Venison: Preserving Deer
Venison is an important food source for many families in America and Canada, and with tough economic times, and often such an overpopulation of deer in many areas that disease and starvation threatens the herds, hunting deer and preserving the venison is becoming a necessity for many. When handled properly it can make an excellent meat. It can be refrigerated or frozen as meat cuts or sausage. It can also be preserved by canning, curing, or drying.
While these facts may be upsetting to vegans and vegetarians, this information may be useful to others. I will not reply to emails attempting to engage me in a discussion of the morality of hunting or eating meat. This page is about food preservation, not dogma.
Now, with THAT out of the way, here's how to preserve venison, based on information from the National Center for Home Food Preservation (see references at the bottom of the page)
Use care when field dressing the deer. Contaminating the carcass is one of the most common errors hunters make. Refrigerate the carcass as soon as possible for best quality; usually within 3-4 hours after killing if the air temperature is above 45 degrees Fahrenheit.
Aging will help dissipate the game taste and permit natural occurring enzymes to tenderize the tissues. Proper aging also firms the meat, giving it better cutting quality. Aging should be conducted between 32 - 35° F for 7 - 10 days. Never age at room temperature. Venison may be cut within 24 hours after the kill and still be acceptable for aging. Improper storage facilities increases risk for spoilage.
Trim fat and clean cuts so they are ready for end use. Fat will go rancid quicker and often has a very "gamey" undesirable flavor. Use freezer wrap or packaging made for the freezer. For best quality, wrap the meat tightly in plastic wrap first, keeping air out as much as possible. Then wrap packages in moisture- and vapor-proof freezer paper. Seal, label and date each package. Home vacuum sealers will also work for packing venison for freezing. Follow manufacturer directions for vacuum sealing. Freeze quickly at 0°F or below. Freeze no more than 4 pounds per cubic foot of freezer space within a 24-hour period. If space in the home freezer does not permit spreading the packages out, take the wrapped meat to a processing plant or meat locker for quick freezing.
Store ground venison (aka, "Bambi burgers") in a freezer at 0°F or colder for no more than 3-5 months. Venison roasts and steaks can be stored up to 6-12 months at this temperature. Meat quality and flavor will deteriorate in the freezer over time. Proper dressing, handling, packaging, quick freezing, and colder freezer temperatures will help maintain meat quality for the longest period of time. Thaw meat in the refrigerator or microwave (on the defrost cycle), never at room temperature. (Adapted from: So Easy to Preserve, Andress and Harrison 1999).
Making Sausage from Venison
- Venison sausage. Univ. GA; http://www.homefoodpreservation.com/how/cure_smoke/venison_sausage.html
- Fresh Game Sausage. Univ. Minn.; http://www.msue.msu.edu/msue/imp/mod01/01600616.html.
- Venison Garlic Sausage, Venison Summer Sausage. N. Dakota State Univ.; http://www.ext.nodak.edu/extpubs/yf/foods/he176w.htm.
- Wild Game Polish Sausage. Penn State Univ.; http://foodsafety.cas.psu.edu/test/pdfs/procwldgamefish.pdf.
- Canning Strips, Cubes or Chunks of Venison; http://www.homefoodpreservation.com/how/can_05/strips_cubes_chunks.html
- Venison Mincemeat; http://www.homefoodpreservation.com/how/can_05/mincemeat_filling.html
- Venison Chile con Carne; substitute ground Venison for ground beef in this recipe http://www.homefoodpreservation.com/how/can_05/chili_con_carne.html
- Corning Game, Sweet Pickle Cure of Game, Venison Bologna, Venison Summer Sausage. Penn State Univ.; http://foodsafety.cas.psu.edu/test/pdfs/procwldgamefish.pdf.
- Dry-curing game, Sweet Pickle curing [Game], and Corning Game Meats. Clemson University; http://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheets/HGIC3603.htm.
- Dry Curing Game, Using Sweet Pickle Cure [Game]. N. Dakota State Univ. http://www.abs.sdstate.edu/flcs/foodsafety/menulist/doc/wildsid3.htm.
Drying Venison (making jerky)
Homemade venison jerky was responsible for an outbreak of foodborne illness several years ago. Therefore use only "new" and updated processing recommendations as suggested below:
- Univ. GA; http://www.homefoodpreservation.com/how/dry/jerky.html
- Colorado State Univ. http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/columnnn/nn001003.html
- How do I know my venison jerky is
The jerky will be as brittle as a green stick; it won't snap clean as a dry stick does. Be sure to test it after cooling because it will be pliable when it is still warm.
- Can I safely make a meat jerky without
Making low-salt jerky is not recommended. The salt binds the moisture in the meat and thus any bacteria on the meat are more quickly killed because they do not have water available to them.
Venison Cooking Tips
The key to cooking venison and to making it tender, moist and delicious is understanding that it has very little fat or fat cover. Add butter or cheese, or baste with other fats for improved flavor. Without much fat cover, the meat tends to dry out. Cook venison slowly using moist heat and baste often with a marinade sauce or oil. Don't overcook. A roast may also be wrapped in aluminum foil after browning or covered in a roasting pan. Strips of bacon may be placed on a roast for self basting. For these foods to be safe, internal temperatures must be high enough to kill any harmful microorganisms. Cook ground meats, chops, steaks and roasts to 160°F. Venison can be substituted for meat in many recipes and makes an excellent variation to your menu. (Source: Estes Reynolds, University of Georgia).
- A 46-page resource bulletin loaded with venison cooking recipes (Michigan State Univ.; http://www.msue.msu.edu/msue/imp/modac/visuals/E657.pdf.
Cooperative Extension Game processing resources
- Proper processing of wild game and fish (Cutter C. 2000. Proper Processing of Wild Game and Fish. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University. Available from: http://foodsafety.cas.psu.edu/test/pdfs/procwldgamefish.pdf.
- Wild side of the menu No. 3 preservation of game meats (Marchello M, Beck P. 2001. Wild Side of the Menu No. 3. Preservation of Game Meats. Fargo, ND: North Dakota State University. Available from: http://www.abs.sdstate.edu/flcs/foodsafety/menulist/doc/wildsid3.htm.
- Preserving game meats (Hoyle EH. 1999. Preserving Game Meats. Clemson, SC: Clemson University. Available from: http://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheets/HGIC3603.htm.
Reference: Brian A. Nummer, Ph.D., National Center for Home Food Preservation, September 2002 Brian A. Nummer is Project Coordinator with the National Center for Home Food Preservation, Department of Foods and Nutrition, College of Family and Consumer Sciences and Adjunct Assistant Professor, Department of Food Science and Technology, The University of Georgia, Athens. This material is based upon work supported by the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under Agreement No. 00-51110-9762.
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