Preserving Game

Preserving game properly contributes immensely to the great flavors of wild meat. What most people describe as a gamey taste is often due to improper processing of the animal or bird. In fact, preserving game meats begins immediately after the kill and will carry through until the cuts are cured and smoked, frozen or served.

Preserving Game Meats Starts in the Field

When preserving game meats, the process starts in the field. Once an animal or bird is down, it”s time to go to work. Taking a few steps immediately not only affects the taste of the meat when it”s served, it”s an essential safety precaution as well.

Game animals and birds, small or large, require three key basics for field dressing.

  • careful removal of the bladder, intestine and stomach (for birds, remove the crop)
  • cleaning the body cavity but without the use of water, which encourages the growth of bacteria
  • provisions for air circulation within the body cavity.

Leaving the skin attached at the field site will help protect the meat. For the largest game, such as elk, skin and quarter it before loading. As soon as you reach home, skinning is easiest while the animal is still fresh. You”ll also want to remove unsightly spots, such as areas damaged by shot. If any section is still bloody, give it a 30-mintue saltwater soak, drain and then refrigerate.

Larger animals, especially, require basic equipment to make the process easier:

  • game bags for protecting the skinned carcass
  • game saw for larger bones, including the pelvis
  • hunting knife with sharp blade
  • nylon rope long and strong enough to suspend or drag an animal
  • paper towels for wiping out the cavity.

Freezing Game Meats

Freezing game meat within the first six hours of the kill will make it tough. Lowering the temperature, however, is critical. Venison, for instance, requires chilling at 40?F to 50?F to reduce the development of bacteria.

Food safety experts recommend freezing game meats to 0?F once they”re prepared and packaged correctly. Many game enthusiasts choose to rent commercial freezer space so they”ll know the meat is stored at the proper temperatures. In addition, keeping any meat frozen at 0?F for a minimum of 10 days will kill any existing parasites. This is perhaps the easiest, most convenient way for hunters to preserve game meat.

Before freezing, remove as much fat as possible, as this contributes to the gamey taste. To achieve the best results with ground meats, chunks and steaks, use commercial-quality freezer paper. If the cuts are odd-shaped, cover with plastic wrap first to provide the best vapor and moisture barriers. Vacuum sealers are also excellent.

Curing and Smoking Meats

Under precise conditions, curing and smoking are excellent ways of preserving meats. These methods require the right housing and temperature controls, however, to prevent bacterial contamination. The entire process can require up to two weeks for optimum results. During this time, proteins begin to break down, contributing to the tenderness and full-bodied flavors of the meat. Aging before curing is not necessary and is not a recommended method if meat is to be ground.

Before curing or smoking any game, it must be in good condition. These methods will not save meat that is deteriorating:

  • Dry Cure is a mixture of salt, sugar and sodium nitrate or sodium nitrite. It”s applied as a rub over the animal carcass. Over the course of several days, apply the rub at specific intervals until the internal temperature drops below 34?F. Clean the surface with a stiff scrub brush and the meat is ready for smoking.
  • Pickle Curing involves immersing the meat into a pickling liquid. Commercial marinades or home recipes incorporate salt, water and sometimes sugar. Also known as a brine cure, the temperature must remain at 38?F. The timing will vary, but a general rule of thumb is three days for every pound of meat.
  • The rub method can cause meat to dry out. An injection of pickle cure will help eliminate this. Use a “”stitching”” pump, which is a hollow needle device that is perforated for greater spread of the liquid.

When the game is cured, it”s ready for smoking. Use only hardwoods and keep recommended temperatures steady over the course of several hours. Always be sure internal temperatures reach an appropriate level for the game being prepared.

Canning is also an option with the right equipment. Either precook to a rare stage or pack smaller chunks raw and pressure steam at recommended temperatures.

Preserving Game Meats Safely

Food safety should always come first when preserving game meats. That entails a few simple precautions and tips for cleaning and processing:

  • Always remove as much blood as possible from inside the cavity. Blood has the ideal pH balance for bacteria to develop and populate rapidly.
  • Clean up work surfaces with a 50/50 bleach and water solution.
  • Do not dress out any game animal for eating that appears to be ill or exhibits unnatural behavior.
  • When field dressing an animal, especially deer, wear protective gloves.
  • When placing fresh game meat in the freezer, spread out each package so cold air can circulate and speed the freezing process.

Resources (n.d.). Preserving Game Meats. Retrieved December 5, 2007, from the Clemson Extension Web site: (n.d.) Wisconsin”s Wild Game: Enjoying the Harvest. Retrieved December 5, 2007, from the University of Wisconsin Extension Web site: (2001-2007). Precautions When Processing Wild Game. Retrieved December 5, 2007, from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Web site:,1607,7-153-10363_10856_