Bitterly cold temperatures might result in chewy venison

By Christopher R. Raines

A hunter inquired about his frozen deer carcass — if it will “sour” (its hide is still on) while it hangs, frozen.  This person was attempting to “age” the venison.  Okay, there are lots of things to touch upon here in regard to meat quality, so here I go …

I am skeptical of aging an entire deer carcass for more than a few days for many reasons, including:

  1. much if it will likely be ground
  2. “whole muscle” cuts you typically get from a venison carcass (i.e. round steaks and roasts) age more slowly than backstrap
  3. tenderloin is already tender, and in all practicality, the backstrap is really the best candidate for aging, and
  4. this is sort of “pseudo”-dry-aging because the hide is on the carcass (moisture can’t evaporate)

If a DIY gourmet hunter wishes to age venison, I would then recommend aging the backstrap in “controlled” conditions.  Cut it up onto managable roasts (maybe a foot long or so), and vacuum package that sucker in a FoodSaver-like home packaging system.  If adamant about dry aging a carcass, recognize that there is likely very little fat cover on the carcass, which is requisite for successful dry aging of an entire carcass for a prolonged period of time.  You might want to terminate the aging process after about 7 days (or sooner).

Once meat freezes, aging effectively stops.  So, if the temperature of your shed is below freezing (it is so incredibly cold in many places in the U.S. right now), the reason for aging (tenderization) has been negated if the carcass freezes.  This should not be interpreted as: aim your Nipco heater at the carcass. Meat starts to freeze at 28°F, yet bacteria like to grow at lower and moderate temperatures (i.e. 40-140°F).  So, wherever you’re aging venison should act like a refrigerator — the temperature should be somewhere in 30’s.

Of course, much of this information may fall into the “this is not practical for me” or “I, the Average Joe, cannot control this stuff,” so, perhaps then the take-home message is:  Maybe I should rethink this idea of aging a venison carcass.

A major meat quality problem that may occur given the bitterly cold outdoor temperatures is cold-shortening (yield somewhat tougher meat).  Worse, if the carcass freezes before rigor mortis is complete, meat may experience thaw-rigor (incredibly tough meat — just grind it).  Long story short, make sure the carcass doesn’t freeze before rigor is complete.  Also make sure the carcass does not chill too quickly — to a temperature less than 60°F — before rigor mortis is complete.

Refrigerate or Freeze.  (Thaw.)  Prepare.  Cook.  Serve.  Enjoy.