In addition to providing you with great tenderloin steaks and chops, successfully harvesting a deer also means plenty of meat for grinding, which you can easily do at home with your own meat grinder. Ground venison is culinarily versatile and allows you to use your deer for tons of recipes, from sausage and hamburgers to ravioli and stuffed peppers.
Grinding your deer meat at home isn't difficult, but there are a number of things you should do beforehand. Similarly, there are several tips to keep in mind to make the process go smoothly and produce the tastiest minced venison.
Prepare The Deer Meat For Grinding
When you kill a deer, your first steps in processing it are field dressing, hanging and skinning, which are detailed processes all themselves. Now, it's time to butcher the venison and separate the various cuts.
Most people just grind the trimmings that are left over once you've butchered the main cuts, but if you want a lot of burger meat, you can grind the neck and flank cuts as well. You can even grind the quarters including the shoulders, rounds and shanks, but unless you're interested in making steak burgers, you probably want to save the loins, tenderloins, back straps and chops for grilling, so set them aside.
For most of the butchering process, you can use a filet knife. You will have to get all the trimmings off the bone, of course, so use a stiff but sharp boning knife for that part.
Additionally, remove as much silver skin, the white connective tissue that covers the muscle, from the trimmings as possible before grinding. On top of weakening the taste, silver skin makes ground venison less cohesive for burgers, meat balls, etc.
Keep Everything Cold
Warmth is bad for meat grinding for two main reasons: it helps bacteria grow and it makes it harder for the meat grinder to do its job. Warm meat is stickier and doesn't grind up as well.
To prevent both these problems, you should put the meat in the freezer before you grind it. You can spread the pieces of venison out on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and stick it in the freezer for 30 minutes until the meat is firm but not frozen.
It's not just the meat itself, though. It's worthwhile to stick the grinder attachments you plan on using as well as your butcher knives in the freezer for about 30 minutes too.
Click here for a guide to the best butcher knives.
What To Mix With Venison When Grinding
As wild animals that get plenty of exercise, deer are in a lot better shape than your average cow. Consequently, venison has a lot less fat than most beef. This might be better for your diet, but it makes for a less tasty, less juicy burger that's harder to grill.
Most people add some fat to their ground venison by feeding it into the grinder along with the chunks of meat. You're welcome to use any pure bits of venison fat you trimmed off during the butchering process, but considering that the rule of thumb is 15-20 percent added fat, you'll likely have to turn to outside sources. We recommend beef tallow, but you can also add fatty meat cuts like pork belly, pork shoulder or bacon. These add a lot of flavor as well.
To add fat like beef tallow, chop it up into cubes about the same size as the chunks of venison. Make sure to chill it in the freezer with the venison as well. Then send it all through the grinder together.
There are also a number of ingredients you can add to the venison once it's ground depending on the recipes you want to use it for. For example, if you're making burgers, you can add things like:
- Seasonings like salt and pepper
- Barbecue, soy or Worcestershire sauce
Tips To Prevent Meat Grinder Clogging When Processing Venison
Meat grinders are wonderful machines that let you get grind venison for burgers and chili right in your own home. They're not infallible, though. With improper use, you can end up clogging your grinder, which definitely ruins the experience. These tips will help you avoid that hassle.
Click here for a guide to the best meat grinders.
Cut Venison Into Small Pieces
Most meat grinders work best with firm cubes of meat no bigger than two inches in any dimension. This is true for both the venison muscle itself and the fat, so make sure you cut it up well.
Ultimately, the size of meat chunks your grinder can handle depends on the size of the grinder itself. If you have an especially small grinder, you may need to cut the meat even smaller than the standard golf-ball-sized chunk.
Trim Extra Fat, Sinew and Silver Skin
When you're butchering the deer, separate as many fat caps as you can. Additionally, when you're trimming the bones at the end to get the bulk of your grinding meat, you should remove as much sinew, silverskin and gristle as possible. All this material has little taste and can gum up the grinder. Plus, it keeps the meat from binding into a good burger afterwards.
When you're cutting the venison up into cubes to grind, make sure you flip the meat over to look for sinew, silver skin and other connective tissue, not to mention hair. If you find any, cut it out.
Some people mistakenly believe that their meat grinder can grind bone. This is because a lot of grinders actually advertise that they can for the purpose of making pet food. However, this is referring to "soft bones," those of birds like chickens and turkeys, which are considerably less dense than those of a deer. After all, birds can fly, and deer, except for eight notable exceptions, cannot.
