Aging of Venison – Sounds like a good idea, right?

Each year people often ask, “how long should I age my deer?” and they are surprised when I answer, “Usually, a few days, tops…”.  Here’s why:

My reasons for this a varied, yet most are to err on the side safety and good judgement rather than attempt something risky in the name of outdoor gourmet.  I have seen various web pages and heard other anecdotes about how someone aged their carcass for for a week and it turned out amazingly well. Congratulations. Yes, this is entirely possible, but it also means you lucked out with the right temperatures and other conditions.

Considerations for aging vension:

  • Often deer are very lean creatures when compared with other species like cattle (which are usually fatter, though I know of many ultra-lean carcasses, usually grassfed, that are absolutely ruined because someone read that it needs to be aged XYZ — too many — days) that are usually aged.  Essentially no fat cover means meat will dry out and need to be trimmed away.  That yield loss adds up quickly
  • To mitigate the growth of bacteria (pathogen outgrowth is the primary reason for my advising against aging of deer carcasses) and rotting (though aging of meat is really nothing more than controlled rotting), temperature control is a must.  Usually in the range 30-36ºF, give or take a degree or two.  I doubt there is any tree limb or garage rafter than is held at this constant temperature during “aging.”  Moreover, once meat freezes, aging effectively stops.  Leaving the carcass frozen and hanging isn’t doing anybody any good.  [And, getting a carcass too cold too quickly can also result in some chewy venison.]
  • Lastly, different muscles age at a different rate.  The tenderloin is already nearly as tender as it will be after a day or two, and the backstrap might have something to gain with about 10 days agin (some age backstrap in foodsaver-type plastic bags, in the refrigerator), but the round/ham/leg ages slowly … and is often ground by many hunters.
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