Processing Tips: Use Sharp Knives, Get Better Meat From Your Deer

What kind of knives do you have for breaking down your deer at camp or home? Good ones? Dull ones? Something crappy you hack with because it was Great Uncle Petey’s he lost in the dirt at the barn, and you feel compelled to continue using it?

butcher a deer

If you rely on someone else to process your deer, chances are you’ve had a bad experience with deer butchering.

C’mon, now, we all know better. With the incredible multitude of knives and tools available for cutting up deer, along with books and other great materials, it’s not something that has to be a harsh chore anymore. Today’s deer hunter is more interested in having successful huntstaking better care of the meat, and cooking it better, including making tasty deer jerky.

Last weekend I was watching Scott Leysath’s The Sporting Chef television show. He was featuring one of his local butchers, Levi Pitt at Kountry Meats in Elk Grove, Ca., Pitt is a real butcher who knows the different cuts of meat, how to separate them, and why it’s important to break down a wild or domestic animal correctly to get the best flavor for your meals.

On the Kountry Meats site this was pretty interesting and are great tips worth remembering:

  • Gut your animal immediately, including throat, bladder & rectum
  • Start skinning your animal within the first hour
  • Wash your animal with clean water after skinning
  • Let your animal dry completely
  • Wrap your animal in a dry cloth “no plastic”
  • Do Not piece out your animal, leave it whole. For out of state hunters see the video link page on how to remove the spine
  • Do Not pack with ice, use Dry Ice if weather is extremely warm (this is normally not necessary if you hunt Sept-Dec)
  • Do not remove blood shot areas, we will do that when we cut it
  • Cutting your animal into pieces exposes the “good” meat to air, dirt and bacteria.
  • Leave the tendon attached on the hind legs to hang it properly

Properly Gutted, Skinned & Cleaned animals that are left whole will yield the most meat possible.  Animals that are not gutted and skinned quickly enough risk “Bone Sour”  Keeping your animal clean and  free of hair and dirt will also help you yield a better finish weight.  

Those are super tips for deer processing (or for turkeys, ducks or other game) that many hunters think don’t matter or can be fudged. You can get some similar processing tips here, too. Pitt’s tips are straight from a real butcher who knows the deal. Here are some other tips I got from watching Leysath and Pitt on the show:

Use Quality Knives: Can you do your processing work with a pocket knife or steak knife? Sure. You also can mow your entire yard with a hand-held weedeater. And that would be incredibly stupid. Invest in some quality butcher knives for home and camp. Put them completely off limits to other uses, like your teenage son using it to open a bomb-proof plastic clamshell package, and be serious about it. If your other campmates laugh, tough crap. Let them laugh or be egotistical boobs hacking up their deer with a dull knife. Keep your butcher knives cleaned, sharpened and don’t put them in the dishwasher. Take care of them and they’ll last for years.

Keep Your Knives Sharp: Start with a good knife with a quality blade that will stand up to repeated use and hold an edge. These cost money. If you buy cheap crap from the dollar store, you’ll have cheap crap. Spend a little and take care of them. To keep them sharp you could use something like a Worksharp sharpener, crock sticks or do like my father in our family’s grocery store’s butcher shop and use a steel honing stick. This takes practice. But once you learn how to do it correctly it takes just a few flicks on each side of the knife blade edge to put the edge back on.

Keep a Clean Work Space: If you break down your own deer at home or camp, keep a clean work station. You’d bitch if a deer processor got hair or dirt in your meat, wouldn’t you? If you took a deer to a processor and the floor looked bloody and slimy, with some deer or tubs of meat stacked in a corner, would you stay there? Keep your tools, cutting boards and floors clean. Keep the floor and sink drains cleaned out to avoid flies and odors.

Trim, Trim Trim and Don’t Shed Tears: Trimming away sinew, fat and gristle reminds me of a great hunt back in 2013. I killed a fine Kansas buck with a Mossberg MVP FLEX in .308 while hunting at Tall Tine Outfitters with Ted Jaycox. He runs a fantastic camp, we had super hunting with good sightings, and everyone killed a deer scoring 144 to 150 B&C. Super outfitter worth checking out.

This old buck was aged at 6.5 years old and rough-scored 144, falling to a Federal "Deer Thug" round from the Mossberg MVP FLEX .308 rifle. He also made some pretty tasty burgers, backstraps and stew meat!

