Zac Hook: Processing harvested game from the hunting season

Zac Hook
South Dakota GFP

The hunting season is coming to a quick close. Now is a good time to start looking for ideas to process the game that was harvested. Your biggest decision will be the following: Do you process your own meat or have a commercial processor process the game you harvested? In this article, I am going to discuss a few options of game processing for yourself.

The scariest part of processing your game is the purchase of the equipment. The basic equipment would be a grinder, meat mixer, stuffer, scale, vacuum sealer and finally a smoker, oven, or dehydrator. Research reviews on equipment and ask what others prefer. Some of your equipment can range from moderate to high priced (some things are well worth spending extra money on). In the end, your endeavor will pay off.

Once your equipment has been purchased, you can start looking at what recipes and ingredients you want to use in your game mix. In our family, we process and make hotdogs, brats, summer sausage, snack sticks, ring bologna and bacon. Something fun our family likes to experiment with are different spice mixes.

Once the meat has been deboned and tendons removed, you will delegate your portions that will be packaged into roasts, steaks, and ground meat. Ground game can be used almost in the same way as ground beef, with a few exceptions. Depending on which game recipe you desire to make, your pork fat ratio could look something like this: 60% venison to 40% pork or a 50% venison to a 50% pork mix. If a leaner mix is more desired, you can do that as well. My favorite recipe is venison bacon.

Venison Bacon

  • 6 ¼ pounds of venison
  • 6 ¼ pounds of boneless pork shoulder
  • ¾ cups of Water
  • 1 venison bacon cure
  • 1 maple cure
  • Seasoning of your choice (bacon recommended)

Cut venison and pork into grinder pieces. Set grinder plate to 3/8 plate. Grind meats together. Cool meat in the fridge. Reset grinder with a 3/16 plate for a finer grind. Run meat through for a second grind. Re-cool the meat in the fridge for half an hour to 45 minutes. Mix your water, bacon cure and maple cure together and pour over meat. Mix meat well with clean hands until meat and mixture is well incorporated. The meat will be tacky. In two 9x13 pans, press meat until flat; start in the middle and work out to the edges. Then, smooth over everything. Cover the meat extremely well with plastic wrap and be sure to tuck in the corners. Refrigerate for a full 24 hours for the cure process.

On the next day, preheat your smoker to 130 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove plastic from meat mixture. Generously season. Invert meat mixture onto the wire racks; remove pans and generously season so both sides are evenly coated with seasoning. Place your meat probe in the thickest part of the mix. Smoke the meat at 130 degrees for 1 hour, thereafter increasing the temperature of the smoker by 10 degrees every hour until the smoker has reached 180 degrees. Once that temperature has been reached, the internal temperature of the meat must reach 155 degrees. Once the temperature has reached that, remove the bacon from smoker. Let it rest for one hour at room temperature. Refrigerate over night. Now your “bacon” that you processed is ready to slice, fry and enjoy.

Zac Hook is a Resource Biologist with the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks.