DIY - Deer Hind Quarter - Part I: Easy Butchering

Kjell Hedström - 2018

If you have not butchered your own deer or elk yet then you should. I find it a very rewarding experience as it increases ones self-sufficiency, gives you a better product and knowledge of the meat you are later cooking with. 

Breaking down a hind leg could be considered the hard part of  Do It Yourself (DIY) butchering.  By reading this blog entry and watching the videos I have posted below you will be well prepared to try it yourself. 

There are multiple ways of breaking down a deer's hind leg. Regardless of method you choose,  if you are following the natural muscle structures you cannot really do it wrong.  Using this basic principle of separating the hind leg by the whole muscle structures you will do just fine. The same principle can be applied to elk and moose. 

In the follow-up to this blog article you will find general guidelines on the different cuts and what they can be used for.  As you see in Part II,  proper DIY aging at home will give you more freedom on what to use the meat for compared to if you had not aged the meat. 
 

 The essentials. 

The essentials. 

Easy Set-up

My basic and inexpensive set-up can be viewed above and in the picture here on the right. 

 Easy sanitation of a Mora Outdoor 2000 knife. This knife is an excellent hunting and all-round knife that will last you a lifetime. It also withstands boiling water with no problem.  ( No, I'm not getting paid for writing this )  Do NOT drop a Havalon  replacable-blade-  knife  in boiling water. The plastic will crack. Clean it instead with detergent, water and a brush.

Easy sanitation of a Mora Outdoor 2000 knife. This knife is an excellent hunting and all-round knife that will last you a lifetime. It also withstands boiling water with no problem.  (No, I'm not getting paid for writing this)

Do NOT drop a Havalon replacable-blade-knife in boiling water. The plastic will crack. Clean it instead with detergent, water and a brush.

  1. A grinder. With my wife's Kitchen Aid Mixer with grinder attachment I have no problem grinding up deer, elk and even a moose. Granted, I make sure to remove silver skin and tendons first. You can always start small and upgrade to a heavy duty grinder later. 
     
  2. Sharp knives and cutting boards are a must. I highly recommend to have access to a fillet knife, deboning knife and a couple of regular hunting or all-purpose knives.
     
  3. A good and easy to use sharpener.  Use the sharpener often. Clean the knives often.
     
  4. A vacuum packing machine, from a simple FoodSaver to something more heavy duty, whether you wet age your meat or not. 
     
  5. I find covering the table with plastic sheeting helps with cleanup. You can find plastic sheeting at your local paint store or Home Depot.  I tape the sheeting to the legs of the table to avoid it moving around.

    The sheeting really helps in keeping my wife on the positive side of me doing the butchering in the kitchen.  The trick is to not having it show the day after that you turned your kitchen into a DIY butcher shop for a few hours. 
     
  6. Disposable gloves. Not to protect you from the meat. It's the other way around. 
     
  7. Kitchen paper towels for easy removal of hair and as needed surface wiping.

 

Breaking Down a Deer's Hind Leg

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In general the top part of the hind leg is more tender. The further down you go the higher concentration of collagen and therefore tougher meat. 

With aging you get more flavorful and tender steaks from the top muscles and improved stew and braising meat from the bottom.

When breaking down the hind leg:
Follow the natural seams of the structure of the muscles. You are not cutting into the muscles, you are separating them. Separating them is equal parts using your hands to pull apart the muscles as it is helping out with your knife. 
 

 This time I started with the  bottom round .

This time I started with the bottom round.

 Once the big  bottom round  is separated the hind leg  gland  can be seen. Remove it. 

Once the big bottom round is separated the hind leg gland can be seen. Remove it. 

 The gland is shown at the knife point  The  top round   can be seen below the knife.

The gland is shown at the knife point

The top round  can be seen below the knife.

 Removed gland

Removed gland

  Bottom round  with  eye-round  and  tri-tip  attached  The  bottom round  and  eye-round  are tough, collagen rich muscles.  The  eye-round  looks might remind you of a backstrap but it is not a great cut for a steak.   The  tri-tip  on the other hand is very tender. If you have not tried out the  tri-tip  yet I recommend it. Age it and BBQ it on high heat for a short time. My personal preference is medium rare. For elk and moose  the  tri-tip  is big enough for a feast. 

Bottom round with eye-round and tri-tip attached

The bottom round and eye-round are tough, collagen rich muscles.  The eye-round looks might remind you of a backstrap but it is not a great cut for a steak. 

The tri-tip on the other hand is very tender. If you have not tried out the tri-tip yet I recommend it. Age it and BBQ it on high heat for a short time. My personal preference is medium rare. For elk and moose  the tri-tip is big enough for a feast. 

 The two lean and collagen rich cuts side by side.  The  tri-tip  is still attached to the  bottom-round  and is outside the picture. 

The two lean and collagen rich cuts side by side.  The tri-tip is still attached to the bottom-round and is outside the picture. 

