Beginning at the neck and heading south:
- Neck: This cut is extremely versatile, could be ground for burgers, burritos, chili, patty melts, tacos, or made into jerky, roasts, soups, stews, etc. Your options are endless with neck meat. I harvest the neck meat up until the point of the beginning of the jowl. Of course, I regularly take neck shots, they are highly effective and minimize meat loss. If a neck shot it taken, I merely trim around the wound channel and salvage what is edible.
- Shoulder/Chuck: Again, depending on shot placement, grinding is always an option. Common uses: burgers, chimichangas, fajitas, jerky, lasagna, pot pies, roasts, shepherd’s pie, sausage, and more. Like neck, the Shoulder/Chuck cuts are primo and make excellent table fare. Common seasonings I use for all my venison cuts are Brisket & Prime Rib Rub, Garlic Pepper Rub Blend, Venison Rub and Steak Rub from Hi MTN Seasonings.
- Foreleg: Again, grinding is most hunters go-to for the foreleg. I traditionally use foreleg for making breakfast casseroles, jerky bites, nachos, ossobuco, stir-fry, and so on. On a doe, you’ll find the foreleg meat to be far more tender than on a buck. Cuts like this require more work to trim but are well worth it.
- Shank: Best ground up for breakfast skillets, fondue, or used for jerky, stews, and so on. I remove the shank meat as far down the leg as I can. This cut takes a little more TLC in the kitchen, nonetheless, it still tastes amazing.
- Loins/Backstrap: Obviously, the loins and backstraps make for phenomenal chops, filets and roasts. Savor these cuts and don’t over season or overcook them. Rare to medium/rare is how I recommend serving them. Venison Rub on a 6-inch piece of backstrap, then placed on a hot charcoal grill at around 400 degrees for 3 minutes per side, will render you a magnificently rare to medium/rare grilled backstrap that’s succulent and flavorful.
- Ribs: Typically, I use ribs for grinding or for fajitas and jerky. I also like to cut the rib meat up into 1/4 or 1/3 of an inch size pieces, hammer them flat and throw them into cowboy beans, or simply cut each strip of rib meat into inch long bites, roll them in flour and pan fry them in butter. Wild game rib meat is fantastic if you take the time and prepare it right.
- Brisket: Personally, I find that brisket on a deer more or less resembles a flank or skirt steak. I treat the brisket much like I would the ribs or shank. With a sharp knife I will cut some brisket into 1/4 inch thick slices, place them on a hot griddle for 1 minute per side, then serve with a sunnyside egg on top and hash browns. It’s a delicious breakfast that takes less than 20 minutes to make and it’s a hit in deer camp.
- Flank: Obviously, on a buck that is rutted up, flank steaks don’t consist of much. They are typically 1/2, to 3/4 of an inch think and rather tough. Treat them like ribs or brisket and you’ll love every bite. On a healthy, large doe, flank steaks can be superb if marinated in Zesty Western Marinade, grilled rare and served over a bed of lettuce with cranberries, walnuts, onions, tomatoes and guacamole.
- Rump: Rump makes super steaks, roasts, fajitas and kabobs – literally, your meal selection is endless with rump meat. My wife loves to take about 3-Ibs of rump, cut it into 2-inch square pieces, pan fry those pieces in butter, olive oil, onions and carrots, for 10 minutes. Then, she fills the pan with two bottles of Miller Light, and lets it simmer on low for 4 to 5 hours. The meat breaks down and shreds like perfectly cooked pulled pork. She then takes all the bits and pieces from the pan once the meat is removed and makes a gravy. This meal is easy, smells amazing and tastes so good it’ll make your tongue slap you silly.
- Leg/Round: This is the lower portion of the hind quarters, so it can have the tendency to be a touch chewier than the rump. In my experience, however, leg/round can be treated much like neck meat. Leg/round in my house is often used for biscuits and gravy or my wife makes a super meat heavy minestrone soup. It’s also delicious in a manicotti stuffed pasta with ricotta cheese and herbs. Let your imagination run with leg/round.
Step #1. Cleanliness is next to Godliness:
Disinfect, wash and wear gloves at all times. Have your processing station neat, organized and germ free. If you want your freshly harvested game meat to taste fabulous, then treat it with respect. Have floors previously swept, insects in check (in warmer weather), and disinfectant and paper towels on hand.
Step #2. Sharp as a tack:
Your tools, your knives, are the lifeblood on the whole processing operation. They should be razor sharp and sterile. I use nothing but the Alaskan Guide Series knives from Cabela’s. They hold an edge extremely well and have an ergonomic handle that’s easy to grasp and won’t slip out of your hands as you work.
