A Step by Step Guide to Process your Meat
If you're new to hunting or have a go-to processor, you likely haven't dived into the world of processing your own meat. For some, the idea of another set of tools to buy and maintain as well as what they consider extra, tedious, work after the kill doesn't sound appealing. But the results can be fantastic. You can get the taste just right, make sure nothing goes to waste and be a part of the process from beginning to end.
The significant steps of processing your meat after the kill are:
Each of these steps is a process in itself, and it's essential to take care of each one to achieve the best results.
Step One - Skinning your Deer
It's likely if you've harvested a deer, you've dealt with skinning it. Many processors have requirements that you must skin, and sometimes quarter, your deer before they will take it. While some cool techniques use a tractor or a golf ball, most people approach this the same way. Start by hanging the deer from its back legs and pull it to a height where the head is still resting on the ground, and this helps prevent it from swinging while you work on it. You hang the deer by making a slit between the knee and tendon on the rear legs and sliding a hanger through the hole. Once hanging, start by working the skin of each leg. Make a circular cut around each leg, being careful not to damage the tendon holding the deer. Then cut the skin from your circular-cut along the inside of the leg to meet the same cut on the adjacent leg. If you field dress your deer, you can join these to the existing slit down the stomach. Otherwise, make the slit now, but be careful not to puncture the stomach. Now work the skin off the deer working towards the back and the neck. In many places, the skin will pull off the deer, but in some situations, you may need to assist with a knife. Once all of the skin is hanging around the neck, you can remove the head. Now remove the bottom of the front legs with loppers or a saw. Using a sharp knife, work the shoulders off the remainder of the deer. Then remove the back straps from the carcass. Now work the remaining meat you may want to use. This could include neck meat, rib meat, tenderloins, etc. This approach is still most straightforward while the deer is hanging. Finally, take the rear legs off the deer using the same technique as the front legs. Now you are ready to debone the quartered deer.
Step Two - Deboning your Meat
Deboning is a little trickier than skinning the deer. The technique is different for everyone, but as you do it a few times, you will work out a method of your own. The thing to remember is that it doesn't have to be pretty. The smaller pieces that are the most difficult to get are going to be ground into sausage or burger typically. The larger pieces can be made pretty later, and the scraps can be added into the grind pile. It is recommended typically to start by setting up two bins, one for the meat you will want to make pretty, the other for the meat you will process. On the shoulder and ham, two large bones are easy to remove, starting with a slit in the meat's side. The remaining sections may need to be felt and just worked through, but remember that the bones will typically be easy to find.
Step Three - Trimming the Fat
An important step to processing deer is to trim the fat. While deer is very lean compared to other animals, any fat that remains will not taste good. In a process similar to skinning, use a sharp knife to remove any fat you find from the meat. Work through each piece to check, a little will get drowned out in the rest of the meat, but you want to remove what you can. Once you remove all of the fat, you are ready to move on to processing.
Step Four - Process the Meat
When processing, I suggest starting with the meat you don't want to put through a grinder. Prepare this; however, you see fit. This might be in chunks for kabobs or steaks or roasts. Add any scraps into your other pile. Set aside the clean meat for freezer packaging later.
For a beginner, I recommend finding a recipe for each type of meat you want to make. This may be breakfast links, hamburgers, summer sausage, etc. Follow those recipes for grind procedures and seasoning requirements. In my experience, you will want to grind all the meat you want to turn into the burger and sausage together. Separate the coarsely ground meat into the proportions of each final product you want. This is when you add the seasoning to each group. You may even add supplemental fat from pigs or cows for flavor. Mix in your ingredients and run it back through the grinder to get a better mix of ingredients. Remember tho, follow your recipe as each calls for different specifications of grinding and mixing and preparation. If you are making link sausage, you will need to fill the packaging with your product. A burger is quick to be ready to package.
Step Five - Packaging
The last step is the packaging. A lot of professional processors will wrap your meat in freezer paper sticking to standard serving sizes. This is usually 1 pound per package. Since you are doing it yourself, you will likely get better results from investing in a vacuum sealer. The most significant benefit of packaging your venison is that you can set it up in the proportions you want. You typically understand how many mouths you will be feeding so you can package it accordingly.
For more detailed resources, check out these links.
Packaging (and some processing recipes):