Kjell Hedström - 2017
When I started out as a hunter in the North of Sweden I was fortunate enough to hunt with various groups of hunters. They all had decades worth of knowledge and traditions on: how to field dress the animal, how long the moose or deer should hang and how to butcher it. I quickly realized that the processed meat quality differed sharply between the groups and I set out to learn what made the processed meat high quality vs inferior quality.
I am sure I was a pain in the ass for some of these folks but overall people were happy to share their experience. In the end it also meant challenging some traditions with the result of processed moose meat that was of much higher quality than what I had experienced before.
Now, several years later, I live in Colorado with my family and I am hunting in the Rocky Mountains. Now, I am on a new path of learning, starting from the Nordic still rifle hunting to the Mountain archery spot-and-stalk. The hunting traditions differ but the meat aging and processing knowledge from Sweden works just as good in the Rockies. I have turned into a true believer of tenderizing meat through aging and it is probably not wrong to label me a meat aging evangelist when the topic surfaces.
Let me share some of meat aging knowledge with you:
Avoid these common mistakes
When the muscles go into rigor mortis, it will last 12 - 24 hours. During this period the meat is in a sensitive phase and these two common mistakes can ruin the meat:
- Butchering during rigor mortis will sabotage the meat as it will trigger muscle shortening where the tight muscles will stay contracted and remain tougher than if the butchering happened after rigor mortis.
- Cold shortening can happens if the carcass is cooled down below 50°F during the first 12 hours. The meat will contract even more than in the normal rigor mortis phase and it will stay contracted. If it is very cold outside it might be better to wait with skinning the animal till later.
The meat aging process and why it matters
Once the rigor mortis phase has passed, the actual meat tenderization process starts. Meat is made of muscle cells and connecting tissue. The connecting tissue, collagen, is a tough substance. With more collagen you get tough meat. With less collagen you get tender meat. As a young animal grows older it develops more collagen. That is why a younger animal is more tender than an older animal.
The great news is that the meat contains enzymes that break down the collagen over time. Simply put, the longer it hangs the more tender it becomes. A supermarket bought beef or a rush processed deer might have aged 2-3 days until it is put into the freezer. This is not terrible as some aging has already happened, but it is far from the quality meat you can get with just a little bit of knowledge and effort.
A young animal needs only a few days worth of aging, while an old buck or a big bull moose benefits from an extended period of aging as more collagen needs to break down. An older animal that is properly aged will give flavorful and tender meat that can easily outdo the young animal.
Aging meat should be a clean, controlled process and the resulting meat should smell pleasant. The aged meat will be more flavorful and much more tender. Compare this to a recently killed animal; if you immediately cook up some of the meat you will see that the meat does not have a lot of flavor. It is tough to chew and will be radically different from aged meat. With a few days of aging we see a huge difference in the meat quality and taste.
With aging, that follows the proven formula between temperature and time, you get perfect tenderized meat every time. It is a simple process and you will be amazed at the results.
Part 2 and 3
How I process my meat for aging, the meat aging formula between temperature and time and the pros and cons with dry aging vs wet aging can be read in part 2 and 3 of: Why I always give Moose, Deer and Elk proper Hang Time