By Laurie Messing
Bow hunting season is going strong and gun season is right around the corner. Michigan State University Extension encourages you to remember not only the importance of hunting safety, but also the safety of venison meat. Venison is a great tasting, tender meat but it is often made less tasty or even gamey by the following practices:
- Hanging the carcass when the meat will reach temperatures above 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Contaminating the meat with the contents of bowels, bladder or stomach, dirt or dirty water.
- Not cleaning or trimming and disposing of contaminated meat.
- Leaving fat and connective tissue on the meat.
- Making shoulder and neck steaks from large, old deer.
Food safety is important to keep in mind when field dressing wild game. Recommendations for a "tool kit" to assist in field dressing your game include gloves for your hands, a sharp knife, paper towels, plastic bags, hand sanitizer or hand wipes (MSU Extension highly recommends handwashing as soon as possible with hot water and soap) and equipment necessary for getting your game home, or to a vehicle without contaminating the meat.
Home preserving venison
Freezing is the easiest way to preserve venison. To prepare venison for freezing, trim away connective tissue and fat, the source of strong "gamey" flavor. Protect the meat by wrapping it in moisture, vapor-resistant packaging materials. Package in quantities that your family will eat in one meal sitting. Label each package with the date and cut of meat. Freeze quickly at 0 degree or below. For best eating results, use frozen ground venison within three months. Frozen venison steaks or roasts should be used within eight to 12 months.
Canning venison is also a popular method to preserve meat. When canning venison, you must use a pressure canner to process since venison and other meats are low-acid foods. Low-acid foods must be processed in a pressure canner to assure their safety. The National Center for Home Food Preservation recommends canning venison according to directions for canning beef, veal, pork, lamb and mutton.
- Choose high-quality, chilled meat strips, cubes or chunks.
- Remove excess fat.
- Strong flavored wild meats should be soaked for one hour in a brine made of one tablespoon of salt, per every quart of water.
- Rinse meat.
- Cut into one-inch wide strips, cubes or chunks.
- Hot-pack – Precook meat to the rare stage by roasting, stewing or browning in a small amount of fat. Pack hot meat loosely into hot jars, leaving one-inch of headspace. Add a half teaspoon of salt to pints; one teaspoon to quarts, if desired (salt is not critical to the processing and can be omitted). Fill the jar, leaving one-inch of headspace, with boiling broth, water or tomato juice. Remove air bubbles and wipe the jar rims. Adjust lids and process as directed below.
- Raw pack – Add a half teaspoon of salt to each pint jar; one teaspoon to quarts, if desired (salt is not critical to the processing and can be omitted). Pack raw meat loosely in hot jars, leaving one-inch of headspace. Do not add liquid. Remove air bubbles and wipe the jar rims. Adjust lids and process as directed below.
Process both hot and raw pack meat in a dial-gauge pressure canner at 11 pounds pressure or in a weighted gauge pressure canner at 10 pounds pressure (pounds of pressure required vary according to altitude). Pints should be processed for 75 minutes; quarts should be processed for 90 minutes.
Remember that timing does not begin until the canner has vented for 10 minutes and comes up to pressure. If your pressure goes below the correct number of pounds, timing must be started over. Correct processing must be followed precisely to ensure a safe product.
Using safe techniques to clean, store and preserve your venison will allow you to enjoy the meat all year long.