National Center for Home Food Preservation
Revised October 2013
Venison offers variety and an unusual flavor to the fall and winter table. When handled properly it can make an excellent meat. It can be refrigerated or frozen as meat cuts or sausage. It can also be preserved by canning, curing, or drying.
Use care when field-dressing the deer. Contaminating the carcass is one of the most common errors hunters make. Cool the carcass to 35 to 40°F as soon as possible. See more information in Proper Care and Handling of Venison from Field to Table, and Proper Processing of Wild Game and Fish. Both available from Penn State Cooperative Extension.
Aging the carcass will help dissipate the game taste and permit naturally occurring enzymes to tenderize the tissues. Proper aging also firms the meat, giving it better cutting quality. Aging the carcass should be conducted at 40° F or less for no more than 2 to 3 days. Never age at room temperature. Improper storage facilities increase risk for spoilage. If using the venison for sausage, aging is not required. Other publications cited at the end of this discussion have additional details about aging venison.
Store any unfrozen meat in the refrigerator at 40° F or less, and use it within 2 to3 days. Keep raw meat separated from other foods and on trays with a lip below any produce or ready to eat foods in order to prevent cross-contamination in the refrigerator.
Trim fat and clean cuts so they are ready for end use. Fat will go rancid quicker and often has a very “gamey” undesirable flavor. Use packaging made for the freezer. For best quality,
wrap the meat tightly in waxed paper, plastic freezer wrap, or heavy-duty aluminum foil. For added protection, seal wrapped meat in a plastic freezer bag or container. Push out as much air as possible. Seal, label and date each package. Home vacuum sealers will also work for packing venison for freezing. Follow manufacturer directions for vacuum sealing. Freeze quickly at 0°F or below.
Freeze no more than 4 pounds per cubic foot of freezer space within a 24-hour period. If space in the home freezer does not permit spreading the packages out, take the wrapped meat to a processing plant or meat locker for quick freezing.
Store ground venison in a freezer at 0°F or colder for 3 months for best quality. Venison roasts and steaks can be stored 6 to 9 months at this temperature. Meat quality and flavor will deteriorate in the freezer over time. Proper dressing, handling, packaging, quick freezing, and colder freezer temperatures will help maintain meat quality for the longest period of time. Thaw meat in the refrigerator or microwave, never at room temperature.
Making Sausage from Venison
Drying Venison (making jerky)
Homemade venison jerky was responsible for an outbreak of foodborne illness several years ago. Therefore use only “new” and updated processing recommendations as suggested below:
How do I know my venison jerky is dried properly? The jerky will be as brittle as a green stick; it won't snap clean as a dry stick does. Be sure to test it after cooling because it will be pliable when it is still warm.
Can I safely make a meat jerky without salt? Making low-salt jerky is not recommended. The salt binds the moisture in the meat and thus any bacteria on the meat are more quickly killed because they do not have water available to them.
Venison Cooking Tips
The key to cooking venison and to making it tender, moist and delicious is understanding that it has very little fat or fat cover. Add butter or cheese, or baste with other fats for improved flavor. Without much fat cover, the meat tends to dry out. Cook venison slowly using moist heat and baste often with a marinade sauce or oil. Don't overcook. A roast may also be wrapped in aluminum foil after browning or covered in a roasting pan. Strips of bacon may be placed on a roast for self-basting. For these foods to be safe, internal temperatures must be high enough to kill any harmful microorganisms. Cook ground meats, chops, steaks and roasts to 160°F. Venison can be substituted for meat in many recipes and makes an excellent variation to your menu.
Tips for cooking wild game can be found in the Clemson University publication Safe Handling of Wild Game Meats (HGIC 3516); http://www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic/food/food_safety/handling/hgic3516.html
Selected Cooperative Extension Game Processing Resources
Additional Resources Used in preparing this page:
The original of this article was written by Brian A. Nummer, Ph.D., former Project Coordinator with the National Center for Home Food Preservation.
This material is based upon work supported by the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under Agreement No. 00-51110-9762.