Knowing what to do with your deer once you get it home is yet another significant decision a hunter needs to make.
Should I freeze it straight away? Should I age the meat? Should I just send it to the butcher?
By reading through you will learn how to age your deer meat properly, so you can make an informed decision on how to process your deer meat, post-harvest.
In this article we will show you:
- Why you should age your deer meat?
- What factors affect how venison ages?
- The difference between methods of aging
- A few tips and tricks for aging deer meat
Sounds good? Let’s dive into it…
How To Age Deer Meat at Home:
Possibly the most ideal meat aging location would be a temperature-controlled walk-in cooler.
These spaces allow not only for the temperature to remain constant, but allows adequate space for entire deer (or quarters) to be hung.
This also allows for good air flow and circulation to dry out the meat. Beyond this, there is usually space for more deer or other animals to also be hung up.
In case you can’t find a local meat locker in the peak season and the temperature is too warm to hang outside, then a walk in cooler give you a PEACE OF MIND.
Consistent conditions, plenty of room for multiple carcasses.
Expensive and takes up significant space.
Where to Get:
This is one of the most common places you will see deer aged.
Many hunters have hooks rigged up to the rafters of their garage, and the cooler fall temperatures generally allow for reasonable aging.
Most of the time there is enough space to have decent airflow and humidity is not often too high in these spaces.
What’s the limitation?
However, due to the weather conditions and other factors, the temperatures may vary.
So you should only leave the deer hanging for a few days (up to a week) in order to allow the meat to soften up a little prior to freezing.
Minimal additional expense (if already existing), adequate space.
Fluctuating conditions, usually must be already owned or rented with your house.
Where to Get:
With real estate purchase or home rental.
A popular option, fridges run at that consistent ideal temperature which is ideal for meat aging.
A couple of challenges with this is that fridges can tend to be a little more moist inside, and also can lack space and therefore, also overall air flow.
Quite often you will have a separate, mostly empty fridge that is designated for aging meat.
By either hanging the meat inside it, or placing it on shelves in large chunks it is a good way to get the meat aged, with the peace of mind of a consistent temperature.
Most people already own one. Consistent temperature. Affordable.
Limited space for actual hanging. Low-ish air flow.
Where to Get:
Any big box or white goods retailer.
Refrigerators are also used for what is known as “wet aging”.
First, what is “wet aging”?
This is different to the general dry aging practices (already discussed).
Wet aging is the utilization of vacuum sealed plastic bags to age the meat.
This differers from the previously mentioned dry aging methods which are based around allowing the meat to dry out by having air flow around it.
The meat instead ages in its own natural juices. This method is often used by supermarkets with their meat.
Why wet aging?
This method, even though it retains moisture, it also prevents any bacteria from growing or entering the meat.
It becomes a more safely hygienic option, even if the taste of the quality is not typically as good as the dry aged meat.
With wet aging, meat is generally stored in the fridge between 4 to 12 days, before being either consumed or frozen for future use.
Reasonably inexpensive to do (refrigerator, vacuum sealer, vacuum bags).
Does not have the same aging enzyme breakdown as dry aging.
Where to Get:
The basic cooler box option is not ideal for longer-term aging, but can suffice for shorter periods of time.
There are a few challenges with cooler boxes:
- They are usually not large enough to handle a large amount of meat
- Do not allow for a lot of air circulation around the meat
- And the temperatures can be more inconsistent.
And here's the things:
That said, if you do wish to:
- Age meat anywhere from 1-3 days, as long as there continues to be ice or freezer bricks in there
- Maintaining that low refrigerator-like temperature
It can allow enough time for a basic breaking down of the fibres, without truly “aging” the meat.
One thing to be aware of is making sure that the meat does not get freezer burn from being placed directly against the cold source.
The most overall affordable aging option. Portable. Various sizes and prices.
Limited space and near-to-no air flow. Can be difficult to manage temperature.
Where to Get:
The old school way of aging meat without a cooler, to hang it outside…
While this can have benefits such as the fact there are less limitations on storage space, and decent amounts of air flow, there are some obvious drawbacks.
What's the drackbacks?
When deciding to use this method, you need to be aware of any other animals (or people). This can include insects, birds and ground predators.
Beyond your meat getting taken, outside temperatures and conditions can vary.
Want to hear my advice?
If this method is used, which is not really recommended, it is best to place the meat in a location off the ground, in the shade, and covered so as to not get rained on or have morning dew land upon it.
Generally free or low cost. Accessible to most. Good air flow.
Varying weather conditions and temperatures. Low security (animals and people).
