If you are what you eat, then we should eat the best we can be.
I am very grateful that my husband likes to hunt. A few years ago, as we were getting more self-sufficient and leading more of a homesteader’s life, my husband had just shot his first deer of the season, and I marveled at the animal, as he was gutting and skinning it, and wondered why we always got, what seemed so little, back from the processor and still had to pay about $1.50 to $2.00 a pound. That year we decided to tackle a new challenge to learn how to butcher venison with the help of Youtube videos. Now that I have butchered quite a few deer each year, I can really appreciate the cost processors charge and see why so much is wasted.
This will not be a post on how to butcher venison, but on how to make the most of it, once you decide to do it yourself and to give you a brief glimpse of what it is like. I also want to share some details you might not find so easily otherwise. I encourage you to butcher an animal yourself, it is very satisfying and empowering. It is not hard, I always tell people it is just a reverse puzzle, and there are many good videos and tutorials online these days. It does take time, especially if you are not proficient, which is hard to become, since a lay person isn’t butchering on a daily basis, but more on a twice a year basis.
I want to explain on how to make the most of your animal using a venison hindquarter.
The day of the kill, my husband guts and skins the animal and cuts it into quarters, which we then put in our extra fridge to let the meat age. The innards get used right away and we have tanned a few of the hides. This hindquarter had been aged for 10 days, which helps tenderize the meat. Not all deer carry this much fat, but it helps keep the meat moist during aging.
The first step is to remove as much fat as possible, so you can see where the muscle groups lie.
I am also showing you my favorite tools: A fish filet knife, a mayonnaise knife, a butter knife and a small cutting board. The filet knife has a thin flexible blade, which helps with cutting along curves, the other two knifes help with separating layers, or meat from the bone without cutting anything.
Once you identify the muscle groups, you can start pulling them apart with your fingers and the help of your knifes. I am holding the sirloin tip in my right hand and the bottom round in my left.
In regular meat butchering, cuts are made and not muscle groups separated so much, which results in meat cuts that are not uniform. Take the T-bone Steak for example, it has a New York Strip on one side and a Tenderloin on the other side. I like using each muscle separately, because it will all cook the same, have the grain in the same direction and have the same tenderness all throughout.
These are the whole hindquarter muscle groups: Bottom Round, Eye of Round, Top Round, Top Sirloin, Shanks, Sirloin Tip and Tri-tip. Except for the shank, these are all fairly tender cuts as long as they are cooked correctly. The Eye of Round (long narrow piece) is excellent in stir fry. The Tri-tip (bottom right) is a great little steak, all the other cuts are great for stew, roasts or cutting into steaks.
And this is everything else:
The outside of the hindquarter can become dry in the aging process, but if you have a cat or a dog, they will love those jerky like pieces (top right) trimmed from the outside, which make excellent treats.
Venison tallow (that is what the fat is called) is very hard and dry and not pleasant to eat, it will coat the roof of your mouth like wax, but it is an excellent skin moisturizer. It makes excellent salves, lip balm and candles. When a deer does not have much fat, you can brush the quarters with melted venison tallow, to keep the meat moist, before aging it.
Any meat cuts that are small or too tough will get ground for hamburger. I usually don’t grind any fat with it at that point; unless I am making sausage, then I will add about 20% pork fat. The hamburger will be lean, I will add more olive oil, bacon grease, or butter as I am cooking it.
The bones will make a wonderful bone broth, which can later be used for any soups, stews, rice, etc. Bone broth is rich in protein, gelatin and also contains trace minerals.
As you are butchering away, there is always scraps to be cut off: sinew, large blood vessels, ligaments, skin, etc. (bottom right, photo above) I will grind it into pet food and freeze it in plastic bags.
Often you can pull the fascia off the muscles (white pile on the right), it feels like vellum or parchment paper, for a good reason, these papers use to be made from it. It also makes good pet treats.
Lastly you can pull out and save sinew, which you can use in craft projects, it is incredibly strong.
A whole deer will yield about 3 gallons of this beautiful bone broth, you can either can it or freeze it. On the right you can see a pot that is ready to be cooked. The aromatics I used are: Thyme, Bay Leaf, Garlic, Salt, Juniper Berries, Shiitake and Apple Cider Vinegar. The vinegar helps extract the minerals from the bones, but you don’t want to use so much that you can taste it. Venison is a woodsy kind of animal, so I like using woodsy aromas in my bone broth.
As far as the fat goes, it will render easier, if you grind it first. I like rendering in water, in a crockpot on low, for a few hours.
Once the fat has rendered you can strain it through cloth or a metal coffee filter, while it is still hot, and almost all impurities will be removed.
Once it has cooled, I usually scrape the last impurities from the bottom.
Vension Dog Treats drying in the sun
There is a lot more to write, but I will save that for another blog, or two. I hope to have inspired you to do some processing yourself.