As hunting season approaches, here are some good tips on venison preservation to keep it fresh all year.
There are few feelings worse than opening your freezer and discovering that your hard-won venison treasure is now a gray blob of freezer-burnt junk. Unfortunately, minimal preservation techniques and even poor field processing can lead to a sub-par or leathery chunk of meat. In other words, you reap what you sow.
This season, use the following techniques to process and preserve your venison so that you can have that fresh and rich taste we all yearn for from our wild game. You owe it to the animal and to your family.
Good field dressing techniques and processing practices will help ensure your meat stays in good shape. If any of the meat gets exposed to the contents of the stomach or latter parts of the digestive system, you need to remove it as quickly as possible by rinsing with water or snow.
However, you'll want to avoid spraying a hose all over the inside of the chest cavity, as this can actually spread any microbes even further. Only wash the inside of the cavity if you spilled the digestive tract onto the meat.
Hang the deer for only long enough to drain the chest cavity if it's above freezing. Bacterial growth can spoil your meat when the ambient temperature reaches above 50 degrees Fahrenheit. If you plan on aging your venison, hang it for no more than two to three days at temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Most people don't think about canning when they have a lot of venison sitting around, which is really too bad. As far as preservation and flavor, it's a wonderful and unappreciated way to make your venison last longer.
Canning is also a pretty simple process that can be done in an afternoon. When you're ready to eat it, just pull a jar off the shelf, reheat the contents, and pour over rice or pasta for a gourmet meal.
Canning is a great method to use on the cuts typically reserved for stew meat. Gather up your odd bits of neck, shoulder, rump, etc. and cut into one-inch cubes or so. Remove as much of the sinew and silverskin as possible. You can add any spices or vegetables you want as well; some common ones include onion, garlic, and peppercorns.
Sterilize your jars and pack as much venison as possible into them, leaving an inch between the rim and the top of the meat. Now add your canning salt - generally aim for between one and two teaspoons per quart. Shockingly, you should not add any other liquid, as the meat will produce its own delicious broth when cooked.
After sealing the jars, add them to your pressure cooker and cook according to its specific instructions in order to seal the jars. Dry the jars off, let them cool and label them, and then store in a dark area of your pantry or basement.
Making venison jerky is a fantastic way to preserve your venison for the short- or long-term. First, decide on what kind of jerky you prefer. If you want tougher, chewier jerky, slice your venison with the grain, or down the length of the muscle.
If you prefer jerky that you can easily bite, slice the meat across the grain, or across the width of the muscle. In either case, cut your slices no wider than a quarter-inch thick to ensure proper drying.
Bonus tip: partially freeze your venison before cutting to make the process easier and slices more consistent.
You could dry the meat as is at this point, but why not add a few more flavors to make a unique jerky that reflects your tastes? Here is a basic jerky marinade that you can alter as you experiment. Marinate the strips for a few hours up to one day.
- 1 1/2 - 2 pounds of lean venison
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1/4 teaspoon each of black pepper and garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon hickory smoke-flavored salt
Now arrange the strips on your dehydrator or oven rack and cook according to the directions, or at 140 degrees Fahrenheit. You'll want to dry them until a test piece cracks but does not break when it is bent (10 to 24 hours).
Now let them cool to room temperature, and package in glass jars or vacuum bags. They'll safely last at room temperature for two weeks, and much longer if frozen.
In case you're wondering, freezer paper is not foolproof. Unless you eat your venison very quickly, you'll likely find some package at the bottom of the freezer that won't be nearly as good as it should be.
A great way to ensure your venison stays fresh as long as possible is to utilize vacuum-seal bags. Investing in one of these systems will save you a load of equivalent money over the long-term from good venison you'd have to throw away. Food sealers seal out all air and keeps moisture in, since air is what ultimately leads to freezer-burned items.
Now that you know how to properly preserve your venison, you just need to get out the woods and find some deer. Good luck deer hunting!