From field dress to freezer; handling big game

September 17, 2010

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Many nutritious meals can come from deer, elk and other big game if hunters know how to protect the meat with both proper field dress and storage.

A 38-page illustrated publication from the Oregon State University Extension Service gives detailed information on what to do immediately after the kill and how to age, skin, bone and transport it. Directions continue on how to cut, wrap and freeze the meat while keeping it clean and cold.

The publication, "Big Game from Hunt to Home," (PNW 517) is free online. It reflects input from the three Pacific Northwest Land Grant universities: OSU, Washington State University and the University of Idaho, and was updated in 2010. The methods described are for deer, antelope, elk and bear.

Aging of meat – also called seasoning, ripening or conditioning – is the practice of keeping carcasses or cuts at temperatures of 30 to 37 degrees for one to 14 days. Most locker plant operators and meat scientists agree that aging time should be minimized and that game shot during warm weather and not chilled rapidly should not be aged at all.

Game meat has a distinctive flavor that can be strong in animals that were older and active. You can keep off-flavors away with proper care of game in the field, and by trimming fat away from mature, highly fattened carcasses. Herbs and seasonings can mask or enhance the wild game flavor, but begin by experimenting with small amounts.

When it comes time for cooking, choose a method that is appropriate for the tenderness of the cut. Cook less tender cuts in liquid (braising, stewing, pressure cooking). To tenderize the meat, pound or grind the meat first.

Meat of game animals is relatively low in fat, and this makes the meat drier than domestic meat.

"Although you can enhance the juiciness and flavor of drier cuts by adding fat during cooking, health wise, marinades or other liquids are probably better," said Carolyn Raab, nutrition specialist at OSU and one of the original authors. Marinades also tenderize and mask game-like flavors of more mature animals. Four marinade recipes and several ways to prepare big game also are in the OSU publication.

Detailed instructions and illustrations in the publication show how to wrap meat cuts for freezing, as well as canning and drying techniques.

Author: Judy Scott
Source: Carolyn Raab