January 12, 2011
Aging Your Deer, Part II
By Dave Hurteau
Monday’s post regarding how long to hang your deer raised as many questions as answers. Head up, head down? Skin on, skin off? Age it, don’t age it? Here are my two cents on the first two points:
Head up or down?
I hang deer head-down so that the blood drains away from the best cuts. I also prefer to skin the deer this way and can’t think of any good reason to bother flipping the thing around.
Skin on or off?
Generally, I keep the skin on. The skin can help insulate the meat from varying temps, and as many of you pointed out, it keeps the outside of the meat from drying out and needing to be trimmed. Two exceptions:  If it’s warm and I need to cool a carcass fast. In this case I typically bone it out pretty quick and, like Walt and Bubba, let it age in the fridge. And  if I’m hunting away from home with friends (as was the case with the doe I referred to in the last post) and plan to transport the deer home for aging. It just makes it easier for me to handle the deer by myself when I get home.
Age it or not?
On this point, if you read my last post you know I think that aging the meat makes it more tender and improves the flavor. As I understand it (and as I wrote in a comment) enzymes naturally present in both venison and beef, including lactic acid, over time break down collagen—the tough connective tissue that binds muscle cells. I also did some poking around on the subject and found this handy chart in a paper on game-meat care by North Dakota State University Professor of Animal and Range Sciences Martin Marchello and Assistant Professor/Nutrition Specialist Julie Garden-Robinson:
According to Marchello and Robinson: “The question of whether or not to age game meats has always been a point of discussion among hunters. Aging of meat is defined as the practice of holding carcasses or cuts at temperatures of 34 F to 37 F for 10 to 14 days (Figure 3). This allows the enzymes present in the meat to break down some of the complex proteins contained in the carcass. Aging of meat usually improves tenderness and flavor.”
They favor skin-on aging and point out that some cuts needn’t be aged at all: “Processing game meats into sausage or ground meats should be done as soon after harvest as possible to minimize weight loss from drying and deterioration due to microbial growth. Grinding or chopping tenderizes game so aging is not necessary.”
Hope that’s helpful.