Tip of the Month: Should You Age Your Deer?

aging deerI am very opposed to aging deer. This is not just my opinion, there is science behind it.

Beef is the meat that we were all raised eating, that is commonly aged. And only the young beef raised for steaks are aged (steers and heifers) not the beef that is made into hamburger and sausages. Hamburger animals are usually older animals, most often cows that are past their peak milk producing years. Beef has an enzyme within the marbling of the meat that breaks down in time “aging”, especially when aged for a long time at specific temperatures and humidity. And aging does significantly improve the tenderness of that meat. However, venison does not have those same enzymes in the marbling. In fact, even if venison had that same enzyme, venison has little or no marbling within the meat. There are very few animals that are aged. Pork and poultry are always cut and packaged ASAP. Even when you buy commercially raised deer and elk (which are raised on farms and butchered and inspected in the same way as beef), they are not aged. If aging was beneficial, those animals would certainly be aged because that market sells to restaurants and high-end grocery stores.

The reason I say never age venison “on purpose” is because if venison is properly cooled, it does “tolerate” a fair amount of temperature variation. Venison is a low moisture meat and has a very low moisture fat which tolerates “hanging around” better than most meats. This is very beneficial to us hunters who hunt out west or other far away places where refrigeration is delayed. The key to any meat tasting fresh and not having off flavors is to field dress and cool the animal AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. The usual conditions (in the woods or other less than sanitary settings) which we kill our venison also adds LOTS of bacteria to the meat. That bacteria is a big culprit for “off” flavors in venison. When venison or any meat sits or “ages”, that bacteria grows like crazy.

In summary, In a perfect world, I would shoot my deer, gut it and hang it in a cool place as soon as possible (if it’s warm out, throw a bag of ice in the chest cavity and drape a bag over the hind).Then I would wait about 24-36 hours to cut my deer. The 24-36 hour wait isn’t to age the deer for a day or two, it is to get the initial body heat out of the animal and have rigor mortis set in. Only on specific cases are animals ever cut up “hot” before the body heat leaves. And to explain that whole theory would be a very long explanation. But it pertains to sausages and the binding of meat proteins in sausages.

Tip of the Month: All About Cures and Brines

Photo credit: huffingtonpost.com

Photo credit: huffingtonpost.com

Most Americans, especially hunters, love cured and smoked meats, with ham, summer sausage and jerky being some of our favorites. In fact, in my opinion, the only food that rivals a good smoked meat is chocolate!

 
This article will target the cures used for curing and smoking whole muscle meats such as smoked venison hinds, fish, chickens, goose breasts, turkey breasts etc. We will cover cured and smoked sausages (which are ground products, not whole muscle) in a future Tip of the Month.
 
To cure these whole muscle meats, we need to make a brine.
 
A brine is a solution to soak meat products in or inject into meats to cure them. A typical brine will contain salts, sugars, flavorings, and nitrite.
 
Traditionally, anything that is smoked is also cured. And cured products almost always contain nitrites. The only cured products on the market which claim to have ‘no nitrites added’ contain seasonings or ingredients which have naturally occurring nitrites in them. Many vegetables, especially root vegetables and green leafy vegetables contain higher levels of nitrites than cured meats.
 
Many people claim to “cure” fish and other meats in a salt brine prior to smoking, and some of these taste quite good. However, salt is not a curing agent. Salt does preserve meat by deterring bacteria and by drying. But salt alone will not cure meat. Meats that are cured turn pink when cooked. Really, the only difference between a pork roast (which turns brown and tender when cooked) and a ham (which turns pink and firm when cooked) is that ham is cured. If you were to simply take a raw chicken and put it in your smoker until it was cooked, what you would have is a cooked chicken with smoke flavor.
 
There are two types of cures on the market: concentrated cures and complete cures.
 
Complete Cure Kit

Complete Cure Kit can be purchased for only $5.50 at heidwildgame.com

The concentrated cures usually have a name like “Fast Cure” or “Sure Cure”. They contain 6.25% sodium nitrite. The remaining 93.75% is salt. These concentrated cures are ALWAYS dyed pink. They are used at a rate of 4oz cure to 100 lbs of meat. This cure is more often used in sausages and is less likely to be used in a brine.

 
The complete cures which are more common in the non-commercial setting contain .85% nitrite and are always white or off-white in color. They’re called complete cures because they also contain salts, sugars, and flavorings. They are used at a rate of 1.5# – 2# of cure per 100 lbs meat. Complete cure is used in sausages as well, and is usually the cure that is used to make a brine for soaking fish, turkeys, venison rounds etc for smoking.
 
Thank you for your interest. Next month we will cover recipes on how to make a brine with your cure, soaking times, and injecting brine into meat.

Am I Really Starting a Blog?

If you would have asked me a month ago if I had a blog or would start a blog, I would have first asked you, “What is a blog?” and then laughed with an eye roll included. As I always say, I’d rather spend my time hunting or fishing!

Blog-quote-with-deer-headBut then I realized that a blog would be a great way to share answers to some of the frequently asked questions I receive via email from my customers and YouTube fans, upcoming events that I will speaking or presenting at, new “how-to” videos I’ve uploaded to my YouTube channel, and new products I will be selling on my website.

With that said, I invite you to follow me to learn more about wild game processing and my passion for the great outdoors. And always feel free to contact me with questions, comments or a great hunting or fishing story!