With opening day just around the corner, you might be wondering what to do with those few remaining packages of meat. Here are some great options
I hate waste. We strive to process our deer and other animals to use every edible bite. My dad is fond of saying our cleaned carcasses would “starve a buzzard.” That same philosophy carries over to the kitchen where we cook up hearts, liver, and other tasty bits along with the more standard cuts.
If you’re like us, you’ve probably done a pretty good job at emptying last year’s meat from the freezer. Most of the good stuff is long gone. What’s left? More than likely some large chunks of meat, roasts probably, but who knows. Maybe a duck or two, diver or dabbler — man I wish I had labeled that package better. Hey, there’s that whole hindquarter I meant to roast over an open fire. With the new season just around the corner, you are going to need that freezer space. It’s time to clean out what’s left.
Yes, you could just chuck it all in the dumpster or pile it up in front of a trail camera for some cool predator pics, but that would be a waste of hard-earned meat, and like I mentioned above, I hate the thought of that. The game we hunt deserves better. Even if the meat is a little freezer burned, it’s still usable. Here are a few ways we like to empty our freezers this time of year.
I’d just as soon head to the stand without my gun or bow than without a bag of jerky in my pocket. Chewing on a piece keeps me from getting hungry over a long sit, plus it gives me something to occupy my time when nothing is moving.
Now is the perfect time to stock up your jerky supply. Slicing those leftover roasts into thin strips is easier if the meat is still partially frozen. Cut the meat with the grain into long, uniform pieces so that your jerky dries at an even rate in your dehydrator. A meat slicer speeds the process and makes keeping a uniform thickness easy. Try this Timber2Table jerky recipe or use your favorite.
Get in the Grind
Ground game meat is probably the most versatile thing in our freezer. Besides burgers, it’s great for sausages, pasta sauces, meatloaf, soups, stews, tacos, pizzas, and more. Don’t limit your grind to venison. Game birds, turkey legs, waterfowl — all can be ground and used in numerous ways.
Every hunter needs a good grinder. Look for one that comes with multiple sizes of grinding plates for different textures of meat and a set of sausage stuffing tubes for making snack sticks, bratwurst, and smoked sausages. Like the jerky, simply thaw the meat that’s been hanging around in your freezer enough to cut it into chunks that will fit through your machine. Cold meat grinds easier than room temperature, and leaving it partially frozen speeds the process and cuts down on possible bacteria contamination. Don’t rush it, though. The meat should be thawed just enough to easily cut with a sharp knife so it doesn’t overwork your grinder’s motor.
A jerky gun lets you easily turn seasoned ground meat into thin, flat strips of jerky. You can use a prepackaged kit from Hi Mountain, Weston, LEM or others, or make your own. Mix seasonings and cure into your ground meat, load the tube of the jerky gun, and squeeze the strips directly onto your dehydrator rack.
Worried about thawing your game meat, grinding, then refreezing it as sausage or burger? Don’t be. The USDA says that as long as the meat was properly thawed in the refrigerator and not allowed to warm beyond 40 degrees Fahrenheit, it is safe to refreeze. In fact, most of the meat purchased at local grocery stores was frozen for shipping, then thawed for display, only to be frozen again by consumers once they get it home.
Break Out the Pressure Canner
Have a pressure canner at home? Thaw out some game meat and can it in jars. The results are fully cooked, ready to eat, and shelf stable at room temperature. We put up quite a bit of venison this way each season for quick and easy meals. Simply pour a jar of canned venison into a pan to warm, whip up some mashed potatoes or noodles, and spoon the venison over for a dish that everyone will love.
You can also turn those leftover roasts into pressure-canned soups that are perfect for a quick lunch. You don’t have to precook the soup in order to can it. Simply pack sterilized jars with cubed raw meat and other ingredients like vegetables or mushrooms, wipe the rims clean, place new jar lids, then screw on the rings. Follow the instructions for your pressure canner on time, temperature, and pressure, then allow the jars to cool until they seal. Store the results on your pantry, cupboard, or basement shelves.
Make Your Best Friend Happy
Find some stuff that might be a little too far along to save? Dog treats are expensive, so why not use leftover game meat to make your own? It’s cheap and free of additives and dyes, and your dogs will love you for it. Now don’t get me wrong — your dogs will readily consume any game meat in its raw form, but the entire purpose of this article is to help you clean out your freezer. These treats turn that raw meat into dried dog snacks that store well at room temperature and won’t make a mess in your pocket.
Think of it basically as jerky for dogs. You could even use your favorite jerky recipe and split it with Fido, but dogs aren’t as picky as we are and don’t really need a lot of added flavors to enjoy their snacks. The high sodium in some recipes isn’t that good for them either, so don’t add salt. For the marinade, a bit of low-sodium soy sauce gives a little umami flavor, and our dogs love it. Most dogs seem to like garlic as well, so we add a touch of garlic powder.** If desired, include a half cup of no-sugar-added pineapple juice.
Make the treats just like you would jerky. Slice any wild game meat, including heart and liver, into long, thin strips. Shoot for 1/4 inch or less in thickness for fast, even drying. For each pound of meat, add 1/2 cup of low-sodium soy sauce, 1/2 cup of pineapple juice (optional), and 1 teaspoon of garlic powder. Mix well in a glass or plastic bowl and refrigerate overnight. Spread the strips on your dehydrator until they are completely dry but still have a little bend to them. Store in an airtight jar.
Feed Your Chickens
More and more people across the country are keeping backyard chickens. Why? They are realizing what professional chefs have been saying for years. Free-range eggs are just better than their commercially produced counterparts. Backyard eggs are fresher, have richer yolks, are higher in vitamin D, and are richer in omega-3 fatty acids.
One of the main reasons for the difference is that free-range chickens consume protein in the form of insects and worms. But those aren’t the only proteins your chickens will enjoy. Don’t believe me? Toss a leftover bone or two, with a little meat left on, to the tiny, feathered dinosaurs and see what happens. Give your chickens the diced-up trimmings left from making jerky or ground meat. If you had some bone-in meat in the freezer that you trimmed, let the chickens pick the bones clean. That way, absolutely nothing goes to waste.
The season will be here before you know it. Now is the time to look in your freezer. Is it still too full to hold this year’s game? Make use of what’s left with one or more of these methods. You will end up with some tasty meals and snacks to keep you going this fall, and you’ll make room for all of the fresh meat you’ll be bringing home.
** Author's Note - I've had hunting dogs my whole life, and had never heard of garlic being toxic to dogs until a reader pointed it out. I researched it and found that it indeed can be dangerous to dogs, in large quantities. Still, other sources suggest that in moderation, garlic is actually good for dogs. While I think you're plenty safe with this treat recipe, leave the garlic out if it's a concern. — M.P.