COLUMNISTS

Prairie Fare: Prepare and store wild game safely

Julie Garden-Robinson
North Dakota State University Extension
Julie Garden-Robinson, North Dakota State University (NDSU) Extension food and nutrition specialist and professor of health, nutrition and exercise sciences.

“Watch out for deer!” my parents would say when I left after a weekend at home during college.

I knew to drive slowly and be observant, especially at dawn or dusk.

I looked for glowing eyes in the ditches along wooded areas on my drive back to college. If you see one deer, most likely that deer has some companions.

Sometimes I would see a herd of 100 or more deer looking at me from a corn field. They were eating well.

We had a couple of near misses when deer jumped in front of our vehicles.

By the way, the State Farm Insurance Company reported 1.5 million animal collision claims from 2019 to 2020. If you hit a deer, move your vehicle to a safe place and stay away from the injured animal. Laws vary from state to state, so call local authorities. You might also need the incident report for your insurance company.

During the fall deer hunting season, deer are moving. I grew up in a wooded area surrounded by farm fields. The deer herds and some moose knew a good habitat.

In full disclosure, I do not hunt. I know many women enjoy the sport. However, I have helped prepare many kinds of wild game from birds to venison (deer meat).

Game meats such as venison are good sources of nutrition.

Game meats are good sources of nutrition. A 3½-ounce portion (before cooking) of game meat such as venison provides about half of the daily adult protein requirement and 130 to 150 calories. They are a good source of iron and other minerals. Game meats usually are slightly lower in total fat but higher in polyunsaturated fats than grain-fed beef.

Remember food safety all the way from the field (or store) to your table. Hunting and processing your own wild game could introduce some food safety hazards unless it is carefully done, especially when the outside temperatures are warmer than usual.

The same types of safe handling rules apply to game meat as other types of meat. These are some tips to consider for animal proteins, whether they are the result of a successful hunt or you purchased the meat in a grocery store.

For immediate use, store the meat in the refrigerator and use within two or three days. Keep raw meat and cooked meat separate to prevent cross-contamination.

Freeze game properly. Prevent “freezer burn” by using the right packaging materials.

  • Keep raw meat and cooked meat separate to prevent cross-contamination.
  • Freeze game properly. Prevent “freezer burn” by using the right packaging materials.
  • Divide meat into meal-size quantities.
  • Use moisture/vapor-proof wrap such as heavily waxed freezer wrap, laminated freezer wrap, heavy duty aluminum foil or freezer-weight polyethylene bags.
  • Press air out of the packages prior to sealing.
  • Label packages with contents and date.
  • Avoid overloading the freezer. Freeze only the amount that will become solidly frozen within 24 hours.
  • For best quality, game will keep three to four months in the freezer if properly wrapped.

Do not can meat unless you have a pressure canner.

  • Low acid foods, such as meat and most mixtures of foods, should never be canned using the water-bath method.
  • Pressure and adequate time are necessary to produce safe canned meat. For the latest canning information, contact your county NDSU extension office.

Thaw frozen meat in the refrigerator or microwave oven. Cook game meats thoroughly.

  • Foods thawed in the microwave oven should be cooked immediately. Refrigerator-thawed meat should be used within one to two days.
  • Game meats should be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 160 F to reduce risk of foodborne illness.
  • Big game animals usually exercise more than domestic animals, so game meats may be drier and less tender. Moist heat methods such as braising (simmering in a small amount of liquid in a covered pot) may result in a better product. Chops and steaks may be pan fried or broiled.
  • The distinctive flavor of game meats is mainly due to the fat they contain. To reduce the flavor, which some people label “gamey,” trim the fat from the meat. You may wish to add other sources of fat to maintain the juiciness of the meat.
  • Spices or marinades may be used to enhance the flavor. Meat should always be marinated in the refrigerator.

Instead of a recipe this week, I have a variety of information available for you to explore about wild game, plus another opportunity to win a free 2023 recipe calendar.

These online publications include a range of wild game recipes.

Wild Side of the Menu No. 1: Care and Cookery at www.ag.ndsu.edu/publications/food-nutrition/wild-side-of-the-menu-no-1-care-and-cookery

Wild Side of the Manu No. 2: Field to Freezer at www.ndsu.edu/agriculture/extension/publications/wild-side-menu-no-2-field-freezer

Wild Side of the Menu No. 3: Preservation of Game Meats and Fish at www.ndsu.edu/agriculture/extension/publications/wild-side-menu-no-3-preservation-game-meats-and-fish

Home Canning Meat: Poultry, Red Meats, Game and Seafood at www.ndsu.edu/agriculture/extension/publications/home-canning-meat-poultry-red-meats-game-and-seafood

A Pocket Guide for the Handling of Deer and Elk at www.ag.ndsu.edu/publications/food-nutrition/from-field-to-table-a-pocket-guide-for-the-care-and-handling-of-deer-and-elk

Looking for more tasty recipes? I plan to give away at least 25 copies of our 2023 calendar based on random drawings by Nov. 25. This colorful calendar includes recipes, tips and information to explore.

To enter the drawing, visit bit.ly/PrairieFare-drawing and answer the questions. If the link does not work for you, please email me at julie.garden-robinson@ndsu.edu with “Calendar Drawing” as the subject. Please provide a topic of interest and your complete mailing address for a chance to win a free 2023 calendar.

Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences. Follow her on Twitter @jgardenrobinson.