield a deer that tastes much like good lean beef that's been raised on grass and finished on corn.

Soaking the meat in brine over night.

I've seen this in action....the meat is drained of any life and color and one can only imagine that the flavor has been sucked out as well. People who do this practice say they always have meat that tastes just fine...but how do they know? What is "fine" compared to at that point, if they've always done their venison in this manner?

Trust me on this, if one were to purchase a steak in a restaurant that had been soaked in brine water over night, they would send that thing right back to the kitchen.

Would one do their home butchered beef, pork, sheep, turkey or chicken like this and expect to be able to taste how the actual meat flavor was at that point? Would you buy hamburger in the store that had that grey/pale color and think it would taste good? Sure, it might be salty, but would it taste like meat at that point?

How many people have the facilities to soak a deer overnight in brine water and keep that meat at the right temps to prevent spoilage? Not many, I'd wager. One could argue that the salt would preserve the meat at that point, but how much salt is being used? Enough? How much is enough? Will it help kill the bacteria that already started growing when the deer was hung in a tree for a week? It takes time for brine to preserve food, which is why something is normally brined longer than overnight for a successful and safe product.

I walked into a few kitchens at this time of year and spied large basins of brined deer sitting on the kitchen table...flies all over the basin and the exposed bits of meat. Tepid water, grey or pale pink, waterlogged meat...flies optional~YUM.

All of these practices, along with the poor practices performed as the deer is being gut and skinned, all produce meat with an off flavor and odor that must then be disguised while cooking or preserving it. Everyone pretty much knows that the more fresh meat~all food, for that matter~ is when cooked or preserved, the better the end product but all that knowledge seems to fly out the window when they harvest a deer. Generations of people doing deer in this same manner has produced a large section of the populace that either don't know what deer even taste like or those who can't stand the "gamy" flavor or smell of venison.

I've had the misfortune to taste such deer down through the years that had been prepared by other folks and it was not even recognizable as deer meat. It occurred to me that many people have been consuming deer all their lives and have never really tasted deer meat....they've tasted some version of brined, rotten and seasoned meat, but it wasn't deer meat as it really tastes. To those people, that's how deer is supposed to taste because that's how they've always eaten it, but good deer meat tastes a lot like good, lean beef...no changes needed.

Canning it with bacon and/or bouillon~ not necessary at all if the deer has been processed properly and handled well, taken fresh off the bone and into the jar. A tsp of salt is the only thing you need at that point to enhance the flavor of the meat to perfection...and that is true for most meats.

If you like preflavored meats, then such techniques are fine and all, but if you want to experience venison as venison and not as beef bouillon or pork, then salt is all you need.

If you've never had deer without it being handled in this manner, I urge you to try something different and see how it turns out. Treat your deer meat like you treat your home butchered beef, lamb and pork...use clean technique, get the meat chilled as soon as possible, rest it no longer than 48 hrs before freezing it. Can it up as soon as you get it chilled down enough to work on it.

Will follow this post with subsequent posts and possible videos on how to gut and skin a deer without tainting the meat with the deer's own secretions, how to clean up the meat of any hair or other debris before processing it, etc.




 

Britesea

Sustainability Master
Joined
Jul 22, 2011
Messages
4,348
Reaction score
2,658
Points
333
Location
Klamath County, OR
What about making up a venison stock to use when canning the meat, rather than just water? Just curious- I've never had enough venison to do anything more than eat it fresh when we've been gifted by a friend. I don't know what sort of prep was done to it, but it didn't have what people call a gamy taste that I could recognize.
 

Beekissed

Mountain Sage
Joined
Jul 12, 2008
Messages
12,381
Reaction score
2,923
Points
417
Location
Mountains of WV
What about making up a venison stock to use when canning the meat, rather than just water? Just curious- I've never had enough venison to do anything more than eat it fresh when we've been gifted by a friend. I don't know what sort of prep was done to it, but it didn't have what people call a gamy taste that I could recognize.
Usually deer meat is canned in a raw pack manner, no water is added as the meat will make its own broth. I've done a bone broth with deer bones and it was a great soup base...VERY packed full of good minerals and vitamins from those bones.
 

