Waiting for your bow case to emerge from the luggage belt at the airport is similar to the anticipation of tagging your first deer of bow season. But once you actually put a deer on the ground, what do you do next? Do you butcher it yourself or pay a butcher to do it for you?
You like round hamburger patties? No problem. Just incorporate LEM's round patty maker into your burger-grinding operation.
In a previous issue of Bowhunter Magazine, Equipment Editor Curt Wells said, "Quartering and butchering is a labor of love." Wells is basically saying that killing an animal and then transforming the carcass from field to table gives hunters a sense of pride that cannot be bought, only earned through hard work and woodsmanship. When you consider everything that goes into a hunt, the time it takes to butcher a deer is relatively short, but it's a critical element of every hunt.
At my house, my bringing home a deer is always a family affair. Interest really flowered when I first asked my daughters, "Have you ever seen a naked (or skinned) deer?" For whatever reason, the girls enjoy watching and helping me skin and butcher deer, and they love to help me feed deer meat into the grinder and watch it come out as venison burger.
No surveys show what percentage of hunters actually butcher their own deer. Depending on the region of the country and other variables, professional processing of a deer generally costs $70 or more. And no matter how careful your butcher is in handling your deer, chances are your burger, summer sausage, snack sticks, jerky, hot dogs, and other products end up as a combination of many deer, which, understandably, could make you feel a little uneasy.
Some years ago at the Wisconsin Deer and Turkey Expo, I watched Larry E. Metz butcher a deer in front of a standing-room-only crowd. Only then did I realize how many hunters had no idea of how to skin and butcher a deer properly. The good news is that no matter your level of knowledge, butchering a deer is easy, and it's a good way to save money and to ensure that you get the exact products you want.
IN THE SPACE of this column, I cannot cover the entire butchering process, so I will focus on the simplest aspect -- making venison burger. If you can cut meat off a bone, you can make excellent hamburger. You need only a good meat grinder, a wise investment if you handle more than a deer or two each year.
To make burger, first cut all the meat off the bone. Fat can give the meat a strong flavor, so remove all the fat. Also remove as much connective tissue -- tendons, ligaments -- as possible. Above all, eliminate all dirt, hair, and other contaminates.
Now run the clean, pure venison through your grinder -- twice. Generally, butchers recommend first running the meat through a coarse grind plate and then through a finer grind plate. After the first grind, I recommend adding two or three bags of Lipton's Recipe Secrets -- Soup and Dip Mix, and any other seasonings of your liking. Additionally, because deer meat is so lean, I suggest mixing in some store-bought hamburger, or some beef or pork suet. This makes the venison burger juicier. However, some families prefer straight ground meat. Try it both ways to see which you prefer.
If you find it bothersome to convert piles of venison burger into neat, compact patties, relax. Butcher-supply company LEM makes this chore easy with various grinder attachments that form either round or square burger patties. With your favorite spices already mixed into the burger and the burger formed into patties, life is good.
With LEM's two-inch stuffing tubes, you can make convenient one and two-pound packages of venison burger for use in hundreds of recipes.
As another option, you can attach two-inch stuffing tubes to your grinder to form tubes of burger just as a professional butcher would do. Make these in one to two-pound sizes -- weights appropriate for your family -- and freeze them in tightly sealed freezer bags. My wife uses these handy little bags of venison for sloppy joes, spa-ghetti, tacos, meatloaf, lasagna, and sim-ilar dishes. As you can see, with little to no experience, you can turn a seeming chore into a labor of love that produces low-fat, nutritious meals for you and your family.
Even if you have not the slightest clue as to how to butcher a deer, you can turn your animals into professional quality venison burger.
If temperatures are cold enough, say below 40 degrees, I recommend that you hang your deer for a week to tenderize the meat. If the weather is too warm, cut the meat off the bone and place it in an ice chest with crushed ice. Periodically drain off the water and add more ice to age the meat for up to a week or more.
To ensure that cooking kills E. coli bacteria, which can cause food poisoning, cook venison burgers to an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees for 15 seconds or more.
For a full range of products for butchering and cooking deer and other wild game, contact LEM Products at 1-877-536-7763, lemproducts.com . LEM also has three instructional deer processing videos and DVDs. Eastman Outdoors also offers a full line of grinders, cookers, and seasonings ( eastmanoutdoors.com ).