Taking deer from field to table: Preparing venison
By Suzanne Driessen
University of Minnesota Extension
ST. PAUL -- Venison is a versatile meat, and there is a certain pride that comes when you bring it home fresh from the hunt. The thrill of the hunt can continue at the dinner table if the game is handled properly along the way to prevent foodborne illness and ensure good flavor.
As the 2011 deer-hunting season closes, review how you field-dressed and transported your game and note where you have room to improve for next season.
Did you dress the carcass as soon as possible? It's also important to clean your knife frequently between cuts to avoid contaminating the meat.
Did you remove any visible dirt, feces, hair and bloodshot areas?
Did you keep the carcass clean and quickly cool it to 35-40 degrees to prevent bacterial growth? One way to do this is to add ice sealed in plastic storage bags and pack them in the cavity.
Did you keep the carcass out of direct sunlight? Tying the carcass across the hood or roof of a car is not recommended. Properly cooled venison can spoil later by carrying it next to a hot motor.
How about storage? Storing the venison in the refrigerator is approved for immediate use. Freeze it if it will be used later than two to three days.
The wild flavor of venison is related to what the animal eats. Removing connective tissue, silver skin, bone, hair and excess fat during processing reduces the 'gamey' taste. Undesirable flavors are also due to inadequate bleeding, delay in field dressing or failure to cool the carcass promptly.
Moist heat methods such as braising (simmering in a small amount of liquid in a covered pot) work well for tougher cuts like rump, round and shoulder.
Chops and steaks may be pan fried or broiled.
Experiment with herbs like rosemary, marjoram, thyme and sage. Meat should always be marinated in the refrigerator.
Add other fats to keep game meat from becoming too dry. Rub a roast with oil, butter, margarine, bacon fat, sweet cream or sour cream to add moisture, richness and flavor.
Don't overcook or cook at temperatures above 375 degrees, or the meat will get tough.
Jerky made from beef or venison should be steamed, roasted or boiled to 160 degrees before drying. Directions available: www.extension.umn.edu/go/1086. Find directions for smoked sausage and summer sausage at www.extension.umn.edu/go/1087.
Some folks like venison medium-rare. Bacteria on whole cuts, like steaks or roasts, are usually just on the surfaces so these cuts can be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees. Cook ground venison to 160 degrees.
Suzanne Driessen is a food safety educator with University of Minnesota Extension.