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I’ve butchered deer and elk on everything from kitchen tables to flat rocks in the desert—neither of which was ideal. Since we put away half a dozen whitetails per year, plus a few hogs and cows, we decided to go all out on a home processing shop right here on the family farm. It’s modeled after some of the better game-processing facilities we’ve visited, and working in it sure beats stooping over a flat rock.
1. Skinning Space
The 20×20-foot metal building has a concrete floor with a drain in the center for easy cleanup. A steel rail with drop-down hooks is built into the ceiling joists. That allows us to hang an entire deer or an elk or beef quarter. A large window air-conditioning unit won’t chill meat to a safe aging temperature, but it keeps us comfortable in the early-season heat.
2. Sturdy Surfaces
Tables, counters, and sinks at a comfortable height are a must. At least one table mounted on wheels is a real back saver when you need to move an entire elk quarter. We have a fixed counter along the length of one wall, and a large sink with a hose leading directly from the water heater. Hot water, along with a couple of large garbage cans and heavy-duty bags, makes cleanup easy.
3. Perfect Edges
Fancy knife sets aren’t needed. Professional butchers don’t use them. Instead, buy some $16 boning knives with 6-inch blades and plastic handles (dexterrussellcutlery.com). They do everything, hold an edge, and are easy to sharpen. Get a 22-inch butcher’s handsaw for cutting bone, or an electric band saw if you plan on cutting a lot of chops and bone-in steaks (webstaurantstore.com).
4. Good Grinds
Small grinders overheat quickly, so buy the biggest one you can afford. We use a commercial-grade grinder that we picked up from a local butcher shop when they upgraded. Most grinders come with a sausage-stuffer attachment, but a dedicated stuffer speeds the job along if you make much link-style sausage. I like the Realtree Outfitters 7-pound unit ($210; westonsupply.com).
5. The Snack Stop
Everyone loves jerky, and we make a lot of it. For that, a meat slicer will help you reduce a pile of venison roasts to a bowl of evenly sliced jerky meat in a hurry. You’ll also need a good dehydrator. My current favorite is a Magic Chef ($136), which has multiple sliding trays, a cabinet-style glass door, a quiet fan, and precision temperature control.
6. Seal and Store
Vacuum sealing will triple the life of frozen meat, compared with double wrapping in white freezer paper. As with grinders, spending a little more money on a good sealer will save you in the long run. The commercial-style vacuum sealers from both Cabela’s and Weston Supply will outlast a couple of cheaper units, and some models even come with a lifetime warranty.