Processing Deer Meat


Processing Deer


From the Field to the Kitchen

© copyright 2004, by Gary Benton

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The young boy raised the long rifle and I watched his arms tremble from the weight, as well as excitement, as he slowly squeezed the trigger. For some reason when the report of his shot echoed through the woods I was surprised at how loud it was.


Well, after about fifteen minutes I suspected that buck was as dead as he would ever get. Brandon and I slowly made our way out of the tree stand we were in and approached the deer. I had told him earlier, “If we knock a deer down, we will both walk up to him from the rear. That way if the animal hears us, he will move or try to stand up. Keep your gun ready when we approach a downed animal and be ready to shoot. Even a wounded deer can hurt a hunter at times. ”


I spent some time and showed the young man how to field dress an large animal and stressed the importance of him always checking the inner organs for spots or lesions of any kind. I explained that the organs should be a nice uniform color, without any discoloration at all. I picked up the liver and explained this to him as I ran my right index finger around the organ to indicate the even dark red color of the tissue. For a boy not yet sixteen he paid close attention to the entire field dressing process.


Soon the buck was skinned, placed in a fresh game bag, and we were pulling up in the driveway at Brandon 's house. His mom was grossed out, as she is every deer season, but his father was as proud as any man could be. While Larry had wanted to go along on the hunt, he had fractured his left leg only the day before and was stuck at home.


Now, my brother Larry loves to deer hunt. He hunts every year and he does it all, bow, black powder, and rifle. I have to admit, overall he is a much better hunter than me and he always has been. He seems to have more patience than I do and I suspect his hunting senses are better tuned than mine as well. With the deer in the back yard, Larry just took over and walked Brandon through the butchering process.


“The first step is to make a long cut completely down both sides of the deer's spine, and use just the tip of the knife blade. This cut is the loin, or backstrap, and it is the best part of the deer. Brandon, keep your knife sharp or else go and get a couple more knives. A sharp knife is necessary when butchering any large game (I noticed the knifes and other tools, like a hacksaw, had already been cleaned with soap and water by my sister-in-law). Now, you know how to fillet, so run your knife up from the area near the ribs toward the deer's spine. As you cut, make the cuts smooth and keep the blade even. Do this cut on both sides of the spine and remove both pieces of backstrap.


Next, raise the front leg and make a nice even cut where it joins the chest. Remember, this leg bone lies flat against the chest and is not in a socket. It is held in place by muscle and tendons. As you cut, lift the leg until you have removed it. Ok, that was easy, now do the other side the same way.


The rear legs are held in place by the hipbone and you have to have a feel for where the joint is. If you place your hand near the hip and raise the leg, you should feel the movement in the hipbone. Make a cut down to the joint and make it smoothly. Remember to cut and not carve or saw the meat, and that's one good reason to always keep your knife sharp. You may have to lift the leg as you do this step, but it's not a big deal if you do.


Now, my grandpa used to cut his deer in half when he butchered. That was before Chronic Waste Disease (CWD) and we won't chance that now. But, if you wanted to, and you knew the deer was disease free, cutting it right down the spine makes handling much easier for you. Also that way you can work on one half of the animal at a time. Oh, and I see you looking at the glaze forming on the meat. The glaze is ok and it actually helps protect the meat from hair, dirt or other debris. It will turn a light gray color by the time we are finished. Now, I want you to trim the flank, or the meat around and over the ribs from the deer now. Place it all in that large pot, so we can wrap it for use later in soups or stews. Ok, move down to the neck and remove as much meat as you can, placing it in the same pot as the flank.”


“Do you want to keep the ribs, Brandon ?” I asked a few minutes later as he worked on the neck meat, not knowing the answer since it was his first deer.


“No, there doesn't seem to be much meat left on them and not much between those wide bones either.”


