Big Game Hunting photo

I’d hazard a guess that a majority of venison ends up going through the grinder. Ground meat is as American as hamburgers and Mom’s meatloaf. It’s also incredibly versatile and a great way to use up tough cuts of the deer. Grocery-story ground meat has a bad rap, but there’s no reason meat from a deer, elk, or any other critter has to suffer that same reputation. Processed carefully and preserved properly, ground venison is as safe, if not safer (and more delicious), than commercially available beef. Here are a few tips to consider when freezing your ground wild game.

1. Keep everything clean. Maintaining a clean working space is important any time you’re processing, but even more so when it comes to ground meat. Be extra vigilant with cleanliness and wash down all surfaces with hot, soapy water before starting. I also keep a bottle of kitchen cleaner and some paper towels nearby and constantly wipe up messes as I process. You can the FDA’s four keys to food safety here.

2. Pre-make patties. If a lot of your ground venison turns into burgers on the grill, consider freezing pre-made patties to speed up your meal prep. You can use a Weston Burger Press for uniform patties or form them by hand. If you freeze the burgers first on a sheet pan, then package them, they’ll keep their shape better.

3. Get the air out. When freezing, air is the enemy as it causes the dreaded freezer burn. To prevent cold, dry air from ruining ground meat, you have three packaging options: tube, wrap or vacuum seal bag. The tube-style bags have been my go-to for years, but I found meat tends to freezer-burn faster in them, especially on the ends. I’ve recently converted to vacuum sealing ground meat instead. That, or a good butcher wrap, are the best for long-term ground meat storage.

4. Freeze flat. Another benefit to vacuum sealing is the ability to press bags of ground meat into flat rectangles, which stack easier and maximize precious freezer space. A flat package of ground meat also freezes and thaws faster than round or bulky packages. Or freeze a big package of ground meat portioned into smaller serving sizes like the guy in the video above.

5. Thaw safely. If possible, plan meals ahead of time and thaw ground meat on a plate in the refrigerator over the course of a day or two. Meat thawed in the microwave or submerged in water may expose it to temperature levels in the danger zone between 40 and 140 degrees. This is where bacteria thrives.