After the successful hunt: Venison butchering and preservation

October 14, 2009

University Park, Pa. -- Once hunters have bagged their bucks during hunting season, they still have to decide what to do with their meat. While some hunters leave the choices to their local butcher, many are finding that they can save money and increase their personal enjoyment by butchering their own deer, according to a food-safety expert in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.

"It is certainly easier to turn your trophy deer into a pile of ground meat, but if the hunter is willing to learn proper butchering and cooking techniques, the possibilities for preparing your venison are endless," said Martin Bucknavage, food safety extension associate in the Department of Food Science.

"You can save more than $50 in butchering fees. and it also provides the opportunity to isolate the primal, or initial large cuts of meat," he said. "In our 'Venison 101' class, we teach hunters how to remove the primal cuts, how to make sausage and jerky, and even how to create a culinary masterpiece. For instance, the bottom round from the hind quarter makes an excellent pot roast or can be sliced for making jerky."

Bucknavage said that hunters should keep a few general rules in mind when planning how to butcher their game.

"When it comes to cooking whole cuts of meat, it is important to remember that as we move away from the hooves and horns, the cuts of meat become more tender," he said. "These tender cuts, such as the tenderloin, should be cooked quickly at a higher temperature. For tougher cuts, use low, moist heat to cook the meat more slowly. This helps break down the connective tissue within those cuts."

Because of the possibility of E. Coli O157:H7 contamination of the meat, it is important that the venison cuts reach a minimum internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit or higher -- which is a major issue, Bucknavage said, when making the always-popular venison jerky.

"One of the biggest concerns when making jerky is that people don't heat the meat to the proper temperature," he said. "It is important that jerky be heated just until it reaches at least 160 to 165 degrees. This can be accomplished by dipping the slices into a hot marinade for a minute or so before beginning the drying process."

Canning is another option for venison.

"Preserving venison through canning is a little-used practice that can turn tougher venison cuts into a ready-to-go ingredient for a favorite stew recipe," he said. "It is important to follow standardized USDA guidelines to safely preserve your venison."

The USDA guidelines are available online through Penn State's Food Safety Web site at

Penn State's Department of Food Science offers hunters a wealth of information on the preparation of wild game from the field to the table. The "Field Dressing Deer Pocket Guide" -- a free, 12-panel publication designed and folded to fit into a shirt pocket -- explains how to field-dress a deer safely. Extensively illustrated in full color, it explains the process of field dressing and also covers important food-safety information for hunters. It is available online at

"Proper Field Dressing and Handling of Wild Game and Fish" is for hunters and anglers who handle animals, fish and birds in the field. It details the potential risks involved in contaminating the meat or fish while dressing, handling and transporting it.

This free, 12-page, illustrated publication describes the importance of temperature control and gives detailed instructions for safe field dressing and transporting of deer, small animals and game birds. It is available online at

A companion booklet, "Proper Processing of Wild Game and Fish" is a free, 20-page publication that describes safe processing techniques for wild game and fish. Aging, cutting, curing, smoking, canning, and jerky and sausage making are detailed. The importance of temperature control is discussed, and various types of meat thermometers are identified. A final section includes recipes for game birds, fish and venison. It can be found online at

Penn State’s Venison 101 Workshop is an intensive one-day, hands-on workshop that demonstrates the proper processing and handling of deer. In this class, students learn and practice food-safety basics and techniques for maximizing the results of their successful hunt. The workshop is offered annually; for registration information, visit online.

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Last Updated October 15, 2009