If you’ve ever watched a butcher grinding burger, you know he doesn’t just toss in hunks of meat and what- ever’s attached to see what comes shooting out. This is good advice to follow when it comes to grinding your own venison, too.
We’ve all had fantastic hamburgers made with venison or beef. Every bite is good, and there aren’t any chewy bits of mystery somethin’ or other in there. No crunchy bone or a wad of cartilage. Why?
Because someone did his job correctly by preparing the meat before putting it through the grinder.
Preparation is critical to doing anything right, of course. Football teams prepare for the big game. Deer hunters prepare for the weekend trip to the woods. If you’re fortunate enough to kill a deer, prepare smartly to get your best food on the table.
Start by trimming all the tough sinew, silver skin and other nasty mess from the meat. If you leave it on it’ll just draw up and get tough and chewy. Then your Aunt Bertha will think you’re an idiot who shouldn’t be manning the grill. Clean up all that meat, and get rid of that mess.
Decide how much fat you want to incorporate into the meat while grinding. Many hunters opt for 10 to 20 percent pork fat to help with binding and a smidge of flavor. Some others will add a pound of bacon, ground and without the edge or rind, to 5 or 6 pounds of venison. That incorporates fat and some flavor, too, if you want a hint of smoke.
If you’re making sausage, obviously you want some fat in there, too. Again, pork is the most common, although some will add beef fat. After deciding on your fat content, if you want to add spices or herbs to the meat, toss those in, too. Doing so after the first run through the grinder might help incorporate them into the meat better during the second run. It’s always good to make at least two grinds. Most quality grinder will have at least two or more sizes of grind plates, too, from coarse to fine.
Get Your Smoker, Grill Ready for a Workout
Summer provides us with a few months of blissful fun, sun, swimming, swings, seafood, sandy beaches, sultry days and super opportunities to enjoy a break from the school year and chilly months.
Summer’s also a great time for safety, as in making sure all your outdoors cooking utensils, smokers, grills and equipment are safe. Conventional wisdom recommends that you check all this out in spring before the “summer grilling season” arrives, but not everyone lives in the Hamptons and thinks there is a grilling season. Many of us grill year-round, so our equipment needs to be ship-shape.
Let’s start with your propane grill, which likely gets the most action at your home. Ceramic grills (ovens?) are the rage these days, and they’re cool, but it’s a safe bet that conventional grills using propane are more common. Those have a rubber hose and connectors between the propane tank and grill. Through time, that rubber hose can become dry-rotted or maybe get insects building nests inside, and then you’ve got problems. Flex the hose, and give it a thorough once-over for cracks, flaking or other problems, and replace if necessary.
Is your grill grate rusted and chipped? So, you want your venison burgers or sausage on that nasty grate? Get a new one. Similar to the connector hose is the burner area where the gas flame comes from. If the flame struggles to get through lava rocks covered in burned marinade gunk, you might not be getting the best flame and heat to your food. Remove and toss the gross rocks, clean out the inside of the grill area, and buy a new burner head and install it, if necessary.
Learn to Smoke Meat
Back in the old days the smokehouse was just about as important as anything else, but it had to be built correctly and able to stay hot, smoke meat and get the job done.
Today, of course, we don’t have to chop logs, notch the ends, chink with mud and hope our chimney and hotbox will draft correctly. Instead, we can buy a durable and reliable smoker, hook up the propane tank or use our favorite wood, and smoke everything from the Thanksgiving turkey to venison for the family’s meals.
Among the great things about today’s commercial propane smokers is their efficiency. Wood-fired smokers are great, don’t get me wrong. But they require wood, obviously, and that means constant checking. If you’re smoking meat through the night, you have to get up every few hours or stay awake to man the smoker and woodpile. That might be part of your tradition, and if so, cool.
A good propane smoker with a temperature gauge and settings can alleviate those all-nighters and next- day cobwebs. Depending on the size of the smoker you purchase, you can handle enough meat for a big gather- ing or to store and eat later. That’s a winning situation.
Check All Your Stuff Before the Season
Getting your smoker or grill in order for the season is smart, and so is taking a hard look at everything in your home and hunting camp kitchens to make sure they’re in good shape before open- ing day.
Let’s start with the tools, which are your knifes, spatulas, cooking utensils and such. Don’t use dull knives and have to hacksaw through meat or veggies. You’re asking for trouble. If you have an old knife that has been passed down, well, that’s one thing. If you’re using worn out cheapo knives, go buy some more.
Steak knives are good to have, of course, but every kitchen needs at least one or two 8-inch all-purpose chef ’s knives. They’re good for breaking down meat, cutting veggies and general kitchen work. You’ll probably want a couple of smaller paring knives, and maybe one similar to the chef’s knife but in a 4- or 5-inch size. Don’t put them in the dishwasher, either. That dulls the edges.
If you have melted or rusty spatulas or anything that’s falling apart, or have to use a spoon when you really want a whiz-bang kitchen tool, get new utensils. The big-box mart stores have good items, as do more expensive stores. Upgrade your kitchen utensils and it’ll help when you’re cooking.
If you have a vacuum sealer, make sure the unit is in proper working order and you have plenty of sealer bags. Be sure to get some Sharpie or Magic Marker pens so you can write the date and animal on the bag: “Nov. 23, 2014, Grandpa Dan’s buck hindquarter roast.” That way, you’ll know exactly what it is and when it was put into the freezer.
Check out any new items you might want to order, such as an apple press to make fresh cider or a mandoline to create your own sliced veggies, tater chips or cole slaw. Think about your visits to hunting camp the previous season and if there were any warped pans, skillets with broken handles or anything with baked- or burned-on goo that needs to be replaced. Good pans make a difference (as do cleaning them well after use).
Go clean out your freezer, too. Dig around to get out the packs of mystery meat in the corner that you’ve neglected to toss. C’mon, get them out. If they’re years old, toss ’em. If they’re just from the past season, fire up the grill and go eat. Clean up the freezer so you’ll have space for this year’s deer, ducks and other critters.
Cardamon Clove Venison Jerky
2 pounds venison
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon cardamom pods
1 tablespoon whole cloves
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
Use the Weston Multi-Seed Mill to freshly grind your cardamom, cloves, and peppercorns. Next, slice your venison into jerky strips with your meat slicer. Place the jerky into a bowl with the remain- ing ingredients, and use your hands to coat the jerky completely and evenly.
Place the jerky onto the racks of your dehydrator. Allow to dehydrate four hours or until the jerky is completely dry (but not brittle).