Steak is good, but the ability to grind meat allows us to utilize tougher, more sinewy parts of animals in cost-effective, delicious ways. How many recipes can you think of that call for ground meat? The possibilities are endless. Taco meat, meatballs, meat pies, runzas, casseroles, sloppy Joe’s, ravioli, chili, sandwiches, kebabs, jerky … ground wild game is a great alternative for many recipes.
Unfortunately, I know too many hunters who have been blinded by just loins and breasts. But legs and quarters get me just as excited. Knowing how to grind your own meat will help you become a less wasteful hunter. To get the best out of your wild game for grinding, here are some tips.
If you plan on grinding meat a little bit at a time, a KitchenAid grinding attachment or a small unit will suffice. If you’re an avid big game hunter who plans on grinding loads of meat in one sitting, a larger unit – perhaps professional-grade with good HP is a must have. Look to brands such as Weston, LEM, Cabela’s and STX International. A meat grinder is an investment. Read plenty of reviews and make note of construction, power, accessories and warranty.
I personally use the Weston Pro Series #8 Electric Meat Grinder, which has ¾ HP capability. It’s more than enough to quickly and easily grind a couple deer, and plenty of legs and breasts from turkeys and geese per year.
The Right Cuts
As with most households, the backstraps and tenderloins are always the first to go. Therefore, ground meat is best reserved for tougher, “cheaper” cuts on an animal that you can enjoy the rest of the year. The point of grinding meat is to allow you a way to use these parts without having to cook them for hours and hours. For me, those parts include the neck, front quarters, and lower hindquarters on deer. These parts are typically full of sinew that will not break down easily. The muscle groups in these areas are also too variable to carve out steaks.
We also don’t ever throw out the legs of wild turkeys and waterfowl. Sometimes we’ll grind the whole bird: breast, and thighs for burgers and meatloaf. Canada geese and snow geese are good candidates. I find older Canada’s are too tough to enjoy whole, while snow geese can be gamy. Grinding these birds will not only tenderize the meat, but also allow you to mix in complementary spices. I’ve also found that recipes with ground meat tend to be easier to introduce to people who may be hesitant to try wild game.
Keep It Clean
Clean meat starts with clean processing. When you gut, skin and bone out your wild game, do not cross contaminate any intestinal contents with the meat. Use gloves, change them often, and wash your hands and knives thoroughly.
When grinding meat, sanitation is extremely important. Before you begin, first make sure that your hands, tools and work areas are clean. Unlike steak, which has little surface area to attract germs, the act of grinding meat creates lots of surface area, which raises the potential to introduce bacteria into the ground meat. For example, if you like to eat pink hamburger patties, like I do, any present bacteria in the middle of the patty will not die. Always clean your grinder thoroughly before every session.
Preparing the Meat for Grinding
A sharp boning knife or a fillet knife is what you need to remove meat from bones. For boning out deer, elk, antelope, etc., choose a stiffer blade for better power and control. For birds, a more flexible knife is preferable to get around the delicate bones and crevices. I often use a fillet knife, which works great for most birds. When deboning wild turkey legs, remember to remove the pin bones.
Next, remove as much silver skin as possible from the meat. Many people skip this step, but I find that removing it creates a better product in the end. I personally don’t like to find bits of silver skin in my burger—it’s tasteless, and I don’t like the texture. Lean ground meat with too much silver skin in it also doesn’t bind as well. You don’t have to remove every bit of silver skin; just focus on large, thick areas.
Keep It Cold
Then, cut the meat into large chunks – whatever size your grinder can easily take. Place meat pieces onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, making sure they don’t touch. Chill in your freezer for about 30 minutes or until the meat becomes firm to the touch, but not frozen through. This will help prevent bacteria from growing, as well as help your grinder work more efficiently; soft, sticky meat is more difficult to mince than firm meat. Additionally, as your grinder operates, friction will also warm up the machine. Some people even take the extra precaution of chilling the grinder attachments in the freezer.
Depending on what you’re planning to cook, you may want to add fat to your ground wild game. This added fat can be bacon, pork shoulder, pork belly, beef tallow, etc. I always add fat if I’m making hamburgers or kebabs, which makes the meat more juicy and flavorful. But for recipes such as taco meat, meatloaf, meatballs, meat sauces, etc., I do not add fat. If you plan on adding fat to your ground wild game, cut it up into pieces and chill in the freezer as described in the previous section.
For recipes such as meatballs and meatloaf that require breadcrumbs and egg, add those ingredients later according to original recipes.
Thoroughly read the instructions that came with your grinder. Fit the grinder with the coarse ground die, and once ready, add the chilled wild game and fat into the tray and grind together. Try not to handle the meat more than you have to, to keep it cold and firm. Some people grind their meat twice, but I do it only once through the coarse die. I rarely use the fine die, unless if I plan on making ravioli filling or something that requires a smoother texture. For the most part, I like my ground meat coarse and meaty.
Grind Fresh or Store Tightly
Freshly ground meat is the best ground meat. When I make venison burgers, that meat is usually ground right before I cook them. As mentioned before, grinding meat creates lots of surface area where bacteria can attach themselves. Not only that, this exposes more air to the meat, which causes discoloration.
After thawing out a package of ground venison, have you ever noticed that parts of the meat is gray and others are still bright red? The gray areas were exposed to air, which caused freezer burn. This meat is still fine to eat, but sometimes, it can taste a bit “off.” Additionally, you’ll notice large puddles of liquid leaking from the packaging—that’s moistness you’re losing. For this reason, I store vacuum sealed game either whole or in large pieces to keep the meat as fresh as possible. I only grind when I’m ready.
However, this may not be feasible for most people. Dragging out the meat grinder before every meal is a chore. If you choose to grind large bulks of meat beforehand, I suggest vacuum sealing that ground meat instead of using the typical freezer bags/sleeves for long term storage. These bags are not airtight, and your ground meat will not last as long in the freezer.