This old buck was aged at 6.5 years old and rough-scored 144, falling to a Federal “Deer Thug” round from the Mossberg MVP FLEX .308 rifle. He also made some pretty tasty burgers, backstraps and stew meat!

Jaycox said he had a pretty quick, easy and time-tested way to break down a deer and so I let him have at it. Within minutes the hide was off, the meat was cut away from the bones, and I had hindquarters, backstraps, shoulders and more to work on in the barn. I began trimming away the unwanted fat and sinew, which everyone calls silver skin. It’s on the outside of muscles, draws up during cooking and is nasty. Jaycox popped in, whistled appreciatively at my thoroughness, and before long I had bags of delicious, non-gristly/fatty/sinewy meat ready for the cooler.

Trim away all that unwanted mess. Anything that still has some meat worth saving for ground burger, put it in a separate pile. Anything like shank or neck you want for burger, jerky or such, keep it separate. All that other stuff? Toss it. If you think you’re wasting meat by cutting off all the silver skin, well, you’re not. Your backstraps, roasts and such will be far better without it than with it.

Get a Good Vacuum Sealer: Can’t be any more blunt than this. If you don’t have a good vacuum sealer then you’re not getting the most out of your processing. Be sure to use the appropriate bags for your sealer, label them thoroughly and clearly so you’ll know what is inside, and be happy happy happy.

Here’s a great burger recipe from Weston Supply! Get more of their great recipes here in their awesome blog, too.

Gouda Stuffed Butter Burger with a Weston Press

Gouda Stuffed Butter Burger with a Weston Press

Gouda Stuffed Butter Burger with a Weston Press
This burger oozes deliciousness: Fresh beef ground with butter, stuffed with gouda, fried in a skillet, and topped with a bearnaise style sauce & an over-easy egg. The skillet fried butter-beef makes for a burger with a crispy crust on the outside and warm pink center on the inside.

Makes: (3) half pound burgers
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
-Ingredients-For the Burger
1.5 lbs chuck roast
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons cracked black pepper
3 wheels Mini Babybel® Gouda Cheese
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 eggsFor the Sauce
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons relish
2 teaspoons fresh tarragon, chopped
2 teaspoons fresh parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon capers, chopped

Weston Meat Grinder
Weston Burger Press
Weston Patty Paper
Cast Iron Skillet

*Tip before you begin: Chill your grinder head and keep the meat and butter as cold as possible before and during the grinding process. This will keep your mixture from turning to mush and also keep it from sticking to your press. Chilling your burger press isn’t a bad idea either.

1. Grind
Cube the beef, then run it through the coarse plate of your Weston Meat Grinder. Cut the butter into small pieces and distribute evenly throughout the grind. Grind the mixture through the fine plate of the grinder. Mix in the black pepper with your hands.

2. Press

Roll the ground beef into six separate balls. Set your burger press to 1/4#. Place a piece of patty paper on the bottom of the press, put a ball of meat toward the back of it, then press and remove. If your patty sticks to the top, it needs to be chilled again. Repeat for the remaining patties.

3. Stuff
Once you have your six patties, place one patty on the press, place a wheel of cheese in its center, then stack a second patty on top of that. Press down the top, lift, and you will have one half pound Gouda stuffed patty.

4. Fry
Preheat your skillet and pour in the olive oil. Once the oil is hot but not smoking, place the patties into the skillet and cook over high heat. Covering the skillet will reduce your risk of being burned from the popping oil and also cook the burger more quickly, but it’s not essential. Be sure to flip the burger after 5 minutes.

5. Cook the Eggs
While the burger is frying, cook your eggs over-easy. You can simply drop them into the skillet with the burgers if there’s room, or use a separate frying pan.

[We cooked ours sous vide-style to get a perfect egg that is safely cooked but still just pours right over the top of the burger. We don’t have a fancy machine, so we put a pot of water on over low heat, placed the eggs in – shells on (like you’re hard boiling them… except you’re not) – and used a digital thermometer to monitor while we cooked them right around 142 degrees for two hours.]

6. Make the Sauce
Also while the burgers fry, make the sauce by combining all of the ingredients. It’s as simple as that.

7. Serve
Once the burgers have nicely browned crunchy crusts, place them on a plate and smother with a [heaping] dollop of sauce and one egg each. If you don’t mind the mess, you can serve them on a bun, but we preferred to go at it with a fork.