Venison Processing & Preservation
Processing and Preserving Venison at Home
In 2017, deer hunters in West Virginia harvested more than 100,000 whitetail deer. For many West Virginians, venison is a valuable, economical protein source and, with fewer calories and up to five times less fat, a healthier choice of meat than beef.
Many hunters have found that they can save more money and increase their personal enjoyment by butchering their own deer. A new generation of hunters is entering the woods wanting to learn the safe and proper method of handling deer harvested for food.
Putting up your harvest is not as simple as going back to grandma’s favorite canning recipes. Home food preservation requires current, tested recommendations and the right equipment.
For those processing and preserving foods at home, it is critical to have access to reliable information concerning food safety and food quality. WVU Extension has long been recognized as a credible source for science-based recommendations.
After harvest and proper evisceration, the carcass needs to cool. You can accomplish this by hanging it outside if the temperatures are below 42 degrees or quartering it and placing it in a cooler or freezer.
Venison, unlike beef, does not need to age. After the meat is chilled, you can move on to cutting it from the bone. Due to disease, we recommend to never cut through the bone or use deer bones for broth.
You can package the cuts of meat into freezer paper, freezer bags or vacuum-sealed storage bags. Vacuum sealing will make the meat last the longest in the freezer without the risk of freezer burn.
When it comes time to prepare meat that has been frozen, venison is best cooked low and slow with strong flavors like garlic and barbecue. Due to the lack of fat marbling in the cuts, a quick fry in the pan will not yield a good flavor or texture.
Other ways to preserve your venison include dehydrating and canning.
Deer jerky can be made by using ground meat or thinly sliced roasts. Combine meat with desired seasonings and cure it, then dehydrate in an oven or electric dehydrator.
Canning venison is another option, and there are many great benefits from this practice. The meat is preserved on the shelf and will not take up room in the freezer; it’s ready to eat, which makes it a quick go to meal; and it makes the meat more tender.
Since venison is a low-acid food, it must be canned using a pressure canner. Add cold meat to quart jars with a pinch of salt and no extra liquid, then canned for 90 minutes.
The meat will make its own juice, and you will have a final product that’s ready to be warmed up and eaten after a long day at work.
By Alexandria Smith, WVU Extension Agent – Hampshire and Hardy Counties
Last Reviewed: October 2018