Butchering a deer is a learned skill. Everyone goes about it differently. Some really dive in, watching youtube videos, reading how-to tutorials and take time to learn all the techniques. Some study and “go big” by learning all the cuts and spend hundreds of dollars purchasing special tools.
Some people love the learning and if they’re going to do it, they want to do it right!
But for those less desirous of turning it into an art? It can be simple! Study the basic cuts only (which we’ll talk about in a moment). Have a knowledgeable friend over to show you how. A mass amount of tools aren’t necessary. You can arm yourself with nothing more than good, sharp knife. Or go halfway by adding a hack saw to the mix.
Butchering is a learned traditional skill. While youtube is a great resource, remember all those guys have years of experience behind their belt. And that isn’t posted online.
If you are a new learner, don’t compare! Lower your expectations. Your cuts won’t be as pretty or clean. And that’s ok!
KEEPING IT SIMPLE
In our home, deer butchering is kept simple. We take 5 cuts: roasts, steaks, ribs, soup meat and burger. Lots of burger. We love burger.
Disclaimer: neither my man nor I have had any training. Butchering was a part of life in both homes.
For him? It was the monstrous moose. Yep! A true northern boy! For me? Primarily black tail deer and Roosevelt elk, with an occasional bear or beef.
I have fond memories of butchering in the old farmhouse! I also recall being given a (very) dull knife at a very young age, along with a chunk of meat that could be massacred for burger (aka ground meat). Yes, I think those knives were intentionally dulled! They had to be treated like saws, not knives!
What can I say? Can’t learn any younger!
Our cuts weren’t always picture perfect. Not by a long shot! But it got the job done.
And the trend carries on today. In our home, we don’t care if our steaks aren’t perfectly equal in thickness, if our roasts aren’t perfectly trimmed. It’s good meat. Real meat. Naturally raised meat. And that matters to us!
Let’s dive into this!
NEED FOR A WIPE DOWN
After your deer has aged for the desired length of time (if you do age it), the butchering begins! Before cutting up any animal, always, always, always wipe the skin/flesh clean. Always! Gutting a deer in the bush doesn’t exactly make for clean conditions. Moss, grass, twigs and hair-especially hair-will stick to exposed flesh or fresh blood.
Note: while we do remove innards in the bush, we prefer to leave the hide on our deer until we get them home. They stay much cleaner this way!
First thing? Make up a vinegar rinse!
VINEGAR RINSE RECIPE
One part water (approx 2-3C) to one part vinegar (2-3C) works well and acts as a disinfectant. Add a rag to the bowl for wiping.
TO CLEAN THE MEAT
If you age your deer, the outer flesh will develop a dry, transparent skin.
To clean it, take a dry rag and “dust” the surface. Dry hair will fall to surface beneath. Wipe it up with a second, slightly damp cloth (not the vinegar-saturated one). Flip the deer and dust the other side. Also dust inside the carcass. Then wipe the table clean once again.
Once it has been “dusted” both inside and out, use the vinegar rinse. Wring the cloth and begin wiping down the flesh. Remove stubborn hairs, dried blood and anything that clings to the meat.
Be sure to wipe down the inside of the rib cage. This is where most hair, debris and blood will collect.
Be sure to shake your cloth free of hair every so often, then rinse to remove blood. If needed, change the vinegar rinse.
Hair will cling to places where flesh is exposed, such as the neck and belly. Instead of scrubbing at these parts, take your knife and finely trim hairy parts off.
THE BUTCHERING PROCESS
We’re simple, definitely not pros! But here’s how we go about it all:
Front legs: burger
Hind quarters: roast, burger and stew meat
Backstrap (back loin): steak and stew meat
Rib cage: ribs
Bones: stew pot
Remove front legs from the body. If you are totally new to butchering, I highly recommend reading up on deer anatomy, perhaps watching a youtube video. And know that your first attempts aren’t going to be perfect. Remember: butchering is a learned skill!
A general rule of thumb is this: follow the muscle lines. Over time you’ll learn to recognize them!
With the deer’s back toward you, lift up a front leg and begin with your knife in the deer’s “armpit.” Keep the leg upward and follow the muscle line. Try to get the entire shoulder blade in this cut. Here’s an already-clean bone for a quick lesson on anatomy!
Around these parts, front legs go for burger (aka ground meat)! Once the leg is remove, meat can be cut away from the bone. You’ll want a big old bowl for intended burger meat. The size of these cuts will depend on the meat grinder, but 2-3 inches wide by 8 inches long is a good rule of thumb.
The hindquarters make some beautiful roasts! But first, you’ll want to remove them from the backbone! With the deer’s back facing you, lift the top leg to reveal natural muscle lines. Follow the muscle with your knife, cutting along the flank, them directly up toward the back bone.
