A little over a week ago, three deer committed suicide on our property line. You can read that story here Since then, I’ve learned what it means to process a deer.
Hang, gut and skin the deer – at least an hour.
Butcher the deer to break it down into more manageable chunks– about an hour
Age the deer – seven days, turning it once a day if you’re dry aging in large pans in a refrigerator. .) When we cut the deer up last weekend that was just the beginning. For seven days, I had the beastie dry aging in my egg fridge. Technically, I was supposed to turn it every day to draw the moisture out, but I confess, I missed a few days. The only cuts we didn’t age were the backstraps and the tenders. We either ate those right away or froze them.
While the meat is dry aging, you have plenty of time to acquire the things you’ll need to do the final processing, namely,
- Sausage casings, sausage recipes, meat grinders, sausage stuffers, freezer bags (considering all the work you are about to do, vacuum freezer bags are worth it.)
- You also need extra fat to add to the ground deer meat – pig fat if you can find it – and some pork or beef to lighten the ground mixture.
- Sharpen knives.
- Rubber or nitrile gloves are nice as they keep the deer meat out from under your finger nails, (but not strictly necessary.)
- If there’s any smoking in involved, wood chips and a smoking vessel of some sort.
- Finally, you’ll need some serious time and patience; it helps if you share this chore with friends (really good friends with whom you don’t mind sharing the meat
A week later, it was time to address the different cuts. We decided to make burgers and sausage. To grind up meat, first you have to take it off the bone and remove all tendons and sinew. With two unskilled but kitchen savvy women working, it took 6 woman hours to break down the deer into small enough pieces to go in the grinder.
The actual grinding process went pretty quickly, even with the additional beef, pork and pork fat that we added to the mix. After the grinding was all done, all the meat got mixed up along with seasonings. Sausage casings (found dehydrated and salted at Southern States) had to be rehydrated and rinsed. About two woman hours.
Making burger patties isn’t that complicated, but stuffing sausages . . . well , it took about three hours with three novices working. One person made the burger patties and did the washing up. One person stuffed meat into the sausage stuffer on the Kitchenaid and one person guided the formation of the actual sausages. (So add another 9 woman hours to the tally.)
Stuffing sausage into casings with a Kitchenaid isn’t particularly hard, but it is so tedious and slow, due to an engineering flaw in the plunger that you use to push the meat into the worm. The business end of the plunger doesn’t fit snugly into the tube and you get a lot of meat oozing up around it and backing out of the feed chute. A simple gasket might solve the problem, but it doesn’t come with one. If you plan to do a lot of sausage making, get a dedicated stuffer.
Because the job was so darn tedious, a good bit of the sausage just got weighed and stuffed into freezer bags in one pound lumps.
The recipe I found for venison sausage included smoking the links. So we spent another four hours convincing our gas grill it was, in fact, a smoker. The results weren’t spectacular, but it did eventually get the job of getting the smoky flavor into the meat. But instead of just smoked, the sausages are fully cooked.
Some of the meat got saved off for jerky, which spent an hour in a marinade, an hour in the oven and several hours in the dehydrator. Another hour of labor
Then, finally, there was the labeling packaging. Add another hour.
The end tally goes like this: 25 hours worth of work to process one deer, from which you get about 15 pounds of meat. Very expensive meat when you put it in terms of time and purchased inputs. But it is very good meat and I know exactly what is in all of it. And while that 25 hours was shared between many people, those deer took me away from my regularly scheduled life for nearly three full days. (It was good time spent with my favorite people, but farm chores didn’t get done as they should have.)
This whole affair has given me a new appreciation of just how hard life would be if we had to rely on game for our protein and why processing large animals into food for humans is traditionally done during the winter as a social affair where there are lots of people with lots of hands to help out. I can’t imagine how much more difficult this unexpected gift would have been to deal with if we hadn’t had a farm tractor to transport and hang the carcasses, or a kitchen tractor (the Kitchenaid Stand Mixer) to grind it up. Refrigerators and freezers along with vacuum sealed plastic bags. Add to that the easy access to sausage casings and pig fat, pork roasts and beef roasts without having to do the processing on the pig and cow. . . Thank you, modern life!