While most of us are scurrying about tending to holiday-induced deadlines, some are more concerned about having a successful deer hunting season, which ends on January 1st in Watauga. Last weekend, Extension livestock agent Eddy Labus and I offered a deer butchery and processing workshop. I was amazed at how much effort it takes to cut edible muscles off of a carcass.
Fortunately, either home butchering or using a local processor yields a good amount of edible protein, averaging 48% from a field dressed carcass. Not only does the meat have a rich flavor, nutritionally, deer meat is lower in fat and higher in iron than even the leanest cuts of beef.
The easiest way to preserve meat is to freeze it. Use a good packaging that prevents air contact, such as freezer wrap, aluminum foil, or butcher wrap. If you choose freezer bags, it’s important to make as air-tight as possible. Vacuum sealers work well. Keep a thermometer in your freezer to make sure it is below zero degrees.
Canning venison is much more time consuming than freezing, but has the advantage of keeping safe in case of a power outage. Meat must be canned in a pressure canner, which makes it really tender. For more information, visit the national center for home food preservation at http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_05/strips_cubes_chunks.html
Meat jerky is convenient to take along backpacking, hiking, climbing, or hunting. Here is an easy recipe that also works well for beef. Boiling the meat in marinade heats the meat to a temperature that kills any dangerous microorganisms.
Deer or beef jerky
Place the meat you plan to cut in the freezer until slightly frozen, to make it easier to cut into thin strips. With a very sharp knife, slice across the grain, 1/8 to ¼ inch thick, 1 to 1 ½ inches wide and 4 to 10 inches long. Marinate in the refrigerator at least one hour, but preferably overnight. This recipe will marinate 1 ½ to 2 pounds of meat:
¼ cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
¼ teaspoon each black pepper and garlic powder
½ teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon liquid smoke
When ready to begin drying, make more of the marinade to cook the meat in. This recipe makes 2 cups of marinade.
1 ½ cups soy sauce
6 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 ½ teaspoon each black pepper and garlic powder
3 teaspoons onion powder
6 teaspoons liquid smoke
Bring to a rolling boil. Add strips and reheat to full boil. Boil for one minute. Remove the pan from the heat and place strips on drying rack. Make sure there is plenty of air flow by not letting strips touch each other.
Using a dehydrator, set at 155 degrees. Check after 2 hours and if not dry, turn. May take up to 4 hours to dry. Properly dried jerky is chewy and leathery. To see if it’s dry enough, let cool, then bend the jerky. It should crack, but not break when bent. Store in the refrigerator for a longer life, up to six months. Will keep up to two months at room temperature.