October 25, 2021
By Bruce Ingram
As a confirmed wild-game eater, I try to kill 10 deer per season to supply my wife and I with red meat for the year. We especially enjoy ground venison for the variety of entrees in which it can be used.
Elaine also often grinds the meat from spring and fall turkeys. With countless hours of wild-game grinding experience under our belts, we’ve developed an efficient routine and a few pointers that’ll make your grinding experience more enjoyable.
The process starts with choosing the best grinder for the job. When we first started processing our own deer, we purchased a mixer and a meat grinder attachment. Had we wished to only prepare meatloaf, for example, the standard mixer would have worked well. But processing a deer might involve grinding 15 pounds of meat. Within those chunks of meat are layers of silver skin and other connective tissue that the sharpest knives can’t always deal with.
The silver skin can be striated within cubes of meat to the point that removing it would waste a lot of meat. Eventually, we determined that we needed a stronger motor and a bigger blade.
Our meat grinder can take care of 3 to 5 pounds of meat per minute. This is considerably faster than what the mixer accomplished. In addition, the grinder chews up the silver skin more easily; previously we would often have to stop the mixer numerous times to disassemble the grinder attachment and clean the blade of silver skin. The process of grinding, cleaning, more grinding and more cleaning would often take 30 minutes. With a standalone meat grinder, we can complete the process in 10 minutes or so.
The first few times we ground meat we would tear the freezer paper from the box each time it was needed. The tears were often jagged and irregular, and the paper box became smudged with meat bits. Other times, the roll would spin and we would inadvertently tear off a piece that was either too big for one package or too small for two.
We soon learned to precut sheets about 14 inches wide. We stack the sheets ahead of time and weigh them down with canned goods in order to flatten them prior to use. We also purchased a weighted tape dispenser with a rubberized bottom that makes it easy to quickly grab a piece of tape with one hand while holding a package closed with the other.
We also recommend coming up with a labeling system so the meat you grab from the freezer each time you make a meal with ground venison contains meat from deer killed earlier in the season. Using a permanent marker, note “Deer 1-2021-Burger” or similar on the paper. We keep meat from deer 1, 2 and 3 on one shelf, deer 4, 5 and 6 on another and so on. This system does a good job of preventing freezer burn from developing on meat stored too long.
FAT VS. NO FAT
We don't add fat for "flavor." One of the virtues of eating wild game is that it is higher in vitamins and minerals and lower in calories than domestic red meat. Why change that by adding fat? Besides, we cherish the concept of consuming wild, lean, organic deer and turkey that we killed, processed and cooked ourselves. It tastes sublime, too. In our opinion, adding fat gives burgers a greasy, unappealing flavor.
But that's just our opinion. Many other hunters would argue that adding fat is essential for a juicier entrée. Some prefer a ratio of 90 percent burger to 10 percent fat. Others might go as far as two-thirds meat and one-third fat. Perhaps the best mix for you is somewhere in between.
PAPER OR PLASTIC?
As a cancer survivor, Elaine worries about plastic coming into contact with the meat she consumes, especially when heat is involved, as is the case with a vacuum sealer. Granted, the likelihood of chemicals leaching into the meat is unlikely, but we prefer to not take that chance. Besides, with our packaging and labeling system outlined above, paper works just fine for us.
To prepare meat for grinding, the right kind of knife is essential. Over the years we’ve tried a number of different blade styles and have decided boning knives work best for us. Their thin, flexible blades are excellent for removing silver skin from meat. One good technique is to lay the meat with the silver skin down and cut through the meat until you reach silver skin. Then, slide the knife between the meat and the silver skin very slowly so that the two parts separate completely, leaving a clean piece of meat and a thin strip of silver skin to discard.
Using sharp knives makes the entire butchering process much easier, so don’t hesitate to stop and sharpen your blades whenever you feel like you're fighting with the meat.
When processing a whitetail, we cut out the bottom and top loins and several rump roasts and package those separately. The rest of the meat from the hind legs, the entire front legs, the neck and meat left over from anywhere else are all candidates for the grinder. We place the front and hind quarters in clean garbage bags, then put them on ice in coolers for about 24 hours.
As the meat chills, it hardens and becomes easier to handle later when we separate meat from bone. After the meat has properly cooled, we start on the hind quarters because they are large and have less extraneous bits. Getting them out of the way first gives us a feeling of accomplishment.
Next, we work our way down the front legs, cutting off usable chunks. By this stage we have also set up workstations on the counter with our cutting boards, two large bowls for usable chunks of meat, a bowl for scrap, plus knives and towels. After all the usable meat has been placed into bowls, we cut it into chunks about one to two inches in size—small enough to slip into the opening of the meat grinder. All that’s left then is the grinding, packaging and the celebrating of many wonderful entrees.
Get Your Grind On
Two new units make quick work of ground meat.
If you’re in the market for a new grinder or looking to graduate from a mixer attachment to a dedicated grinding unit, there are a couple new brands that have brought some excellent, industrial-strength equipment to market in the
past couple of years.
The first is Chard, whose #12 Heavy Duty Grinder ($179.99; chardproducts.com) will process about 6 pounds of meat per minute. Fine, medium and coarse grinding plates made of sintered steel are included, as is a stuffing plate and two stuffing tubes for sausage. Additionally, Chard offers .75-horsepower and 400-watt models. The other brand is the aggressively named MEAT!, which offers a 1.5-horsepower model ($599.99; meatyourmaker.com) capable of chewing up and spitting out between 14 and 18 pounds of meat per minute.
It comes with coarse and fine grinding plates, as well as a stuffing plate with three stuffing tubes. All plates are stainless steel. If you’ve got lots of grinding in your future, and price is not a factor, this is the machine for you. In addition to the 1.5-horsepower model, MEAT! has more budget-friendly .5-horsepower and 500-watt grinders in its lineup.