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Tyler Frantz | Sunday Republican Herald | Dec. 1, 2019
The benefits of hunting are numerous. Socially, it offers camaraderie with friends and family. Biologically, it helps maintain a well-balanced ecosystem. Intrinsically, it provides a personal challenge while enjoying a deeper appreciation for nature.
For many, however, a freezer full of savory venison is hunting’s greatest perk of all, and successful tag-fillers can enjoy numerous terrific meal options as a result of their time invested afield. For avid outdoorsmen, wild game entrees often make up a large portion of their family’s meals throughout the year, and the entrees are as healthy as they are delicious.
Skinning and deboning one’s own deer saves a great deal of time and money. Some choose to fully process their harvest themselves, while others feel more comfortable letting a professional take care of everything.
Regardless, hunters with the capability of butchering their own deer can certainly save a bit of scratch with a little know-how.
First off, the most tender cuts on a whitetail are the loins, also known as back straps, which run parallel in two long bands along both sides of the spine, as well as the inner loin, or “fish”, which can be removed from inside a deer’s abdominal cavity near the pelvis. Many hunters reserve these steaks or chops, but they are also excellent stuffed with shrimp or scallops and marinated with white wine and butter, braised to perfection.
By butter-flying the loins into little filet medallions, they can be easily grilled or fried as minute steaks for a quick dinner option. By doing this head of time, reasonable portions can be allocated without need for thawing, cutting and refreezing unused cuts. If desired, a marinade can be added before freezing.
The next best cuts come from the two hindquarters, and they offer a variety of culinary options. They can be sliced into round and sirloin steaks or divided into muscle groups for individual roasts, with tender rump roast being hard to beat as a slow cooker favorite.
Jerky is typically made from hindquarters, since it can be easily sliced into lean muscle strips and marinated for the dehydrator or smoker. A number of local deer processors also offer chipped steak for cheese steak sandwiches or dry deer for cream chipped deer over toast or fried potatoes, both of which are excellent choices.
Remember that smoking and dehydrating removes moisture, thus shrinking the meat, and because of this, processors often ask for a minimum amount of meat to make it worthwhile. Do not be surprised to find less meat at pickup than was originally dropped off as the meat shrinks, which is completely normal.
The tougher neck meat is most often seasoned and used as a roast. Try adding some dry onion soup mix and cream of mushroom soup, one of Campbell’s Slow Cooker Sauces or Hawaiian Luau sauce before, which is terrific.
Some people barbecue the ribs with a wet or dry rub and throw them on the grill, while others cut out the meat and add it to the “trimmings” pile for grinding. The front shoulders and shank (leg) meat also go into trimmings, which get ground into burger.
This is an easy do-it-yourself job with the right equipment. Just remember that grinding goes much smoother when the meat is firmed up and semi-frozen.
Ground venison burger can be used for chili, tacos, spaghetti sauce, meatloaf, barbecue, stuffed peppers, soups, and so much more. Vacuum pack the burger into 1-pound packages for easy thawing by squeezing the sealed packages into flat rectangles so they are more convenient to stack when frozen.
Another huge favorite for using trimmings is making as assortment of sausages, bologna and snack sticks. Pork and other seasonings are generally added to these products, and they are available fresh or smoked.
Some folks even add cheese for an extra flavor boost. These items are a cinch to cut up and put out when having guests, and they’re always a popular delicacy.
As with any frozen product, it is important to carefully package the meat so it will not spoil from freezer burn. Always try to remove as much air as possible to avoid frost spots.
A vacuum sealer is a wonderful investment, but a tight layer of shrink-wrap followed by a second layer of freezer paper can do the trick almost as well for less money. If packaged properly, the prime venison from a deer or two can serve as main dishes for family meals all year long, providing a variety of choices to meet everyone’s taste and is an incredible source of organic protein.
If fortunate to harvest more venison than your family can consume in one year, please consider donating some meat to those less fortunate through the Hunters Sharing the Harvest program with contact information available at www.sharedeer.org.
(Frantz is president of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association)