Meat cutting a hearty choreA friend of mine just returned to southwest Montana from his original home in the Belfield, N.D., area where he and his relatives made 510 pounds of various types of game sausage. It must have been something to witness — grinding up deer and elk meat, adding fat and spices in making five different types of sausage, all in keeping with the wild game meat harvest that takes place at this time of year.
By: Bernie Kuntz, Outdoors, The Jamestown Sun
A friend of mine just returned to southwest Montana from his original home in the Belfield, N.D., area where he and his relatives made 510 pounds of various types of game sausage. It must have been something to witness — grinding up deer and elk meat, adding fat and spices in making five different types of sausage, all in keeping with the wild game meat harvest that takes place at this time of year.
Our family’s meat harvest is not so lavish, as I am not a sausage-maker. (I always have been able to find commercial sausage-makers, particularly in North Dakota, who make far better sausage than I can at a reasonable price.)
I know several guys who turn entire deer carcasses into jerky, which to me is a terrible waste of good deer steak, but like the saying goes, “Some people don’t even like pizza.”
Many years ago my father built the 2” X 6” rack in my garage that is attached to the overhead rafters. About the same time, he gave me seven or eight meat hooks that he once found in an abandoned railroad car. They fit neatly over the 2” X 6”s and each can hold a deer or antelope carcass, or an elk quarter. I use them every year and don’t know what I’d do without the setup that Jake built for me. Using an old trick learned from ski patrol duty years ago, Laurie hoists the deer carcass up with a light line through a single pulley. The other end of the line goes around her waist, and she twists around and just leans away from the carcass. She pulls the carcass upward, upward until I can put a hock onto the meat hook.
I prefer to immediately remove the tenderloins from the inside of the body cavity of a big game carcass before they dry out. After a few days of aging, I skin the carcass. Many hunters are in a great hurry to skin a carcass, but I like to keep the hide on to keep the meat clean and prevent it from drying out. Research done by the University of Wyoming in the early 1970s proved that hides do not impart a negative flavor on game meat. (The study examined antelope, deer, elk and moose.)
After skinning the carcass, I cut off each front shoulder, leaving as much neck meat and rib meat on the shoulder as possible. Laurie helps me in boning the front shoulders, removing all fat, grisle and any bloodshot areas. Meanwhile, I remove the backstraps, carefully cutting tightly along the spine, and slicing the choice meat bit by bit away from the spine of the carcass.
We have a large, laminated maple cutting board that I place on top of newspapers on the kitchen counter, and that is where we do the actual meat-cutting.
Next I remove one hindquarter and carefully trim the outer layer of crusted meat, fat and anything that is not clean meat. (It goes without saying that you need a couple sharp knives for this work — I use three — and a sharpening steel and whetstone within reach.) I then separate all the large muscles of the hindquarters, trimming the membrane from them, and with a deep-bodied butcher knife that I had made specially for this purpose, I cut thick steaks against the grain of the meat. They go into a separate bowl apart from the trimmings.
For decades we used to double wrap our steaks, the first layer with plastic wrap, the outer layer with white butcher paper. That worked fine, but this year I bought a shrink-wrap machine and got spoiled. Laurie seals the packages while I label them as to contents and date. Then we stack everything in the freezer.
It can be intimidating the first time one processes his/her own big game carcass. The best way to learn is to join a “meat-cutting party” with an experienced hunter, or cajole a veteran hunter to come over and help you. From that point it is likely to become an annual event, the harvest of nature’s bounty.