I’m a rookie when it comes to handling wild game after the hunt. Yes, I am shamelessly admitting that I’ve been dropping it off to be processed for 90% of my hunts for all these years! We typically have a lot of meat when season wraps up, and the thought of processing it myself was daunting. Last year I decided I wanted to process everything myself, then in true Jessica fashion, I avoided it like the plague. I’ve had 5 or so deer sitting in my freezer this entire time. At least I deboned it before putting it in there!!
To save money for the 2019 season, and to tackle the things I’ve pushed aside, we thawed out roughly half of the meat. The plan was to make ground venison, meat sticks, and/or jerky with all of it. As I began processing, my creative mind started thinking of all the possibilities with the meat, so by the 2nd day I was gathering everything I needed to make bratts and summer sausage. I haven’t tackled them yet, but I feel inspired after getting through the first big batch of ground venison and meat sticks. This blog will walk you through the basics of simply grinding wild game up, because you can do so much with ground up meat!!!
What You’ll Need:
Grinder: I won’t pretend that I have a lot of experience with grinders so I can’t compare to other models, but I will tell you that this one has a lot of power and it worked like a charm! After sharing it on my platforms, I had multiple people reach out and rave about it - people who have been doing this much longer than myself. My grinder sat in a box for a year, then easily went through 50lbs of meat like butter. I’m sold! I will say, even if you don’t get this particular one, do your research. This entire process is pretty easy but I can see how it would be extremely frustrating with a grinder that didn’t perform well. It more than pays for itself within one year in my situation (5 deer processed at $80 each when I drop it off = $400), and we usually have more than 5 deer to process in one season!
Wild Game Freezer Bags: If you’re making ground venison for burger meat, spaghetti, chili, etc then you’ll want these bags to store the meat.
Meat Tub: Having 2 tubs is ideal. This can be as simple as a mixing bowl, especially if you’re doing very small amounts at a time. However, this container has been awesome to knock out large batches at once. If you plan to add in fat, keep in mind that it will take up extra room as well, so having a container that can handle it all is really convenient. FYI, we did not add fat to our packaged ground meat OR the meat sticks. It is 100% straight venison!
Grinder Funnel Kit: You will get several different sized funnels with the grinder that I mentioned above (that work great), but just in case you have a different grinder, you might want to consider getting a kit like this. It isn’t a must-have if you want to use a manual gun like this one (which is exactly what we use for making our meat sticks), but the funnel makes packaging the ground meat a breeze. This works by simply removing the grinder cutting knife, replacing it with a funnel, and turning the grinder on to push the meat forward into the freezer bags.
Ground Meat Packaging System: Again, not a product that you necessarily need (we literally used blue painter’s tape on our first batch), but it saves a TON of time to have this!
Cutting Board: for cubing the meat
Butchering Knife: I’m sure there are some fancy knives out there for the professionals, but I just used the ones I’ve had forever in my kitchen!
Things/tips to know before STARTING:
Keep meat cold: Process the meat when (at a very minimum) it’s very cold to help prevent binding and sticking inside the grinder. We actually had almost frozen meat when we started because I deboned all of it right after we shot the deer, then put it in the freezer last season. That meant we had to partially thaw each bag before putting it through the grinder. Just to clarify (because I had so many questions about it on my Instagram story when I shared the process), YES we went from freezing, to thawing and grinding, to freezing a second time. After doing a poll, I found that the majority of people freeze their meat more than once from start to finish, including several butchers that reached out to me. It will not hurt you to do this, although I recommend keeping it to only those two times. Side note: if you happen to purchase this grinder (mentioned above), it will come with a Cool-Tek Gel Ice Pak that wraps around the grinder and helps keep the meat cold to prevent binding and sticking.
Wear an apron: I’m not saying that there was blood everywhere, but it certainly wasn’t contained. You’re dealing with bloody meat. I highly suggest throwing an apron on so you’re not trying to get blood out of clothes, or in my case, clothes and white curtains (fifth wheel living problems, ha!).
Sharpen the knives: I went too long without doing this simple step because…wait for it…I had zero clue how to sharpen my kitchen knives. I typically use Havalon knives in the field which come with replaceable blades, so Braxton had to show me. Save yourself the frustration and make sure your blades can shave the hair off your arm with ease.
Grind meat twice: you’ll want to run the meat through the grinder twice. Regardless if you’re simply packaging the meat, or taking it a step further to make meat sticks, just run it through twice! We started with the 10mm plate first, then ran it through again with the 4.5mm plate. Both plates came with the Cabela's Carnivore Commercial-Grade 0.5hp Grinder.
Don’t spend too much time removing the silver skin: If this was an article on cutting perfect steaks or other pieces of meat, I would be whistling a different tune. For example, I found some axis backstrap mixed in after thawing the meat, which I decided to clean up really well (remove every last bit of silver skin) and made 3/4” medallion steaks - cooked medium rare - on the Traeger. It was hands down the best venison I’ve ever had! However, you will never convince me that removing all the silver skin on ground meat makes a big difference in flavor or consistency. You’ll notice in these photos that I left quite a bit and it turned out great!
STEP BY STEP - MAKING GROUND VENISON:
Cube the meat into smaller portions that will fit into the entrance of the grinder.
Install 10mm plate.
Place meat tub at the end of the grinder to catch the ground meat.
Install Cool Tek Ice Pack (comes with the Cabela’s grinder linked above).
Plug the grinder into wall outlet.
Fill meat tray (on top of the grinder) with the cubes.
Turn on the grinder and use the meat stomper to push the cubed meat down.
Once all cubed meat has been through once, turn off the grinder.
Replace the now full meat tub with the empty one.
Replace the 10mm plate with the 4.5mm plate.
Repeat steps 7 & 8 (instead of cubed meat it’ll be the meat you just ground up).
Remove the 4.5mm plate. If you plan to follow my meat stick recipe, then you’re done here! Jump over to that by clicking here.
Install the high speed stuffing auger, funnel of choice and flange (the little ring that slides over the funnel - it’s ok, I didn’t know either).
Slide a bag over the end of the funnel and turn the grinder on. The meat will slowly start to fill the 1lb freezer bag. Add a little resistance to it so that the meat is compact inside the bag.
Once bag is filled, grab the stomper and smooth out the meat that’s on top before twisting the bag then taping it closed. Again, we used painter’s tape the first time, but quickly invested in this tape dispenser for convenience. Tip: fill all the bags first, put a good twist in the top and set it aside. Once all the meat is inside the bags, go back and tape them at the end, all at the same time. You can see how having another person would drastically reduce the amount of time this takes. Assembly lines are legit for processing meat!
Place packed meat in the freezer. Or, if you’re hungry and have some leftover that won’t fill a 1lb bag, make a burger patty and throw it on the Traeger. That’s what we did :) You’ve worked hard, so treat yo-self!