Fall is here and so is hunting season for some types of wild game.
Hunters are looking forward to making use of the animals they hunt. However, handling the meat improperly in the field or cooking it incorrectly at home can ruin the meat.
“The handling of the meat from harvest to preparation can make a major difference in the flavor and safety of the end product,” says Julie Garden-Robinson, North Dakota State University Extension food and nutrition specialist.
Here are some tips for handling large game animals such as deer in the field:
- Dress out (remove the entrails) as soon as possible after it is killed to ensure the rapid loss of body heat.
- Wipe the gutted cavity with a dry or damp cloth. Keep the animal as clean as possible.
- Cool the carcass promptly and thoroughly by propping the chest cavity open with a stick to allow air to circulate freely. Hanging the carcass up aids cooling, too.
- To cool an animal on a hot day, buy bags of ice cubes to put into the body cavity. Be sure to leave the ice in the bags.
For game birds, remove the entrails and crop as soon as possible after shooting them. This allows air to circulate in the body cavity and aids in cooling the carcass quickly and thoroughly. If the weather is hot, place the birds individually in plastic bags and put them on ice. Do not pile warm birds in a mass.
Fish also require some careful handling:
- Keep the fish you catch alive as long as possible. A metal link basket or a live box is better than a stringer. Don’t throw fish in the bottom of the boat.
- If you can’t keep them alive, put them in an ice chest with ice.
- Clean them as soon as possible.
- When fishing in the winter, be sure to keep the fish covered because the wind will dry them out.
Game meats and fish can add variety to your diet. Here are some tips for cooking with game meat:
- Elk, venison, bison and beef can be used interchangeably in recipes.
- Game meat usually has less fat, which means it tends to be dry. To compensate, use it in soups and stews, bake it in oven bags or marinate it before cooking it as a steak or in stir-fry.
- Handle wild game safely. Store raw wild game in the refrigerator below 40 F for up to two days or freeze it for up to six months for best quality.
- Thaw frozen meat in its original wrapping on the lowest shelf in the refrigerator. For faster thawing, place meat in waterproof wrapping in cold water and change the water as needed to keep the temperature cold.