It didn’t take long into my deer hunting career to realize that the cost of having a deer processed by the local meat processor was enough to break a man that liked to hunt deer as much as I did. At the time (late 80s), the basic cut for a whitetail deer at the processor would cost you roughly $40. You’ll pay closer to $100 today for the same processing chores.
As a newlywed in 1999, a costly deer processing bill wasn’t in the budget, so my wife came up with a better solution. For Christmas that year, she bought me a $99 Cabela’s meat grinder. It paid for itself with the first couple deer I killed. I was officially in the do-it-yourself home deer processing business.
That grinder has processed countless deer, from Tennessee to Montana, and still finds a place tucked away in our kitchen cabinets. However, over the years we’ve added a number of other tools to the mix, as well as a much beefier grinder for processing multiple deer at one time. Home processing of your deer meat is a very rewarding task, but it will require an investment in time and the tools necessary to make it happen. Below we’ll take a look at some of the best tools for processing your own wild game meat from home.
One of the first stops your meat will make once coming off the bone is a cooler. A quality cooler is worth its weight in gold when it comes to quickly cooling down your meat on hot weather hunts and keeping things cold until you're ready to begin the processing work. Premium coolers have been popular among hunters over the last 15 years, and for good reason. They’re tough as nails and really do help keep your meat cool for days. Whether in camp, or the back of the truck, a cooler needs to be a part of every hunt for the cooling and transfer of meat.
Every hunter has his or her favorite knife. But when it comes to the butchering process, it’s nice to have an all-in-one meat kit with all the tools you’ll need to get the job done. This is a super handy way to ensure that you’ll always be prepared to break down an animal, in the field, on the tailgate, back at camp, or in your home kitchen.
These kits come in all varieties, but at the least should include a caping knife, gut-hook skinning knife, boning/fillet knife, and knife sharpener. Other common items found in these processing kits include a bone saw, ribcage spreader, and latex gloves. Be sure to keep this kit with you on every hunt.
Meat lugs are super handy to have for meat transfer and storage as you move your game from the cooler to the fridge, or cutting table. These oversized plastic bins make life much easier when you debone your meat and want a quick and simple way to let your meat cool overnight. Snap-on lids make these lugs the perfect way to keep your meat covered and clean until you’re ready to take the next step in the processing chores.
For most hunters, the meat grinder is the first piece of meat processing equipment to purchase. They come in all shapes and sizes. Cabela’s still has their basic grinder coming in at just over $100, all the way up to their largest 1 ¾ HP commercial grinder priced at $800. There are endless recipes that call for ground venison, making the grinder a must-have item for any home processor. It’s also the foundational piece of equipment for creating your own sausage and specialty meats. Some of the best grinders on the market include CHARD, Meat!, Weston, and the Cabela’s grinders mentioned above.
If you’ve ever paid to have your deer processed into specialty meats like summer sausage, breakfast sausage, salami, or Italian sausage, you know the price can stack up in a hurry. It’s not uncommon to spend hundreds of dollars to have a single deer turned into these fine sausages. That’s why a sausage stuffer should be included in your processing tools.
You can do it all with a stuffer. From slim jims and snack sticks, to large sticks of summer sausage and breakfast sausage, the stuffer makes short work of making your own sausage for the table. This is one piece of equipment the whole family will enjoy as you continue to deliver the best of the best in fine meats for the table. The 5-pound stuffer is the perfect addition to your processing gear that’ll allow you to take your processing game to the next level.
You won’t realize how important a digital scale is until you start weighing out precise amounts of meat for the perfect blend of seasoning in your sausage creations. In fact, a digital scale may be one of the most overlooked tools on our list. But it’s one you certainly want to have in the mix for measuring out the perfect portions for making sausage, jerky, and meat packaging.
Jerky will be one of the most requested snacks from family and friends when they discover you have the goods to process your own meat. Everyone loves jerky! It’s a healthy snack that’s easy to take anywhere. Whether you’re on the hunt, or headed to the beach, you won’t find a better snack to keep at the ready than jerky. And now, making your own venison jerky is easier than ever.
The jerky gun makes short work of the jerky making chores, regardless of whether you prefer sticks or strips. You simply stuff your seasoned ground venison into the gun and squeeze out sticks or strips for the dehydrator. Most guns come with multiple size options and attachments.
You don’t typically think much of the benefits of having a meat slicer, until you use one. Then you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it. If you prefer sliced jerky rather than ground, a meat slicer makes things fast and easy. It works equally well for other cuts of meat and steaks. The meat slicer is not a must-have item for your home processing arsenal, but if you have the space, it’s certainly one to add to the mix to help make life easier for precision portioning of your meat.
The next step in creating your own jerky, quick and simple, is to add a dehydrator to your home processing tools. Say goodbye to the hassle of drying jerky from the oven. There is a better way. Small, stackable-tray dehydrators are an inexpensive option. But you can also knock out larger quantities of jerky with the larger commercial dehydrators available on the market today from companies like CHARD and Meat!. Don’t spend the money buying overpriced, store-bought jerky. Make your own! The dehydrator is an easy way to make it happen.
The vacuum sealer is a really nice addition to your meat processing kit. Some may consider it a luxury item, however, once you use one, you’ll realize you don’t want to pack meat without it. It’s the perfect option for clean and tidy packaging of your meat. Vacuum-sealed meats will also last longer and are more resistant to freezer burn than other packaging options.
Freeze Dry Machine
Freeze drying food is not just for doomsday preppers anymore. Hunters have discovered the benefit of having a freeze dry machine for making their meat last much longer than ever before. Your typical meat in the freezer will last a year or two, depending on how it’s wrapped. However, the freeze dry machine allows you to store meat for well over a decade.
The beauty of a freeze dry machine can also be found in the quality of food once you add water in preparation for the table. You’ll be amazed that it tastes just like the day you cooked it. It’s also a great way to prepare your own freeze dried meals for your hunting trips. It’s a huge cost-saver considering the price of freeze dried meals at your local sporting goods store. Harvest Right makes a slick machine that has all of the performance of a commercial-grade freeze dry machine, in a unit that’s perfectly suited for home processing.
Once you get the hang of it, you’ll find processing your own meat to be nearly as rewarding as the hunt itself. And when you have the right tools to make it happen, it makes for a great experience the whole family will enjoy. Be sure to check out the gear mentioned above as you build out your home processing system this season.
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