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Will Elliott’s Outdoors: Course gives basics for processing deer

The good flavors of venison can be spoiled long before deterioration begins in a deer carcass.

This and some handy cooking tips and demos were shared during two seminars on deer processing held at the Cabela’s store in Cheektowaga last weekend.

Deer skinning and meat processing were the subject of the Saturday session as experts from the Deer Shop on Genesee Street showed how to skin, debone and work the various cuts of venison.

Processor Darin Dorr, a 30-year veteran of meat cutting, his son Darin and store manager Ken Deck processed a deer, resulting in about 50 pounds of venison. About half of that meat went into a sausage-making and cooking session held on Sunday.

When it comes to thoughts of processing one’s own deer, Dorr recommends, “I would never hang a deer.” Decades ago, hunters at deer camps hung deer for the duration of the hunt and considered it proper and beneficial in “seasoning” deer meat.

“Bacteria thrives at temperatures of 40 to 140, so all you’re doing is spoiling the meat,” Dorr said. He also suggests that deer should be gutted in the field, adding that the tenderloins inside the chest cavity should be removed immediately. “As soon as possible remove and store those loins or they will shrink, dry out and become spoiled,” he said.

Meat processing is an immediate thing for regular cuts. Some hunters prefer to season meat that has been deboned in either sections or cuts by storing it in a cooler set at temperatures below 40 degrees but not freezing.

No two butchers process deer the same way, but basically the meat is filleted off most bone sections rather than stored or served on the bone. Fatty and tallow areas are more easily removed when the front, rib and back-quarter sections are trimmed to clean meat sections.

About 50 viewers attended the Saturday session. Nice weather on Sunday morning lowered numbers, but at least 30 folks dropped by to watch the Deer Shop crew prepare venison for patties, finger food and sausage-making.

Opinions vary as to adding pork to venison patties and sausages. Some go with pure deer meat. Others opt for added cuts of pork for flavoring and cooking ease. Pure venison cooks quickly; overcooking can turn a fine cut of meat into unplanned jerky with too much exposure to a grill or oven.

For sausage-making, the crew used a Cabela’s Heavy Duty sausage-maker that comes with seasoning, casings and all the attachments needed to either grind meat or make sausages.

Casings come in varying sizes, from smaller breakfast sausages to summer sausage and cold-cuts widths. The casings proved and shown on Sunday were for the standard run of sausages done in coils or links.

The grinder has two openings, fine and coarse. “Sausage can be ground with the coarse, but I prefer to run it through the fine blade,” Dorr said.

Meat ground through the fine process eliminates grizzle from getting into the mix. “Of course, you have to trim cartilage before grinding venison, so no hard stuff ends up in your sausage,” he said.

Setting up the casing material can be tricky, but the right mix of water with the meat (not too much) and watering the lining of the casing makes things go more smoothly. Dorr held the extruded meat in the casing until the link or coil is completed.

“As a general rule, I like to make the links about the size of a knife handle,” Dorr noted.

As for seasoning, Dorr suggests weights rather than measures for large processing mixes. Seasoning options abound for making either Polish or Italian sausages. On this occasion the crowd was treated to bourbon, beer and a Mountain Man flavoring.

A quick survey of testers had the bourbon flavor tops in taste. One viewer said that he grinds into sausage venison some bacon that includes maple or other flavorings. As always, seasoning is a matter of taste and sausage making takes some preparation and practice, but the inexpensive Cabela’s meat grinding unit makes the process simpler and enjoyable.

Dorr concluded his presentation with a pitch for hunters to donate venison beyond what they will consume. He highly recommends the Venison Donation Coalition.

“We process whole deer for free at the Deer Shop. Last year we processed more than 4,000 pounds for VDC,” he said.

To locate the nearest cooperating processor, visit

If you missed last weekend’s deer processing sessions, both phases will be presented again on Oct. 10 and 11, with added tips on making jerky.