When it comes to preparing great-tasting venison, the possibilities are endless -- and they're totally up to you.
If filling the freezer was our only reason for hunting, we'd probably be far better off to just join the masses at the local grocery store. Chances are we'd save a lot of time, effort, and money. The masses prefer that others do their killing for them. And that's okay. It's their choice. But it's different for us.
We prefer to accept that responsibility ourselves. For the vast majority of us, however, the primary reasons we choose to hunt down our own venison include the preparation for the hunt, the challenge, the thrill, the camaraderie of camp, and all those experiences that encompass this thing we call bowhunting.
The venison? It's a huge bonus for our efforts, and for some hunters it is far more important than antlers and skins. That meat is something that should be valued by all hunters. It is expected by the nonhunters among us. They want to understand hunting, and knowing we value the animals we kill for food helps them comprehend what it is we do.
Making the most of your venison can be taken to whatever level you desire. Some prefer the simple approach -- taking their deer to a processor and enjoying their venison in a natural state. Others do their own processing and savor the complex recipes. For some, the annual sausage-making fests are as much fun as the hunt itself!
To broaden your venison cookery skills, here are some products that can help make your deer, elk, moose, or antelope an even more cherished part of the hunt.
Of course, it all starts with proper field care of your animal. It's crucial to get the meat cooled as quickly as possible and to keep it cool and free of dirt and bugs.
Taking your animal to a commercial processor is the easiest way to get your meat out of sight and mind after a long hunt. However, having someone else process your animal has become very expensive. Self-processing can be lots of fun, and you always know whose meat you're working with and how it's being handled. That's important to many hunters.
To start, you'll need the most basic of tools -- knives and saws. Outdoor Edge's Butcher-Lite kit includes several skinning, caping and boning knives, a saw, rib cage spreader, and a tungsten-carbide sharpener. This kit weighs only 2.4 lbs. and will get you started in the field and even take you right through your processing. Outdoor Edge also has a full-blown Game Processor Kit that includes a cutting board, shears, and hard case.
If you can't find what you're looking for as far as saws, grinders, sausage stuffers, and other tools in the Cabela's catalog, something is wrong. They have a wide selection of products that can help you make whole cuts of venison, burger, sausage, and jerky.
Cabela's has even bundled together several items and called it their Pro Meat Processing Bundle. It includes a Commercial-Grade Vertical Stuffer, the Cabela's Pro 150 Slicer, Cabela's Pro Grinder, and an Advanced Game Processing DVD set from Outdoor Edge that will take you from start to finish.
Another company that's just as well-equipped is LEM Products, available at Bass Pro Shops and other outlets. In both cases you can find saws and grinders with the right amount of horsepower and smokers with the necessary capacity to handle your next venison project.
Similar products such as dehydrators and jerky kits are available from American Harvest, and Bradley Smoker makes some excellent smokers for your sausage.
Team up with your hunting buddies and start collecting all the tools you'll need and then pool your time and resources to process your animals. Start small and work your way into a new piece of equipment each year if necessary. The good part is you can experiment with the process and custom-design your own recipes and spice things to the tastes of your family.
Besides being the healthiest red meat available, venison is simply delicious!
That is, if it's prepared correctly. Since venison is very lean and the fat is layered under the skin rather than marbled into the meat like beef, it tends to dry out very easily when cooked. The trick is to cook your venison so it's pink in the center. Certainly, you have to consider safety and health first, but if you're like me, pink in the middle is best for the ultimate in moistness and flavor. If overcooked, venison gets dry and tough and will never win over your family and friends.
A good rule of thumb is to cook your venison for either five minutes or five hours.If you choose the quick method, start off by marinating your cuts overnight. There's an infinite number of marinade recipes out there, including some great ones specifically for wild game. One good source for ready-made marinades is Hi Mountain Seasonings. They have marinades with names like Sweet Honey and Zesty Western Wind River. Another great option is the Wild Game, Spicy, and Bar-B-Que marinades from Hunter's Choice Marinades.
The trick with marinades is to trim away all fat and cut your meat thin, from ¼" to ½" thick, and pat it dry. You can also tenderize it with a meat mallet if you wish. Next, place your venison in a sealed container, making sure the meat is covered in marinade, and let it sit per instructions. The folks at Hunter's Choice Marinades recommend that you place your venison cuts in a Ziploc bag with their marinade sauce, squeeze out the excess air, and freeze it. When you're hungry for venison, just thaw and grill.
When it comes time to grill your venison, make sure the rest of your meal is almost ready to serve. Put your venison on a very hot grill and cook it quickly -- searing the outer layer -- and then remove it from the heat in time to maintain a pink center, or to your own taste, and serve.
If you opt to cook your venison "low, long, and in liquid," the key will be the ingredients you put into the crock pot. Eastman Outdoors has a camouflage Slow Cooker that works great, and it comes with a variety of seasoning packets formulated just for wild game -- stew, chili, Italian, and barbecue. Hunter's Choice also has a blend of spices in their Slow Cook Supreme Venison recipe that is excellent.
You can also go the simple route and just throw some mushroom soup in the Slow Cooker with your venison and enjoy a great supper when you get home from work.
Undoubtedly, there will be portions of your venison left over that will either be ground up for hamburger or made into jerky or sausage. Commercial processors get big money for jerky and sausage, so this is where you can really save money by doing it yourself.
Jerky is always a favorite, even with the youngsters, and it's a great snack all winter long.
It's fairly simple to make with thinly sliced venison, or you can make it out of ground meat using a jerky "cannon." LEM Products offers a number of jerky guns, cannons, and seasonings. Dehydrators are easy to use, and you can set your own spice level from mild to smoking-hot. Hi Mountain Seasonings has some great jerky cures and seasoning mixes with exotic names like Mesquite, Hickory, Cracked Pepper N Garlic and Cajun. Eastman Outdoors' jerky seasonings include Teriyaki, Whiskey Pepper, and others.
Sausage-making is a bit more of a process. Breakfast sausage is easier than link or ring sausage. For that you'll need a grinder, stuffer, casings, ground venison and pork or beef fat, and all the seasonings. LEM is a good source for everything you'll need to make your own sausage. Once you get it ground-up, mixed, seasoned, and stuffed, you'll need to put it in a smoker. The result of that effort is some outstanding sausage that most of your family and friends will really enjoy. For some families, sausage is the only way to get them to eat venison. Both Hi Mountain Seasonings and Eastman Outdoors have some great sausage mixes.
The recipes and cooking methods that have been developed to maximize the flavor and tenderness of your venison are mind-boggling. You don't have to throw a plain round steak in a frying pan and force yourself to like it, or watch your family wrinkle their noses at the thought of eating deer meat.
Get serious about your venison cookery. If you put just a fraction of the effort you expended in acquiring the animal into the preparation of your venison, you'll save money, enjoy more flavorful meals, and have fun doing it.
Manufacturer's Contact List
- American Harvest, 1-800-288-4545, www.nesco.com
- Bass Pro Shops, 1-800-227-7776, www.basspro.com
- Bradley Smoker, 1-800-665-4188, www.bradleysmoker.com
- Cabela's, 1-800-237-4444, www.cabelas.com
- Eastman Outdoors, (810) 733-6360, www.eastmanoutdoors.com
- Hi Mountain Seasonings, 1-800-829-2285, www.himtnjerky.com
- Hunter's Choice Marinades, (701) 232-1846, www.hunterschoicemarinades.com
- LEM Products, 1-877-536-7763, www.lemproducts.com
- Outdoor Edge, 1-800-447-3343, www.outdooredge.com