Deer processing questions


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1) curious what level of processing you do (all, some, none)?

I currently do nothing other than cut out back straps. I don't even skin my own deer. Would love to learn more and plan to start small this year doing own ground.

2) for those that grind their own burger, can you share your process?

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We do it all and have a grinder. The meat cuts and grinds best if it's half frozen (not hard like a rock, but crystaly). Not really much to explain; debone it, slice and package steaks, grind and package the burger, season the sausage and package it. Etc..
We have found it good to cook summer sausage with a thermometer to the right temp and then ice bath it to stop the cooking process. It gets dry if it goes too long.

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I process all of my own animals. Skinning, cutting up, packaging, and making sausage or whatever else we want to make. When I cut them up I take out the backstraps and make steaks from them. Just about everything else get cubed up and 1" pieces and vacuum sealed. The front shoulder get ground for burger or the sausage. We prefer the cubes over steaks for eating. Whatever I have left over going into the next season I can.

Grinding it is pretty easy, I like to put the meat I am going to grind in the freezer to partially freeze first, makes grinding it much easier. I have a mid level grinder that works well. When it wears out I will probably buy a better one.

Starting small and working your way up is key to success. With the sausage making I started out with some kits and have been adding equipment and experimenting more each year. Tons of resources online, plenty of videos to watch too. The final straw with making all of my own sausage was not knowing if I was getting someone else deer that sat in the back of their truck for a week before they took it in to the processor, or getting someone elses blood shot or gut shot meat back. Cost of all the equipment seems like a lot when you are buying it but getting a deer processes is very expensive.

The main reason process everything is because it is fun to do. Playing around with the sausage is the most fun.
We don't let anyone touch our deer. We tried it a few times a long time ago and were disappointed each time. The only steaks we cut are the backstraps, and everything else is turned into burger, fajita strips, stew meat, ect. We used to struggle on what to do with the neck and shank and now they are our favorite cuts. We leave them whole and slow cook into a flavorful meal. If you want some great videos on cutting up game watch some Scott Rea videos on Youtube. He's a Brit that is very fun to watch. Good recipes too (but not exactly healthy).
I've always done everything, I have a 2hp grinder and good quality hand meat saw, and some really sharp knives. On a typical evening hunt when I get home after dark in about fifteen to twenty minutes I will hang the deer and skin it before I go in to eat. After eating, the same evening I will quarter it and put it in square tubs in the spare fridge in the garage. Several evenings later we'll have a party and cut it off the bones. I usually grind most of it because that's the way the cook prefers it, ground meat leaves a lot of options for different recipes. Cooling it fast after shooting is priority for me. If at a hunting camp in warm weather I'll quarter it and throw in a large ice chest with ice and water. Bacon burgers are unbeatable, thirty lbs venison and ten lbs bacon ends, grind together and grill.
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The only time at I add when grinding is for sausage and snack sticks. I will do 3 or 4 pounds of venison to 1 to 2 pounds of pork. Never tried the bacon burgers but that will be on the list this fall now.
I recently started my own butchering and it's very time consuming and can be hard work, especially if you don't have the right equipment.

The first time I tried it was on a humungus doe and it was way too much work to make it enjoyable.

Last year, I shot a fawn during the bow and then late gun season. Was able skin each the night of the harvest, and quickly skin and quarter (<1 hour) and put in my fridge to age a few days. Then when my back had recovered a few days later, I cut it up into steaks and roasts and vacuum packed everything. It was very rewarding and I plan to do the same thing again this year. As you get better at it and start to recognize different cuts of meat (outside of the backstraps), it gets more enjoyable. You can also tinker a bit. I left a nice strip of fat on one of my loins this year and it actually added a decent flavor.

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Skin, remove backstrap & loins, trim neck & ribcage meat, quarter rinse clean, , trim off sinew, silver skin & fat, bone out hind quarters following muscle groups for roasts & steaks, most tedious part is trimming off what you don't want in the finished product. Cut meat off the front shoulders & grind with the neck ribcage and trimmings into burger, steak out backstrap & loins. When cutting the backstrap trim the meaty side and the silver skin side down use a sharp fillet knife and slice down to but not through the silver skin, turn the knife sideways and cut to the end leaving the silver skin in one piece. I cut the backstrap in 1/2 to 3/4" steaks. Enjoy some fine Vitttles.
Do you guys add anything to the grind ?

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We never add anything. Clean meat with all tendon and silver removed will keep for years if properly wrapped. We won't use a vacuum sealer either, as it reduces the life significantly. Wrap in Saran wrap with air pressed out and double wrap in freezer paper.