“Good and wise decision, Brandon . Deer ribs are not like beef or pork ribs, in my opinion, just not enough meat on the ribs of most deer for me. Plus, I hate wrapping them because they are curled and harder to wrap. But, if you had wanted to keep the ribs we would have removed the bullet damaged areas (bruised meat, blood clots, or broken bone) and then cut them as square as we could for ease of wrapping. ”


“Do you see how the tissue of the meat grows in almost a line up the legs? The direction of that growth is called the grain of the meat. Ok, if you cut with the lines (or grain) on the tissue the meat will be harder to chew, thus it will be tougher to eat. So, we want to make our cuts across that grain or in the case of the rear leg you have there, we will not cut lengthwise, but across the leg. Take your knife and cut a complete circle at the part of the leg where it has tampered down a lot, the remainder of the leg below your cut is called a shank. We can use that as a roast or we can use it to make stews or soups with. It is tougher eating, but still good meat.


I suggest you make a long cut now, from the bone at the top of the meaty portion of the leg down to the circle you cut around the shank. Do that on both sides. Keep your cuts as straight and even as you can. Ok, you're done? Next, lets start cutting the meat into steaks. Make them about an inch or so thick and as you cut down, go all the way to the bone. Do that until both of the two rear legs are prepared. You may have to use your knife to cut the steaks from the thighbone, but if you wanted to, you could simply cut the bone with a hacksaw and make a nice looking steak as well. But today we are not keeping the bone in place, so just cut the steaks loose from the bone.


Now, the two front legs we will cut into three pieces (or two circular cuts) and make pot roasts with them. I have found making roast to be an easy way to prepare the front legs without a band saw, or some other way of cutting steaks from them. Now, pick up the hacksaw and cut through the bone in both spots where you cut. Brandon , take that piece of cloth and wipe the bone dust and chips from the roasts. Keep the meat as clean and free of debris as you can at all times.


Ok, that went well. Now, pick up the loin and lets cut it into pieces that weigh about a pound to two pounds each. Keep in mind, this is the best part of the animal and it is the favorite cut of most venison eaters. Once again, remember, all of our cuts are against the grain, or width wise if you will. Put those in a different container over there, because when we wrap them they will be labeled differently (as loin) than the steaks or roasts. We don't want the meat cuts to get mixed up.


Our final step in cutting, Brandon , is to remove the fat from the flank and trimmings we collected from the neck and rib area. Since we are going to use this meat in soups and stews and it will be cooked until tender, we will not worry so much about whether or not the cut is with or against the grain. Cube the meat into small squares less than an inch thick.


Ok, you did a fine job, son. Now, we have to wrap all of this meat up into packages we can store in the freezer. I always double wrap my meat and I have found it will last at least six months in the freezer and still taste as fresh as day one! So, pull out a large piece of butcher paper, place it shinny side up, and lay the meat on there. Now, pull the sides in and over lap them, then the top and bottom, and use tape to hold them in place. Wrap it once more with another sheet of paper making sure the tape from your first wrapping is down on the solid part of second sheet. This double wrap will also assist in keeping freezer burn to a minimal level.


Now, take that permanent marker and mark what cut of meat it is, type of meat and today's date (Loin, Venison, November 28, 2004). That way we know when we look at the paper we will know what type of meat it is, the cut of meat as well as the date frozen.


The remainder of the day was spent watching Brandon wrap the meat. That night over dinner, I said, “ Brandon , what you did today would have cost you over a hundred dollars if a butcher had to do it. And, you know, I don't see why more hunters don't butcher. It's not all that hard is it son?”


He looked at me and gave me a big crooked smile as he said, “It was my deer from the field to kitchen, plus I did it all! Aren't you proud of me!


“Yep, Brandon , I am proud of you.” And, I honestly was.




Processing Deer Meat

Gary Benton has over 45 years of outdoor experience in camping, hiking, fishing, and other activities. He's no armchair survival man, he's walked the walk from the arctic to the desert and all the area in between. Gary has an associates degree in Search and Rescue, Survival Operations, a B.S. in Industrial Occupational safety, and all but his thesis completed for a M.S. in Counseling Psychology.
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