The Secrets To Aging (Venison, Not You)

If it’s warm, go easy on aging your venison. Keep it clean … and chilled.

There’s nothing wrong with aging your deer for a few days under carefully controlled conditions. But in warm weather, too much aging can make your venison taste rank and gamey—and even lead to serious food safety issues.

While I perhaps shouldn’t compare physicians to home butchers, there’s one thing that’s true of both: Your guiding principle should always be, “First, do no harm.”

The Gut It. Cut It. Cook It. legal department has advised me to suggest further study on the subject of food safety. And these days, if you work in food processing or at a restaurant, you’ll probably be required at some point to take special training in Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP). Go ahead and Google it later.

But just for starters, remember the “T” trifecta: Touch, Time and Temperature.

  • Touch. Keep it clean. Although some contaminants could be airborne or carried by insects, most get there by touch— usually during field-dressing and transport, but sometimes during skinning and butchering. If the meat isn’t contaminated, fewer microorganisms will make a home on your winter’s supply of venison.
  • Time. Don’t give bacteria time to grow and multiply. If it’s warm, cool your deer down fast, that way dangerous microorganisms have less time to begin colonizing your venison.
  • Temperature. Life begins at 40. In this context, that means 40 degrees Fahrenheit. The warmer the air temperature, the more important it is to cool your deer down fast.

When it comes to early season hunting, you need to have a plan. If you don’t have a walk-in cooler in your garage (and who does?), then have one lined up. And if you can’t do that, then get your deer butchered and in the freezer quickly.

Al Cambronne is co-author of Gut It. Cut It. Cook It.: The Deer Hunter’s Guide to Processing and Preparing Venison. His most recent book is Deerland: America’s Hunt for Ecological Balance and the Essence of Wildness. On Twitter: @AlCambronne.

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