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I debone and put the meat in an ice chest with ice on it and let it sit for 2 weeks. If your cooler has a screw in drain, leave it cracked to drain water and check the ice daily. If it doesn't, drain the water daily. Once ready to process, you can follow the silver skin lines and the meat should come apart on its own, just following the "lines". If I grind for burgers, I like to add a little beef fat so they aren't as dry. If I make sausage, I like to add a little pork fat or you can use a boston butt. I like to mix it 4:1, meat to fat. If I have 4lbs of deer meat, I add 1lb of fat to make 5lbs. If I have 20lbs of meat, I add 5lb of fat. If you get a grinder, don't go cheap on one that has a little mouth on it. You end up working harder than if you would have just spent another hundred or so and bought a better one. My grinder has a small mouth and it takes me a while to cut all the meat up into small enough strips to fit down in it. When I make sausage, I grind everything(meat and fat) into a plastic tote that gets used for nothing but processing. I then mix in my sausage seasoning, mix it by hand and then use the stuffing plate to put it into the packages. It sucks with a little mouth, but I get it done. My brother has one that you can cut a backstrap in half and it will fit right in. It doesn't have to have a mouth that big, but it sure beats having to cut a backstop into 5-6 strips so it will fit. Of course, that is the difference between $70 and $400. I vacuum seal everything except burger and sausage and it gets packaged into the familiar little bags you see sausage in. Just label it what it is for future reference.
I'm confused. Thought vacuum sealer extended life ?

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My wife will argue that every time. I think it's just good marketing. We usually see freezer burn on meat given to us in vacuum sealed bags within a year. But they are convenient.

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I skin and debone the deer that are shot at our house. Takes me less than an 1 hr from the time I back up to the garage door to having just a skeleton remaining. Saves me $65 as thats what they charge at the locker to do that step. Also gives me the freedom to take in the meat to have it processed when I have time. With deer we prefer sticks, polish dogs, sausage etcc.. so that next step is too time consuming for me at this point in life.
50-60$ at my butcher to process, package and freeze. Third generation family owned place, I've watched their infants lay in front room while kids helped during peak seasons. Just not worth my time at that price to self butcher and I support local business. In addition, what deer I don't keep goes to feed the hungry program, so I just drop those there also for the donation. Know me well enough I often drop a deer late at night at door for them to get at opening next morn. Shop is more sterile than an OR.
I have found the opposite with vacuum sealing. I experienced freezer burn with meat wrapped in plastic wrap then wrapped in freezer paper. Last night I had some backstrap steaks I found from the 2015 season and they were still as good as the day they went into the freezer. You have to make sure the area the vacuum bag seals is clean to get a good air tight seal. I dont see how saran wrap could be better than sealing something in a vacuum. You have sucked all of the air out which is what causes the freezer burn.
Given the option - mine is going to a locker. For $65 - it's just easier......I drop off a field dressed deer, tell them what cuts or additional processing I want and I pick it up a couple of weeks later in brown paper bags!

Now - that said.....last year I was forced into doing it myself. Local lockers where full. Issue #1 - was how do you keep that much meat cold to buy you some time to mess with it? You either need a decent capacity camping cooler or an extra fridge somewhere. You will also figure out it can be time consuming when you have limited experience and no help. Like was mentioned - skin the deer, remove the front shoulders, the rear rump and hips, the tenderloins down the spine and the meat in the neck. That is the major meat areas, I don't mess with the ribs. I do all of this with the deer hanging from it's head at a comfortable working height for me. I put each major chunk into freezer bags to store in a fridge or you can toss it all in a camping cooler with ice....just allow it to drain. This will also help draw out some of the blood as well. As for actual processing.....the tenderloins you cut to your desired thickness as steaks - I pack those in freezer and butcher paper (date and ID outside package). For burger you have to debone the meat and cut into cubes to fit the throat of the grinder. I also add 5 to 10% beef tallow based on weight. My wife gets the tallow at the grocery store meat counter. But if you know you will be doing your own you can save your beef and pork trimmings over the course of the year and use those as well. Everything you need can be found in an LEM catalog.... It's time consuming to do your own, but if you do enough of them you can easily justify the cost of the equipment within reason.

I will say that after doing one on my own.....I will gladly pay $65 to have one done. The actual out of pocket cost to do it on your own beyond the initial investment needed is minimal.....however the time needed to do it......I will take mine to the locker if given the choice!
Date all your stuff and store by year to ensure you are using the older stuff first. Lots of folks just dump their stuff into the freezer and as such the older stuff is on the bottom while the newer stuff is on top. Unless you go thru it quickly you run a significant risk of not reaching the bottom of the pile before new is added and thus tossing something out. I like to put them in boxes with the year listed on the top flap of the box. This also gives you an idea of just how many deer you consume in a years time..... I learned this the hard way myself.
I would highly recommend watching some video's on how to butcher and especially the location of the glands that are found in the front shoulders and hind quarters. You DO NOT want those in your cook pot!
I got started years ago with a good set of butchering knives and a VHS tape that my wife bought me. The first one took forever but it definitely gets easier.
Some good advice here. I would add to clearly label what cut is in each package. 6 months later, it seems a package of loin looks a lot like a roast.

In my opinion, this guy does a great job of breaking a deer into "butcher" type cuts. He works on much smaller deer, but I have done most of what he does to a whitetail by learning from his videos.