Venison Do’s and Don’ts

It’s that time of year again, deer season.  Pennsylvania, like many other states, is dotted with many independent, custom venison processors who receive deer carcasses from hunters and convert the carcasses into chops, roasts, burger, jerky, summer sausage, and other products.  The processors always have great stories to share — based on recent stories that have been shared with me, here is a list of some “don’ts” when it comes to handling your taking.

Of course, this cannot be an exhaustive list of all things of what not to do… but you can use it to perhaps identify whether or not you are doing something similar.

  1. Have your deer already properly field dressed before arriving at the processor’s shop.  That should be done immediately after taking the deer.  That’s why it’s called field dressing, not driveway dressing.  Eviscerating it quickly helps accelerate temperature decline.
  2. If transporting a skinned carcass (or skin-on carcass for that matter) in the bed of a pickup truck or on a trailer, make sure the surface is clean and that there isn’t any debris that could blow into or onto the carcass (i.e. mulch, leaves, hay…).  Put a clean tarp down first, then load up the carcass.
  3. There is little point in aging venison for very long and doing so probably poses more of a food safety risk and quality detriment than any gourmet gain.  Deer carcasses are usually too lean to age well and consequently the carcass dries out. Also, there is usually no temperature control and the carcass either freezes (frozen meat does not “age”) or is too warm (meat just decomposes, rots).  Also, any assortment of pathogens could be growing.  Let the deer reach rigor mortis, maybe hang a little while, then fabricate the carcass.
  4. Wrapping skinned deer carcasses in fuzzy fleece blankets will result in fuzzy little chops and burgers.  There are better materials in which a carcass can be wrapped (if it needs to be wrapped).
  5. Often, unused garbage bags can be used to wrap a carcass if needed — this is much better than a fuzzy fleece blanket.  However, make sure it is not a scented or cover-up-the-odor garbage bag.  It is unlikely that you want to pre-marinate the venison with a floral scent.
  6. Don’t cut the legs off with a hacksaw. The processor needs them to hang the carcass (from the Achilles tendon).
  7. Expect a low meat yield for gut shot deer, or deer that you take to the processor already skinned.  You may think it’s “clean,” but it’s not.  Any speck of hair, dirt, leaves, etc. should be trimmed away.
  8. Yes, it is a good idea to spray a skinned carcass (as in, with a spray bottle) of 1:1 water and vinegar, then let it dry in open air before cutting.  It is not a good idea to soak the carcass in straight vinegar to the point of it reeking of acetic acid.
  9. Be sure the processor is at the shop (and please be mindful of operating hours) when dropping off the deer.  3:00 a.m. phone calls (right, no one was spotlighting…) and anonymous drops on the receiving dock are not respectful and are inappropriate.  Know how your processor operates his or her business by contacting them ahead of time.
  10. Wash out whatever dirt, leaves, gut fill or other nasties that might be in the body cavity, but not with pond or stream water.  Use potable water, which you can probably get out of your garden hose.

[Amended 29 November 2010, 5:37 p.m. per afternoon conversations] 11.  Transporting the deer carcass as attached to the hood or front bumper of your vehicle will warm the carcass greatly, which is detrimental to carcass quality and meat safety.  Instead, ensure that the carcass is not in close proximity a heat source (i.e., bed of a pickup), and out of direct sunlight.  This can also warm the carcass, so be sure to cover up the carcass somehow.

Any stories, tips and tricks to share?  Please post them below.

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