Where to Get:
Anywhere outside, ideally on your own property.
Why Do We Age Deer Meat?
MORE TENDER. Period.
Let me explain…
When a deer is first harvested, the deer’s muscles go into a state of rigor mortis.
This is a tightening up of the muscle fibres that make the meat stiff. Usually, within 12-24 hours after the death of the deer the muscles begin to relax.
Beyond that time period, the meat holds moisture in the muscles and is generally still firmer than it would become if aged.
Aging allows the muscle fibres of deer time to break down, making the meat MORE TENDER.
Restaurant Graded Meat
Freshly killed deer can also have a tendency to be a little bland in its flavour profile.
The aging process helps to develop the flavour of the meat, not too dissimilar to that of restaurant steaks.
After all, would we not prefer a higher-grade restaurant style freezer of meat?
What Factors Affecting Venison Aging?
What Temperature Do You Age Deer Meat At?
The ideal temperature for aging meat is between 34-38 degrees fahrenheit (1-3 degrees celsius).
Below this temperature the meat will begin to freeze. Meat stored above this temperature can lead to further degradation of the meat and invite bacteria.
The difficulty in maintaining a consistent temperature will depend upon where and how the meat is stored for aging.
Relying on external temperatures (weather) will mean you need to pay attention to how the conditions vary, and make decisions based around that.
A temperature controlled refrigerator or walk-in cooler is better suited for the consistency required.
What Humidity Should You Dry Aging Venison?
It’s important to keep the meat dry whenever possible. Having adequate air flow will help this process.
Part of this is because in order to nicely age the meat, you want the moisture and water content from within the meat to slowly dissipate.
The ideal humidity stated to be around 75-85%. Drier than this and your meat could dry out too quickly.
Humid conditions can negatively affect this process, and in general leads to worse meat conditions, and potential rot.
In order to reduce humidity, small fans could be used to improve the air flow around the meat.
Sounds cool, right?
In drier areas, incorporating items with a water content into the fridge (fruits and vegetables) or garage (any source of water with the room for evaporation) can help that humidity percentage count.
How Long Should You Age Deer Meat?
This is an important and often debated factor when it comes to aging deer meat: how long to age the meat for?
As a minimum it is recommended to keep the meat out for aging for at least 12-24 hours. This allows enough time for the deer’s muscles to come out of its state of rigor mortis.
For many, aging the meat 5-7 days may be a sufficient basic amount of time.
This will help to limit some of the risks of longer-term aging; such as fluctuating temperatures or excess mould.
How long can deer meat sit in the cooler before processing?
Under the right conditions, and from many accounts, an aging period of 17-21 days allows for the best taste development for the deer meat.
However this requires consistent ideal conditions to effectively achieve.
For the less experienced meat ager, it is best to start with a shorter amount of time and work your way up when you are sure that your conditions and understanding of how the deer age improves.
Additonal Tips For Aging Venison:
Okay, so we have learned about the different ways to age deer meat, and some of the factors affecting how long and how well your meat may age.
Here we share a few last tips to help you in your deer aging pursuits:
Trimming and Wastage:
Depending on how long you age your meat for, you are likely to end up with a bit of a crust built up on the outside of the meat. This is normal.
Let me tell you:
Not too dissimilar to that of aged cheese or deli meats, this is part of the process.
Once you are done with the aging and ready for either cooking or freezing the meat, you should cut off this outer layer of the meat.
The longer you age the meat, the better your flavour profile will become, but the more meat you will lose to outer crusting.
That is a balance you will need to decide upon.
Non-Aged Meat Aging:
What if you have cut, packed and frozen your meat without being able to age the meat?
Well there are still ways to improve the quality of it prior to cooking.
- Once you have allowed it to thaw out, it will likely release a fair amount of moisture (water and blood mix).
- Dry off the meat thoroughly, and place it on a plate or open container in the refrigerator.
- Let the meat rest overnight.
This helps it to dry out and gives it a little after-the-fact breakdown prior to cooking, which I find gives more tender and flavorful results than just cooking it right away.
Many of us hunt for different reasons.
Regardless of your motivation, one of the greatest bi-products of hunting is stacking the freezer with good quality, wild harvested meat.
A lot of resources (time, energy and money) get put into the pursuit, but the processing of the deer is often an afterthought.
Taking extra care for your meat once you get it out of the field will make sure that the meals you have for the following months (or years) is generally better all round; in taste, texture, versatility, and all-round quality.
Using the techniques in this “how to age deer meat” guide is one of the best ways to do just that.