 With your hand you can start separating the top round. Just below it is  the  top shank  (or  knuckle)   that is removed next. 

With your hand you can start separating the top round. Just below it is  the top shank (or knuckle)  that is removed next. 

 Using your fingers and a little bit of knife work the  top shank  comes loose without much effort. 

Using your fingers and a little bit of knife work the top shank comes loose without much effort. 

 The little upper  shank  ( knuckle ) often goes to the grind. Instead of grinding it, next time use the two deer upper  shanks  for braising. The tendons and grizzle will turn into gelatin and ensure a juicy and flavorful braised dish.  For elk and moose I absolutely recommend keeping as is. Braising this cut for 3-5 hours will give top notch result. 

The little upper shank (knuckle) often goes to the grind. Instead of grinding it, next time use the two deer upper shanks for braising. The tendons and grizzle will turn into gelatin and ensure a juicy and flavorful braised dish.

For elk and moose I absolutely recommend keeping as is. Braising this cut for 3-5 hours will give top notch result. 

 Separating the  sirloin   and the  top round  from the bone.   Use your fingers to separate the  sirloin  and  top round  as much as possible. Use the knife to separate the  top round  first and then follow the bone to separate the  sirloin .

Separating the sirloin  and the top round from the bone. 

Use your fingers to separate the sirloin and top round as much as possible. Use the knife to separate the top round first and then follow the bone to separate the sirloin.

 The  sirloin  is removed from the bone. Left is the  shank .  The  shank  meat was put in the grind pile this time. The  shank  is excellent stew meat similar to the  knuckle  above. For moose and elk I have also used this cut for biltong and jerky.

The sirloin is removed from the bone. Left is the shank.

The shank meat was put in the grind pile this time. The shank is excellent stew meat similar to the knuckle above. For moose and elk I have also used this cut for biltong and jerky.

  Sirloin  with  rump roast

Sirloin with rump roast

 At the top of the picture is the  top round  and to the right is the  sirloin . To the left is a the smaller  rump stea k and the triangular roast.  This time I decided to let these smaller cuts go to the grind. For elk or moose I would recommend keeping them as is. Especially the rump cut is flavorful and excellent in cooking.

At the top of the picture is the top round and to the right is the sirloin. To the left is a the smaller rump steak and the triangular roast.

This time I decided to let these smaller cuts go to the grind. For elk or moose I would recommend keeping them as is. Especially the rump cut is flavorful and excellent in cooking.

 Trimming for me is removing fat, blood shot and  discolored  meat and anything that got dirt on it. The silver skin I leave on as it protects the meat during wet aging and freezer time.   The finished cuts. From the left:   eye round, rump, sirloin, bottom round  and  top round.   The cuts will look different depending on how much they are trimmed. In general this is what they would look like. For a big deer and particularly for elk and moose the big hind leg cuts will be split in two or more parts before wet  aging .  

Trimming for me is removing fat, blood shot and discolored meat and anything that got dirt on it. The silver skin I leave on as it protects the meat during wet aging and freezer time. 

The finished cuts. From the left:  eye round, rump, sirloin, bottom round and top round.

The cuts will look different depending on how much they are trimmed. In general this is what they would look like. For a big deer and particularly for elk and moose the big hind leg cuts will be split in two or more parts before wet aging.
 

 This mule deer was not dry aged. I butchered it roughly 36 hours after it was shot, well past   rigor mortis  . After vacuum packing, these cuts are ready for wet aging. For this doe I aged the cuts for 60  ° C day grades .    After aging the  sirloin ,  top round  and the  tri-tip  part of the bottom round you will have prime quality  meat for flavorful and tender steaks.  BBQ medium rare, no more!  More on the prime cuts and  the bottom round, rump steak, shanks etc in Part II.    DIY, Deer Hind Quarter - Part 2: Aging, Cuts & Cooking Recommendations

This mule deer was not dry aged. I butchered it roughly 36 hours after it was shot, well past rigor mortis. After vacuum packing, these cuts are ready for wet aging. For this doe I aged the cuts for 60° C day grades

After aging the sirloin, top round and the tri-tip part of the bottom round you will have prime quality  meat for flavorful and tender steaks.  BBQ medium rare, no more!

More on the prime cuts and  the bottom round, rump steak, shanks etc in Part II. 
 DIY, Deer Hind Quarter - Part 2: Aging, Cuts & Cooking Recommendations

Recommended WATCHING:

  1. Steven Rinella - Breaking Down a Deer's Hind Leg 
     
  2. Sharing the Outdoors - How to Process a Hindquarter 
    - first 8 minutes detailed hind leg processing instructions
    - the latter part is trimming advice
     
  3. Chef's advice on How to Butcher a Deer Hind Quarter.
    First 7 minutes is breaking down the hind quarter.  Pay attention to his recommendation for the steaks. For example, just like my own opinion the top round is a "class A" steak  - with aging!
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