Care and Processing of Your Harvest
You can always pay a butcher to process and wrap or vacuum seal your game, but I enjoy the art of having complete control over the process, where time permits. With a busy life of a full and part-time career, raising a family, and my other countless pursuits in life, sometimes dropping off my game at a processor is a huge time-saver but it is fun and usually pretty easy to process meat in the comfort of your own home if circumstances allow for it. After you get home, you can easily go to any store and buy a large roll of freezer paper and some freezer tape to wrap everything up. Cutting and wrapping your meat is easy to do by yourself but do not be cheap or stingy on the freezer paper for both small and large cuts. Double wrap everything you pack away in the freezer to ensure your meat is protected from freezer burn and preserves well until you are ready to cook it.
A while back, Santa Claus was nice enough to bring me a vacuum sealer for Christmas and I have used it with wonderful results instead of freezer paper. You can also freezer wrap and then vacuum seal for more protection. Remember, air in the freezer environment is the enemy and the main cause of the dreaded freezer burn. Vacuum sealer bags for vacuum sealer appliances are a little more expensive than what freezer paper costs but they are well worth the price with the extra freshness and extended freezer life you get out of your meat. If you use this method, buy rolls of freezer paper and cut and seal them into bags yourself. This is much more economical than purchasing pre-cut sealer bags. Some stores even have store-brand versions of vacuum sealer material which cost less and usually work as well as the brand name versions.
When making burger, breakfast sausage, link sausage, or any other ground meat products, it is vital that you keep the area you are handling your ground meat on very clean as ground meat is a breeding ground for bacteria. Most of your ground meat can come from the trimmings of your tenderloins and back straps as well as your whole quarters. You can also chunk up your whole quarters making ground meat products.
If you are grinding the meat yourself, you will find that it is easier to do it when the meat is chilled or partially frozen. Since wild game is a lean meat and will dry out easily, I usually buy "Bacon Ends and Pieces" from the store. This will add a nice smoked bacon taste to your burger meat along with fat. I usually grind at about a 20% ratio or less of Bacon Ends and Pieces to my wild pork or venison for burger. I got this idea from one of my other favorite deer processors, right down the road from the ranch I work for, which is Brizendine’s Deer Processing (www.brizendinesdeer.com) and they are well known for their “Bacon Burger”, which is simply incredible. It is basically venison burger mixed with bacon. They will never share the ratio or fat content that they use to make it taste so good and I understand that. I have used Venison Bacon Burger to make phenomenal hamburgers as well as in queso, meatloaf, casseroles, and several one-dish skillet recipes in place of using beef with fantastic results. If you ever hunt around Central Texas, give Brizendine’s a try, if not just for this product alone!
For sausage, the general rule is 40% to 50% commercial pork or beef and 50% game meat. You can purchase pork shoulders or Boston Butts in the meat section of most stores fairly inexpensively. If you do not have a meat grinder, most butchers will grind the meat for you for under a dollar a pound. You can save money by boning out your meat so it is easier for your butcher to process. The main rule to follow is to never grind any meat you normally would not eat. If it does not look appetizing to eat, grinding it certainly is not going to change things much.
Wild Breakfast Sausage
Seasoning for Breakfast Sausage can be found at most supermarkets (usually in the meat section) or meat markets. Make sure you weigh your meat and have the correct ratios of seasoning so you don't over-season or under-season what you are making.
The seasoning can be added to meat that has already been ground but it is better to chunk up your meat in 1-2 inch slices, lay it out close together, and sprinkle it with the seasoning package and sage (optional), then grind it. You can use straight pork, venison/pork, or pork mixed with a little bacon. Experiment with what you like the best.
To see if your seasoning/meat ratio is correct, fry up a little test patty after you have a small first batch of seasoned pork through the grinder. If it needs more or less seasoning or fat content, you can always adjust it right away. If it needs a little heat or more flavor, add some sage or other seasoning you desire. Portion your finished meat into 1 to 2 pound servings, wrap in freezer paper or wild game freezer bags and freeze. It should be noted that one of the best ways I have found to process wild goat and sheep, as we have on exotic ranches all over Texas, is to make breakfast or link sausage. Many hunters on our ranch do not want the meat from these trophy animals but I can promise that I have fed breakfast sausage patties and link sausage to folks who swore it was deer or hog sausage and never even noticed a tint of wild goat or sheep taste. It all happens when you process the meat correctly.
Most sporting goods stores will have good link sausage kits. With these kits, you can select many different varieties of flavors such as Italian, Bratwurst, German, and so on. Casings can be purchased at most grocery stores in the meat section but most link sausage kits already have them included. Read the directions on your mix kit to make sure you get the right seasoning to meat ratio and weigh everything before you mix anything to make sure you have the correct proportions before you start.
After you have your meat together, you can add the seasoning, then grind it, or grind it, then add the seasoning. In any case, it should be noted here that you want everything to be mixed evenly for a consistent end product. You can buy stuffing horns rather inexpensively. Another option is to use a mixer attachment grinder/stuffer, which is what I use with my kitchen mixer. Either way you go you, you simply want to soak the casings in water for around 30 minutes until they get soft and pliable. Lubricate the end of your stuffer with some vegetable oil. Tie a square knot in the end of your casing and slide the open end all the way on the stuffer, making sure you keep all excess air out of the casing.
Start to fill your casings with meat from the stuffer. As you fill the casings, they will expand and the weight on the stuffed casings will pull away from the stuffer and allow fresh portions of the casing to be filled. After your get to the end of the casing link, you can tie another square knot at the other end of the casing. Make sure not to overfill your casings or they will burst and I can speak from personal experience that this is not a fun thing to happen! If you do have some air pockets after you are finished, make a small pinhole in the casing at the site of the air pocket to let the air out. Your link should still be fine after doing this. If anything does bust wide open on you during this process, you can always cut it and tie up the link in the good part of the casing and start with a fresh one. You will get the hang of this the more you do it.
Natural casings are usually very long. You can cut the casing into shorter lengths or make one massive link and pinch and twist portions out of it to make smaller links. If you take vote for the second option, make sure you twist your casing in the opposite directions so your sausage stays in links and does not become unraveled when you are done. You can always use synthetic casings, and one of my meat processors exclusively does this for a number of reasons, but be sure to use the same basic principles for care and filling of any kind of casing. It gets messy if you get careless. Wrap serving portions of one to two pounds in freezer paper or vacuum seal and you are done. When you make your own link sausage you have the freedom to include whatever you want in seasoning or ingredients such as jalapeños, cheese, etc. With this in mind, be sure to be aware of who will be serving the end product to as your family and church friends may not like habanero or ghost chilies as much as you do! Making sausage takes some time but it is well worth it!