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Author: Frank Ross
Let’s face it, no one will take as much care in processing wild game as the person that is going to eat it. With a little equipment and a few simple recipes you can take control of the most important step toward eating a delicious meal or snack of venison jerky.
A few years back I took my annual buck to a butcher that was highly recommended by a good friend who touted his work as "the best". While I still include my buddy in the friend category, I no longer take his advice. The sausage that I got back was without question the worst meat that has ever passed my lips and when I opened a package of ground meat and found hair - that pretty well cut it for me. Since that unfortunate $150 lesson, I’ve limited rolling dice to board games with my kids. I process all of my own meat, to make sure of what goes into it, and what doesn’t as well.
Like many hunters, a few buddies and I share a grinder and stuffer, but when I decided it was time to start acquiring my own equipment, I was confronted with the same questions that anyone would have - how big is too big, and which unit will meet my needs in the future?
After reviewing all of my options, I decided to pick the brain of the guru of grinders before making my purchase. After 30 minutes with John O’Rourke, Cabela’s processing equipment expert, I was stuffed full of information like a brat ready for the grill.
One important aspect of his knowledge is that it’s based on experience. John lives the life, and uses everything in the extensive line of products that he manages. This week, I talked with John after he and a group of his friends processed six antelope in four hours. Each person handled a step in the process, boning, grinding, mixing, stuffing and packaging for the freezer. "It went very quickly. We could have done a lot more meat in the same time, but after we cut off the steaks that’s the amount of meat we had to work with. When you do your own processing, every step along the way, from scouting to harvesting the animal, processing the meat and cooking builds great memories, and great meals," O’Rourke said.
I asked him to take me step by step through the decision process, to help me decide where to start investing my money.
"The most important item for home meat processing is the grinder, and the single most important part of the decision on which unit to purchase is size. Which machine will meet your output expectations? Based on our customer feedback, if you are going to process a couple of deer or maybe a moose or elk each year, the 1 to 1-½ horsepower units are ideal. The 1/2 horsepower unit will get the job done, but with heavy sinew and course muscle tissue the 1 horsepower units perform better. It’s simple, more power, more size, more volume," he began, "The 1 horsepower unit is by far the best choice for the guy who goes at it pretty hard."
I also discovered that in addition to the additional horsepower, a key difference between the 1/2 horsepower and the larger units is the size of the throat that you feed meat into. The larger horsepower units can handle more volume and therefore your processing will go much faster.
Cabela’s reputation for quality and value added features at great prices really shines with the improvements made to an already-impressive line of meat grinders. The entry-level 1/3-horsepower grinder has been increased to 1/2 horsepower and the 3/4-horsepower model has been increased to a 1-horsepower motor.
In addition to beefing up the horsepower and wattage ratings of these two units, a number of important features have been added or upgraded, without affecting the cost to the consumer. One of the most noticeable features is that all of Cabela’s line of grinders now has stainless steel necks and screws, which not only enhances the appearance, but also makes them far easier to clean and maintain.
Other upgrades include a UL rating and a circuit breaker that will terminate the electric current in case of a jam or exposure to water. Although ground-fault outlets have been required for all new construction for a number of years, many older homes have not been upgraded and this feature is definitely an asset for use under this situation.
"After the grinder, the next logical step for good meat preparation is the issue of how are you going to process it -- for what will be the finished product. Do you want basic ground meat or do your taste buds crave sausage? If some type of sausage is your goal, the next piece of equipment you will need would be the mixer."
"We have a power mixer that attaches onto our grinder, as well as a smaller version that you crank by hand. For serious production, the mixer is ideal for blending tallow and seasonings for either sausage or jerky. Our power unit attaches onto either the 1 or 1-½ horsepower grinders and holds 44 pounds of meat; so you can mix the scrap of about two average sized deer."
"Mixing is a time consuming process that sometimes gets cut short because of arm fatigue when you try to do it by hand. With the mixer attachment you can properly mix a lot of meat in about 20 to 30 minutes.
"The next piece of equipment to simplify your meat processing would be a sausage stuffer. The size you will need, again, is solely based on volume. We have 6-, 11- and 22-pound units. Each one will produce all sizes of sausage. No matter what you want, from small snack sticks to big summer sausage, Germans, Polish or brats, our stuffers will do them all. You can use our grinders to stuff sausage, but in terms of flow rate, if you’re doing a lot of meat, a stuffer, with a bigger barrel and added pressure, just works more efficiently than a grinder to squeeze out the meat," he explained.
"Buying all of these pieces of processing equipment might seem like a big investment, and it is, especially when you do it all at once; but when you consider the cost of having a deer processed and amortize it over a few years it pays for itself in no time. Beyond the cost, you don’t have the issue of not knowing if you got some other hunter’s meat that wasn’t properly field dressed or cared for in the field. We feel like our customers are individuals that use quality products in the field and want a quality product to put on their table, so we offer literally everything you will ever need to process and preserve your game. When you process your own meat, you can ensure that you have quality from field to table, not to mention the time that you spend with friends and family in the preparation process," he said.
Cabela’s carries everything from a complete butcher shop system, to meat tubs, scales, cubers, slicers, tenderizers and freezer paper. Once you’ve got the "big three" (grinder, mixer and stuffer) you might want to consider a vacuum sealer. When you remove all of the air before you freeze your meat, it can last up to two years and still taste great. When it comes to meat, quality at every step of the process is the key to having a good experience with your fork.
Click this link to purchase any of Cabela’s meat processing tools.
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