• By Elizabeth Coots, Extension Agent

Family and Consumer Sciences

Deer meat Depending on your weapon of choice and area of the state, deer season in Kentucky begins as early as September and runs through December. Deer meat (venison) is as popular as ever. It is a lean meat and a great source of protein. It also adds variety to your table. Venison can be preserved and enjoyed all year long. It is an easy substitute for any meat in your favorite recipes. Follow the guidelines below for storing, cooking and preserving venison.

Venison can be stored fresh in the refrigerator at 40 degrees F or below. Use roasts or steaks within three to five days. Ground venison should be used within two days. Keep the meat separated from other foods, in order to prevent cross contamination. Marinating should be done in the refrigerator, not at room temperature on the counter or in the sink. Slow cook methods using moist heat are good options for cooking venison. Since the meat is lean, many cooks like to baste often with a marinade or cover with bacon while cooking to provide self-basting. Use a thermometer to make sure the internal temperature of ground venison, chops, steaks and roasts reaches 160 degrees F.

Before freezing venison, trim off any fat and prep the meat so that it will be ready to use once thawed. Leaving the fat on the meat can cause a strong gamey flavor since fat will turn rancid faster than the meat itself during storage. Use freezer bags or wrap specifically designed for freezing for best quality. Remove as much air as possible from the package before sealing. Label and date each package once sealed and place in the freezer. For best quality, use roasts and steaks within six to nine months and ground venison within three months.

Remember to thaw the meat in the refrigerator before use. Venison may be thawed in the microwave if it will be cooked immediately after thawing.

Venison jerky is a popular way to preserve the meat. Jerky is a dried form of the meat that is shelf stable. When properly dried using research-based methods, venison jerky is a tasty treat. USDA recommends heating the meat to 160 degrees F before drying in order to kill any bacteria and reduce the risk of food poisoning. Marinating the meat before drying will increase flavor and tenderness. The meat and marinade can be boiled just before drying in order to reach 160 degrees F. Use a dehydrator or oven for even drying. The temperature should remain constant between 130 and 140 degrees F as this temperature dries the food quickly before it spoils. For more information on making venison jerky safely at home, contact your local extension office or check out this jerky publication from U.K.’s College of Agriculture, Food and Environment at http://www2.ca.uky.edu/agcomm/pubs/FCS3/FCS3594/FCS3594.pdf.

If you want to can venison, you must use a pressure canner and follow research-based recipes and processing times. There are no safe options for processing venison in a boiling water bath canner. Before canning, trim the meat of any fat, bruised spots or visible gristle. Any fat left on the meat will melt during processing and could interfere with jar sealing. The Woodford County Extension Office can provide research-based recipes for pressure canning venison and other meats.

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