Well, we’ve made a dent in filling the freezer for the next year. We were almost down to just plain empty, except for the whitewing the Doveslayer (a.k.a. Deerslayer, depending on the time of year) brought home during the season in September. I actually enjoy getting to a point where we’ve eaten what’s there. Nothing is left to hide in the dark recesses of the freezer to morph into a bag of something unrecognizable which is ultimately thrown away.
While many hunters choose to take their animals to a professional meat processor, I’ve discovered, over the years, that home processing allows much more of the meat to be used in many ways I’d never thought possible. So many friends and hunting buddies are only interested in backstrap and tenderloins, not realizing that there is a muscle in the hind quarter that can be seared to perfection or thrown on the grill just like those other prized cuts. Additionally, another muscle found in a hind-quarter works beautifully for any fried or breaded steaks like Venison Marsala, Venison Parmesan, Pecan-Crusted Venison Steaks with Mustard Sauce, and of course, Chicken Fried Venison Steaks. Don’t forget the small football-shaped muscle that becomes a bacon-wrapped, garlic roast! Without the “cook-all-day” neck meat, shanks, and other scraps, there wouldn’t be meat for tamales, Guinness and venison stew, carne guisada, or venison barley soup.
Carefully vacuum-packaging and labeling your meat is probably the most important thing a conscientious hunter (or hunter’s helper) can do to ensure that no part of the harvested meat is wasted. Vacuum-packaging removes air that causes freezer burn.
There are many excellent vacuum-packaging systems. We own one of them. However, that said, over the past few years, we’ve chosen to use the Ziploc vacuum bags and the manually-operated vacuum pump, which comes apart so that all pieces can be sterilized.
The bags are available in gallon- and quart-size and are available at the grocer. I like the uniform sizes that fit easily into my freezer baskets (which I purchased to keep the meat organized).
At the end of a venison-processing day, I end up with the following labeled packages:
Backstrap (2 or more meal-sized packages)
Tenderloins (usually one package)
Hind quarter to sear
Meat to grind (one or two gallon-sized bags) This meat can also be used as cook-all-day venison and includes neck meat, shanks, meat from around the ribs, and scraps. We use at least sixty pounds of ground meat in a year. It is usually divided into three categories: venison, ½ venison- 1/2 pork, and plain pork for pan sausage
Cook-All-Day (see above)
Heart (Usually, this is eaten, sliced and fried, out at the hunting camp.)
The muscles of the hind quarter can be carefully separated by gently tearing the membrane with the fingers and following up with a sharp knife.
There is an artery that runs the length of the femur that can be seen at the ball joint.
Bucks will have a gland next to this artery, just above the knee, that will need to be removed so as not to affect the taste of the meat.
Careful planning, packaging, and creative cooking will allow anyone to fill their freezer(s) with fresh, lean, antibiotic-free and artificial hormone-free meat for themselves and their families.