NH Homesteader

Sustainability Master
Joined
Sep 7, 2016
Messages
7,190
Reaction score
4,836
Points
307
I have never heard the brine idea... That's odd. We do sometimes grind venison and fatty ground pork together- it is a good mix and does cut the gaminess.

A young buck in rut is one thing, but an older buck in rut is gamey. My husband has been butchering deer his entire life, and the older bucks taste distinctively more like a buck in rut smells, lol. Not pleasant.
 

tortoise

Wild Hare
Joined
Nov 9, 2009
Messages
3,880
Reaction score
1,851
Points
337
Location
USDA Zone 3b/4a
I've never tasted "gamey" venison. I am a fussy eater too, I wouldn't eat anything with off flavor. We hang ours in an unheated outbuilding a couple days, below 40 degrees always that time of year. Our butchering of large animals is entirely weather dependent. There's a very short window of opportunity where weather is between 32 - 40 degrees for several consecutive days. We process venison and lamb/mutton side-by-side, same process for both.

I've never brined venison. I ruined a few rabbits by brining them. Ick! Never again! Haven't canned venison yet, but I successfully canned chicken, so I'm not so scared of canning meat now!
 

Chic Rustler

Super Self-Sufficient
Joined
May 11, 2017
Messages
1,721
Reaction score
1,675
Points
217
we eat alot of venison. My family actually prefers it to beef. The processor let's it hang a week . Once we quartered one and kept it coolers changing ice daily for a week and then took it for processing. The processor hung it another week. That wass the best, most tender, good flavor I habe ever had in meat.

So my advice is aim for does and hang em for a week or two. I'd take a 90 lb doe over a 150lb buck any day
 

frustratedearthmother

Sustainability Master
Joined
Mar 11, 2012
Messages
15,366
Reaction score
7,742
Points
423
Location
USDA 9a
I've seen this in action....the meat is drained of any life and color and one can only imagine that the flavor has been sucked out as well.
Brine - I'm a fan. It's not intended to drain the meat of anything - it is intended to add flavor. I haven't tried it on any red meat, but sure is good for pork and chicken.

The science behind it is conflicting but it has been proven to add moisture. They have weighed the meat before and after and as such "proves" that the meat has absorbed the brine. Also has been proven that it retains that moisture by a finished product that weighs more than an un-brined piece of meat.

For turkeys we use salt/sugar and spices. Either you're a fan or you're not I think. :)
 
Last edited:

baymule

Sustainability Master
Joined
Nov 13, 2010
Messages
6,275
Reaction score
5,299
Points
363
Location
East Texas
Deer meat, since it is hot in Texas, is placed in ice coolers, iced, drained daily and more ice added for several days. No brine. Then I process it into steaks and burger. No hanging a deer around here unless you like rotten meat with a side order of maggots.
 

Beekissed

Mountain Sage
Joined
Jul 12, 2008
Messages
12,381
Reaction score
2,923
Points
417
Location
Mountains of WV
Brine - I'm a fan. It's not intended to drain the meat of anything - it is intended to add flavor. I haven't tried it on any red meat, but sure is good for pork and chicken.

The science behind it is conflicting but it has been proven to add moisture. They have weighed the meat before and after and as such "proves" that the meat has absorbed the brine. Also has been proven that it retains that moisture by a finished product that weighs more than an un-brined piece of meat.

For turkeys we use salt/sugar and spices. Either you're a fan or you're not I think. :)
Could be...the venison I've tasted that's been brined didn't have near the flavor or juiciness of the meat when not brined. It was tough, dry and tasteless every time.

I know why they brine commercial chicken and turkey, as it has very little flavor on its own, but I'd never do it to my chickens raised here, as the flavor they have is exceptional on its own.

I'm thinking that people who regularly fry, roast or broil meat may use this technique more than others? We normally only fry the tenderloin or burger and maybe even do a neck roast now and again, but mostly we can up our deer so tenderness is never a problem.
 
Top