Heavy bones like those in a deer are bad for just about any home meat grinder. At best, it will damage the blades. At worst, it will shut down your operation entirely.
Take care to remove all bones before grinding your venison. Use a sharp boning knife to thoroughly separate the muscle from each bone.
Make Sure The Venison, Blades and Plates Are Cold
When venison gets warm, it gets softer and stickier. As a result, the meat grinder can't easily grind it into small strands. Instead, it just kind of becomes a mush that can actually clog the grinder and prevent it from working.
Plus, bacteria grows more quickly on warm meat. This can ruin the taste or, if it gets really bad, spoil the meat so that it's dangerous to eat.
The best strategy is to keep everything cold. This means the venison itself as well as the grinder blades and plates. After you've cut up the venison and whatever fat you want to add into small pieces about the size of golf balls, place all the chunks onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Don't let the chunks touch. Stick the baking sheet in the freezer for about 30 minutes or until the meat is firm, starting to freeze on the inside but not completely frozen yet.
Along with the venison and fat, stick the grinder blades and plates in the freezer too. Try to set them in a clean place where they won't get any frost, water or gunk on them. Keep them in the freezer for half an hour just like the meat.
Keep Blades And Plates Sharp
Naturally, meat grinders work best if the sharp edges on the blades and plates are as sharp as possible. In fact, if these get too dull, they may not be able to cut through the venison, and your meat grinder will end up clogged.
You can use standard sharpening stones to sharpen these surfaces, but it can be a bit difficult. Things go much more smoothly if you use a specific meat grinder sharpening kit. These have stones cut into round plates that can actually fit inside the grinder itself.
For example, you change out the plate for the sharpening stone, and then you briefly run the grinder to sharpen the blade. Similarly, you replace the blade with a stone to sharpen the plate.
If you don't want to sharpen the blades and plates yourself, many meat grinder manufacturers or third-party dealers will sharpen them for a small fee.
Be Patient and Go Slowly
The most common way people clog their meat grinders is simply by trying to push too much meat through them too fast. Patience is essential to getting great ground venison without any grinder problems. Take your time and very slowly move the meat through the grinder. If it seems that the meat is starting to back up in the hopper, slow down.
How To Store Venison
When it comes to grinding venison, you have two options: grinding it all at once and then storing it, or storing it first and then grinding it right before cooking it. Generally speaking, the latter is the better choice. Freshly ground venison tastes the best because it's been less exposed to the air, which means less oxidation and bacterial growth.
If you go this route, you should ideally store the whole cuts and trimmings and then wait to cut them up until you grind them, though cutting them into golf-ball-sized chunks and then storing them is fine. You can store them wrapped and sealed in plastic in the fridge at about 40°F (4℃) for 2-3 days or in the freezer at 0°F (-18℃) for 6-9 months. Alternatively, you can vacuum seal the venison cuts and store them in the fridge for around two weeks or in the freezer for 2-3 years.
In this case, the venison will be frozen when it's time to grind it, so you'll have to let it thaw. This is a fine line to tread since you still want it cold and firm for the meat grinder. It usually works well to move the frozen meat from the freezer to the fridge the night before grinding. In the morning, it should be more or less in the ideal state for grinding.
Of course, getting out the meat grinder every time you want to make burgers can be a real hassle. If you do want to grind it all at once, you can. Just make sure you store it correctly. Even so, it won't keep as long.
It's not practical to store ground venison in the fridge for an extended period of time since it will oxidize and turn brown almost immediately. You can store it in the freezer for about six months. Make sure it's well-sealed in plastic or it will inevitably suffer from freezer burn.
Vacuum sealing is definitely the best way to store ground venison. Once sealed you can store it in the fridge for around a week or in the freezer for 1-3 years. Again, you'll need to thaw the meat before using it if storing it in the freezer. You can usually do this by sticking it in the fridge overnight.
What Can You Make With Ground Venison?
Ground venison might not be the first thing everyone thinks of when they think of deer meat, but it's actually one of the most versatile uses for it. There are tons of recipes that can use it, such as:
- Meat balls
- Pasta dishes like ravioli and lasagna
- Bolognese pasta sauce
And that's far from an exhaustive list. Not only are there many more recipes for ground venison, but you can invent your own. You can also play around with the dishes above by adding different spices, condiments and other ingredients.
Grinding venison is one of the best ways to use every part of the deer, including the trimmings that you otherwise can't make cuts out of. While it may seem like this is just the left-overs of your venison, it's actually one of the most versatile types of meat, perfect for getting creative and developing your own recipes. Who knows, your venison chili may just end up winning your next cookoff.