Once reached, return to the base of the leg. Cut along the pelvic bone, until the joint is revealed. Again, if you’re a first time butcher, know that your meat may look a bit…chopped up as you search. Remember: this is a learned skill!
Apply pressure to the leg, pushing it downward as you cut through the joint. Carry on along the bone, through the remaining meat, until the ham is free!
Cuts from the hind quarters go primarily for roasts in our home. To make, simply find a muscle line and follow it. Or, if you don’t care about perfectly whole roasts, remove meat from the bone and cut muscle pieces into desired sizes.
Pieces that are too small for roasts make great burger! Or stew meat.
Steaks, you ask? Deer rump is usually tough. We prefer to take steaks from the back straps.
Back straps are the muscles found on either side of the backbone. They run from neck to tail and rest on top of the rib cage. These are very tender cuts of meat, hence the reason we save them for steaks!
There are two ways to deal with the back straps. You can free the muscles from the bone for small, boneless steaks, or leave the bone in and make t-bone steaks. Let’s look at the first option!
Take your knife and run it along either side of the backbone.
The muscle will fall away. Cut the muscle free from where it attaches to the ribs.
On the neck, the back strap will be too tiny for steak! In our home, that goes for stew meat! Trim the ends, until you have nicely formed cuts.
These can be sliced into tiny steaks or rectangular roasts.
That’s method #1, most commonly practiced in our home! And here’s (less commonly practiced) method #2.
To make t-bone steaks from the back strap, you will need a hack saw. Unless of course, you have a band saw. Which we don’t!
Leave back straps attached to the backbone. Ribs must be sawed away from the backbone on both sides.
Place the now-free backbone out on the table and take up your hack saw. Yep, it’ll saw through meat and bone beautifully!
Saw t-bone steaks to the desired thickness. We aim for approximately 1 inch.
If you’re doing it by hand, you’re going to pay for those steaks. That is a-lot of sawing! Unless someone in your household is a carpenter! A time or two my man has pulled out his reciprocating saw.
But what a ton of time it saves!
If doing up the first deer of the year, ribs are sent to the burger bowl. However, there are times (usually on a second deer) when we make deer ribs.
Once again, a hack (or band) saw is required! If you like bones (as I do), you can saw through the breast bone. If not, you can free the ribs by sawing them off on either side. Your choice! If ribs are still attached to the backbone, do the same.
As you butcher, you’ll soon find your “groove,” which cuts you prefer, methods works best for you and your tools.
Saw each side of ribs in half, so they’ll fit in a baking dish or crock pot.
Do you want 4 ribs per cut? Maybe 5? It’s totally up to your personal preference. If you’ve sawed the breast bone in half, you’ll have to saw through it again when sizing your ribs.
Instead of battling the neck and backbone for itty bitty pieces of meat, we saw them into 8 inch lengths for the stew pot.
They are then wrapped and placed in the freezer. Later in the winter, we’ll cook them until the meat tenderizes and falls from the bones. Delicious winter soups, coming right up!
Leg bones can go for the same purpose. Sometimes we do, sometimes we don’t. It totally depends on how ambitious we’re feeling and how much freezer space is available!
EXTRA PIECES = BURGER
That’s how I refer to ground meat. Burger.
Any extra bits and pieces of meat can go for burger. Really! Any! During hunting season, we bag up our to-be burger until either we’ve filled our tags or the season/s are officially over. Then, we process it all at once, significantly cutting back on our time!
This home cook loves her burger!
In order to make ground meat (burger), you will need access to a meat grinder. Us? We have friends whom we call at the end of the season. We offer them a portion of meat in return for the use of their grinder.
WEIGH THE MEAT
Once your meat is all cut and wrapped, but sure to weigh it all! Record how much you got, so you can run it through the worksheet found on the post “Is Hunting for the Table Worthwhile?”
Financially, was it worth your time and effort?
MAKE IT YOUR OWN
If you research, you’ll find there are 101 ways to butcher a deer and 1,001 cuts you can take! As with everything in this world, one person stands by their particular methods, while another completely disagrees. One swears that a particular cut should be for roasts only while another says that same cut should only ever be a steak.
Because it’s a learned, customized skill.
So make it your own. That’s my advice! And tailor your cuts to meet your needs.
Example: we know that in the course of a year, we consume more burger than anything else. When hunting, there is no guarantee we’ll get another deer. So the first goes meet our first and foremost needs.
While we do take the back straps and make a few roast, our minds are set on burger and to burger, most of it goes!
Wise? You bet!
After that burger need has been filled, the next deer (if it comes) can be “roasts, ribs and steak.” We can get fancy-schmancy…in a simple way, of course!
Hear me when I say it: there ain’t no shame in stepping away from “special cuts” to fill a need. No shame at all!
That’s how we butcher around here!
It can be incredibly simple. Butchering should be tailored to meet your needs. And it should be enjoyed, without comparing to anyone or anything else!