Step #3. First cut is the deepest:
Depending on your location, time of year and ambient temperature, you might have already skinned your deer to aid in the process of cooling down the meat. Where I hunt, it is generally well below zero when I hang my deer to age, so removing the hide isn’t as essential. I like to hang my game for an average of 7 days, this helps in getting through the rigor mortis process, where enzymes begin to break down the collagens and ultimately make your game meat more tender. If you don’t let your game hang for long enough it can cause shortening, a situation where the muscles contract leaving it tough and chewier than it would have been had you left it an extra day or two.
Step #4. Connect the dots:
It’s important that you follow the natural seams of the meat and remove all sinew (silver skin) as you go. It’s much like unfolding a blanket. Take your time and separate each muscle group. Since I hang my game from the hind legs on a gambrel, I remove the shank meat first on the hind legs. Previous to that, I cut the ligaments and connecting tissues on the front and hind legs at the knee joints and remove the lower portions of the legs.
Step #5. Size appropriate:
Once a portion of meat is removed from the bone or carcass and is on the working table, keep each of the muscle groups separated. It’s important to not combine different cuts of meat. I have a wife and four kids, so I try as best as I can to portion off what would be necessary for a meal of six.
Step #6. Keep to yourself:
I prefer to debone, trim and wrap each individual muscle group as I go. Once wrapped, I clearly mark the date it was killed, the date I butchered it, how long it hung to age, and what cut of meat it is. I find that completely quartering your game and removing all of the meat at once, isn’t nearly as orderly or cleanly. So, while the game animal is suspended from my hoist on a gambrel, I will work methodically to remove each hind quarter separately and have them ready for the freezer before I move to the flank, the brisket, ribs, etc., as I work my way towards the head.
Step #7. Proof is in the pudding:
I never mix my game meat. If I have three bucks to butcher in one afternoon, I do not put a portion of rump meat from one buck into butcher paper that contains rump meat from another buck. This way, as you begin to eat it, you can see which deer tastes better and start to speculate as to why it does. Did the buck that died quicker have better flavor? Does the youngest buck taste better than the older ones? Likewise, some game animals happen to be more flavorful and tender than others. And if a piece of meat is pristine, I don’t want to dilute its grandeur by mixing it in with other cuts that aren’t as good of quality.
Step #8. Time is of the essence:
If you’re going to make sausage, then cube the meat now and ready it for grinding. Cut good size roasts, steaks, fajita strips, etc., now. Then, when you’re in the kitchen and fixing to cook it, all you have to do is unthaw, season and cook or grill it. No cutting or meat trimming in the kitchen makes for easier preparation.
Step #9. The wrap-up:
I have tried vacuuming sealing, I’ve used Ziplock bags, freezer paper and a combination of all of them. Personally, I believe a heavy grade wax butcher paper is the best route to take. It thwarts off freezer burning, it can be wrapped into tight square packs which consolidates your meat and stacks well in your freezer. And when unpackaging to prepare, all you have to do is remove the freezer tape and unfold the butcher paper.
Step #10. The trimmings:
Any meat that isn’t edible around the wound area, I save. In fact, I don’t discard anything. All the scraps, including guts, get put into a heavy duty 40-gallon trash bag and used for coyote bait. The carcass (rib cage, spine, neck and leg bones) will go into another trash bag once completely stripped. Seriously, the bones will be 100% spotless and brilliant white when I’m done harvesting meat from them. Then, once in the trash bag I will dispose of the bones at the local landfill. The hide is then scraped, saved and used for various projects down the road.
Step #11. Tools of the trade:
I have several Cabela's Electronic Cable Hoists and they are the bees knees. With the corded remote, I can raise or lower the game animal I am working on with a press of a button, it’s so handy. My knives consist of a Cabela's Alaskan Guide Series 113 Ranger Skinner Knife by Buck Knives that has a blade length of 3-1/8 inches, plus a Cabela's Alaskan Guide Series Alpha Fixed Knife by Buck Knives that sports a 4-1/4 inch guthook blade, and a Cabela's fillet knife by WUSTHOF. Lastly, my working surface is a Cabela’s stainless-steel table. It cleans up easy, is impervious to bacteria and rust, and holds up extremely well under a heavy load.
Step #12. Fruits of your labor:
DIY wild game butchering is a fun endeavor and even more so when you enlist the help of your wife, kids, friends, neighbors or whomever you’d like. Don’t be rushed, think through your cuts and I will stress again, how imperative it is to keep your hands, knives and working station clean. There shouldn’t be a single hair on your meat once it goes into your butcher paper. This will ensure a pristine flavor in your meat and add a tremendous amount of enjoyment to your dining experience.
Hugs, Handshakes and Bon Appetit