Having conducted seminars at many sports shows across the nation for the past 20 years I’ve compiled a pretty good repertoire of questions regarding ground venison. Let’s start with the understanding that the term venison is a generic term that includes any member of the deer family from moose to axis deer and everything in between. The most basic questions include, “What cuts of game meat should get ground?” Should I add fat, what kind, how much, and when? Do I grind when processing my deer or grind on demand? Is it ok to use all my trim for grinding? Should I grind twice? How should it be packaged? These are just a few of the many questions hunters ask regarding ground game meat. The answers to these great questions vary depending upon each individual scenario, personal preferences, and palate. Everyone’s situations are different but our desired outcome should be consistently the same, a moist, tender, tasty, final product to be shared with family and friends. Whether you butcher and fabricate your own meat or bring to a game processor, the outcome should be the same.
What cuts of game meat should get processed into ground meat?
As a chef, I plan to utilize many of the muscles for specific dishes so I don’t usually have much meat to grind. When fabricating my deer or elk, I have two bowls, one for trim that goes for stewmeat and the other is trim for grinding. I keep some of the tougher cuts such as the shank, heel and neck for braising and brining.
The tougher cuts are the ones that should be processed into ground meats. This includes the neck, shoulder, rib meat, shanks, heel from the hind leg, and of course all useable trim. Basically the tougher cuts are the muscles that are closer to the ground, used the most, are worked more, have more connective tissue, resulting in having more flavor. They are also more difficult to cook and make tender thus they go into ground meats.
All members of the deer family have very little fat/marbling in the meat as compared to beef or pork. The key to a quality, moist, tasty, tender, final product is the retention of moisture and the addition of fat. The questions are when do you add the fat, how much fat, and what kind of fat?
Whether you fabricate your own meat or bring to a butcher you will be faced with these same questions.
Should I Add fat?
As stated previously, everyone’s situation and preferences are different. There is no one-way ground in stone for everyone to follow. Each person has personal preferences, facilities, skills,and situations that determine when, how much, and what type of fat is added. But the answer to the basic question of do we add fat is: yes.
What kind of fat?
The only way you are going to determine what type of fat you prefer is by experimenting. I personally prefer pork fat, my friend prefers beef fat, while other friends prefer adding bacon as fat. I know a few and far between people that actually prefer deer fat, while others like duck and bear fat. The type of fat will be determined by your experimentation, personal preferences, availability of these products and recommendations by family and friends. I’ve used pork jowl, pork butt, pork fat back, salt pork, and bacon, depends on what I’m going to prepare. That is why I grind my meat on demand. I am always experimenting for recipe development etc.
How much fat?
Generally speaking, 10%-30% fat content is preferred. When you purchase beef at the grocery store do you purchase 90% lean &10% fat? Do you purchase 70% lean and 30% fat? The amount of fat used is determined by what you are going to prepare. If I am making hamburgers, I tend to keep the meat about 80-20. When preparing meat loaf or meat balls I will use 90-10, when preparing taco or chili I use straight up 100% pure coarse ground venison. When preparing sausage, I will use 70-30. This is why I grind on demand. But for someone that wants to get-er- done, you can’t go wrong by getting your meat all 80-20. This ratio will work perfectly fine for all formulas.
When do I add fat?
I like to add the fat when grinding the meat. Although I do have pure ground game meat in the freezer that I will add fat at a later date depending on what I’m going to prepare. As an example, along with this column is a recipe for the addition of mayonnaise as a fat substitute.
When preparing ground game meat in batches, this is the time to experiment, do one batch with beef fat and another with pork butt. Mark when packaging and experiment. Or ask your butcher to do the same. Remember adding pork butt, you are adding meat as well. The pork butt is not pure fat, probably only 30-40 percent fat. Usually when I add pork butt I will go with 70% venison and 30% pork butt.
When do I grind?
I prefer to freeze the muscles and grind on demand. I will coarse grind straight up elk for chili or grind twice when adding pork jowl for sausages. The process of grinding on demand will save a ton of time when fabricating you game. I know people that have shared the cost of a large meat grinder, meat mixer, and sausage stuffer, they get together in camp and grind in batches, prepare sausages, and have a good ole time together processing all their game meat. That works, this is what I mean when everyone’s situation is different.
Can I grind twice?
Yes, if your ground meat is frozen, it is ok to grind a second time into sausage or fine grind for meatloaf etc.
Tips and Pointers when preparing Ground Game Meat/Burger
If using a butcher use a reputable butcher so you get quality in return.
Always keep meat, fat, and equipment ice cold.
Make sure all equipment, tools, cutting boards etc. are very clean.
Keep meat in bowls or containers on ice.
Remove all rings, band aids etc. use gloves when mixing with your hands.
Keep dipping your hands in cold water.
Use only quality meat, don’t use bloodshot meat or scraps that are not wholesome or fresh.
Keep your meat clean and free of hair, dirt, and debris.
Always thaw meat in the refrigerator in drip pan, not on the counter at room temperature.
Keep hot food hot, 140 and up, and cold food cold, 40 or below. To prevent the growth of harmful microorganisms.
Lightly oil grinder with food grade oil, not olive or vegetable oils.
Store your grinder in the freezer.
When grinding your meat, cut the meat into long thin strips. Feed the meat into the shoot so the meat feeds continually into the auger of the grinder.
Never use your fingers to push meat into the head down towards the auger.
Remove as much silver skin and connective tendons as possible to prevent it clogging your grinder and wrapping on the grinder blade.
When grinding always start with the large die, grind once, then depending on what your preparing, use the medium or fine die second.
Freeze meat as fast as possible, don’t stack in freezer, spread out.
Pack ground meat as dense as possible to prevent blood loss and freezer burn.
Packing into flat square packages lessons wasted space in freezer.
Always label, mark, and date, all packages.
To lengthen shelve life cook and store in refrigerator.
Standard binding agent for meat loaf or meatballs is one egg per pound of meat.
Having a meat mixer will prevent you from adding spices and seasonings to your meat before you grind a second time. These spices will dull your blades.
Write down your recipe, date it, record recommendations and changes that you would make thenext time. As an example, “next time try using wild boar and bear instead of venison”. Recipes are guidelines and everyone enjoys different flavors so you adjust accordingly. Note, always cook boar and bear well done. 165
Attached are a couple recipes that are considered a base with multiple various to experiment with.
Gorgonzola Mushroom Elk Burger
Yoshida Venison Burger
Elk Burger (Using Mayonnaise For Fat Content)
Good Cooking, Chef Wutsch