New spin on deer processing

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 25, 2007

I really can&8217;t remember not eating venison on a regular basis. My father is many things including stoic, cantankerous and a fixer of all things broken. He also loves the outdoors.

During my formative years, there was always plenty of venison in the freezer and ultimately on the dinner table.

If I had to define my 75-year-old father in one way, the term &8220;self-sufficient&8221; would probably fit the best. And that includes processing the many deer harvested during his hunting career, which continues today.

His ability to take something broken apart, fix it and put it back together has allowed him to assemble the tools necessary for a home venison-processing operation for family and friends in the confines of his shop.

Whenever possible, I take any deer I&8217;ve harvested to his shop and do the processing there. Unfortunately, my folks live about 170 miles away, so that&8217;s not always feasible.

Some of that &8220;self-sufficient&8221; genetic material definitely got passed along, so I&8217;ve started to assemble the tools necessary to do some venison processing at home.

If the main items consumed are ground venison, cubed steaks and backstraps, it will be a breeze to outfit your home processing area. Some of the items can be found at home stores and larger sporting goods stores, while Bass Pro Shops and Cabela&8217;s have a variety of home-processing products available.

The most basic necessities for home processing are a clean place to work and sharp boning knives. Next is a meat grinder, which is readily available in either hand-crank versions or with electric motors. The grinder will come with a couple of cutting disks for coarse or medium grinds. I prefer medium for most uses, while the coarse works well for jerky.

Although you can buy meat cuber/tenderizer attachments for the grinder, I think the hand-crank cubers work very well for the average hunter. Drop the venison steak, up to an inch thick, into the slot, rotate the crank and out drops the cubed steak. I do recommend making two passes through the cuber, to cut through the meat from two directions.

The grinder and cuber will meet the needs for most home processors, although you can add a dehydrator to make jerky. Just be careful with the drying process because it&8217;s a fine line between too dry and not dry enough, which allows spoilage.

Speaking of spoilage, the best way to ensure top-quality venison is prompt action in the field, whether the deer ends up at home or at the professional processor.

The failure to properly care for the meat after the deer is taken is the main problem seen by Rick Comstock of Farm Fresh Meats in Robertsdale.

Then it&8217;s time for the ice chest, but it&8217;s not as simple as just throwing the deer quarters into the ice chest with a little ice. It takes a lot more effort to do it right, according to Comstock.

David Rainer is with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.