In part 1 of: Why I always give Moose, Deer and Elk proper Hang Time, we learned to avoid some common mistakes and why aging the meat makes a difference. In part 2 we described dry aging vs wet aging and the pros and cons with each.
Now in the final part I will describe how I process my meat for aging, the meat aging formula between temperature and time and simple DIY steps. After reading part 3 you will know how aging your meat turns it from flavorless to full of flavor and from tough to tender.
From the shot till the freezer: Do this and you will not fail
I will walk you through the simple process of how I age my venison and other meat here in my home near the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.
After field dressing and quartering the animal whether it be deer or elk it will be kept in a cooler with ice filled gallon jugs. The field dressing and quartering of the animal and how the meat is handled afterwards is important for the end result. A clean hygienic process is vital - it is recommended to use disposable gloves and have multiple knives ready or clean your one good knife if it gets dirty.
Usually it takes me a couple of days until I am home and can start processing the meat. If I come home the same day I leave the meat in the cooler till the next day to make sure that rigor mortis has ended before I start processing the meat.
I love processing the meat myself, making the finer cuts of the meat, grinding some and making sausages for the family. I often invite hunter friends over to show them how fun and easy it is to process the meat myself. It is a great learning experience to butcher the animal yourself: being in charge of the quality, the cuts and the end result.
Why take the meat to the butcher when it is expensive and completely removes your control over the results. When you take the animal to the butcher, do you know the process, if the meat is aged or not?
DIY: Easy steps that will not fail you
1. Use a clean surface to work on. I prefer to use a disposable, clean thick plastic cover on my kitchen table. This makes the cleanup afterwards easy and my wife stays happy which makes preparing for the next hunting trip easier :)
2. Just as you used good hygiene when you dressed the animal, hygiene is important for the final butchering. Disposable gloves, clean knives and frequent cleaning of cutting boards and knives makes sure the end result is up to expectations. Boiling water can help to quickly sterilize heat tolerant knives and cutting boards.
3. In case of a large animal: focus on the finer cuts first, since you are more prone to make mistakes the more tired you become. Wait with grinding the meat until you are done with the finer cuts. Until it is time to grind the meat it should be kept in a bowl in the fridge.
5. It is important that the meat put in the vacuum sealed bags are trimmed and clean. Any contaminants such as hair, dirt, grass must be removed.
- As a general rule using water for cleaning the meat is not a great idea. Water will make contaminants spread. It is better to use clean paper towels and wipe the meat clean.
- Any gray meat should be trimmed away. Gray could be a sign of that the part is contaminated. Smell and stickiness of these areas are also good indications of that the gray "corners" of the meat needs to be trimmed out and pitched.
- When the meat is trimmed it should look neat and clean. I personally keep the "silver skin" or fascia if it is on the outside of the cut. Some people prefer to trim it away. My reasoning is that the membrane acts as a barrier that reduces the fluid loss during aging and later defrosting.
6. Make sure you have a food vacuum sealer, a kitchen scale and a sharpie pen to put down the date, type of meat and weight. Use this to package the whole muscle meat according to your preference.
7. When the meat is vacuum packaged it goes into the fridge beside the Tenderization Timer. The Tenderization Timer's display will show progress of the aging and and the time left. My recommendation is to age all meat between 40°C to 60°C day grades. I prefer 60° day grades but 40° is sufficient. Once the vacuum packed meat is finished aging in the fridge it can be put in the freezer.
8. The ground meat should not be aged since it is intermixed with air and will not keep the same way as vacuum packed whole muscle meat will. The ground meat should be frozen immediately after packaging.
9. When you defrost a fine cut of meat you should do so in the fridge. The leaner the meat the more sensitive it is to bleed during defrosting. Defrosting the meat, slowly, during at least 2 days will ensure the meat does not bleed out and become dry.
what is 40°C DAy Grades?
Day grade refers to the average ambient temperature during a day.
The 40°C day grades calculation is simply that if you have average day temperature of 4°C (39°F) then it will take 10 days until it reaches 40°C day grades.
If the ambient temperature is 10°C day grades (50°F) then it will take 4 days to reach 40°C day grades.
The 40°C day grades formula is a well proven and tested method for aging meat in the Nordic countries and it is about time we start using it here in the USA. Advice such as : "Age it for a few days" or "Age it for a week or two" just is not good enough and I understand that hunters do not follow such vague advice.
You can do the day grade calculation yourself of course without the Tenderization Timer. The manual process involves measuring the temperature several times a day, calculating the day average and adding it to the sum of the day averages until you reach 40°C day grades. In a fridge the process usually takes 10 days - 2 weeks. Following the manual process over two weeks is doable but somewhat of a pain compared to using the Tenderization Timer, which makes the process easy and appealing.
Instead of calculating the aging period by hand I recommend using the Tenderization Timer . The timer will tell you in percentage how much of the 40°C day grades that is achieved and it will estimate the number of days left.
As a general rule I use the 40°C up to 60°C day grades calculations for all my game meat regardless if it is a young or an old animal, big game or small game.
Technically speaking younger animals have less collagen so they do not need as much aging as an old animal. I keep it simple and age all meat with 40°C - 60°C day grades
The aged meat
Vacuum aging is almost foolproof compared to dry-aging. If you used good hygiene during field dressing, quartering and final butchering and vacuum packed the whole muscle meat then you cannot go wrong with vacuum aging.
A personal revelation was when a moose cow I shot in Sweden was dry aged for 10 days and we later compared it to a moose calf that was butchered just a day or two after rigor mortis. The meat from the cow was more tender than the calf and the flavor was by far much, much better.
My personal opinion is that the flavor of the meat comes out better when the meat is not tough. If you cannot chew and savor the meat how can you really feel the flavor of it? Aging meat will not only break down the collagen that makes meat tough it will also appeal to you and your family's taste buds.
At Jägare Ltd you can buy the Tenderization Timer and we highly recommend using it. It is robust, small, weights very little and with batteries that last for years. Using the cool timer is of course not needed to get perfectly tenderized meat - with the instructions given above you can in good conscience apply wet ageing to tenderize the meat using the manual tracked day grades.
Whether or not you age your game meat is up to you. I highly recommend that you try it, either by the manual pen-and-paper method or using the dead simple timer. Once you have started to age your meat you will be struck by the big improvement it made. I am sure you will not be disappointed and your family and dinner guests will be amazed by the tender and flavorful steaks.