Proper Meat Preparation - The First Hour

Discussion in 'Before & After the Hunt' started by browningbbr, Aug 8, 2009.

  1. browningbbr

    browningbbr AH Enthusiast

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    Proper Meat Preparation - The First Hour

    OK, you've had a successful hunt and your trophy is on the ground. You know what to do with the cape and the horns. Your taxidermist has given you all the pointers you need, but what about the meat? How do you make sure that it's going to turn into meals that people rave about?

    Animals you have taken in the past sometimes end up tasting good, sometimes not. A couple years ago, the buck you shot was 'gamey' - how come? The venison from last season was tough, but the year before it was tender. Why does that happen?

    I've spent my entire career managing meat plants and all of my education was focused on meat science and meat processing. I've applied the same technology and principles that we use in USDA-inspected meat plants to the processing of the wild game that I've taken and have been very pleased with the results.

    Hopefully, I can do a good enough job of communicating this to in part 'pay back' the members of this forum for what you have taught me about Africa, the animals there and the grand sport of safari hunting. Here goes...

    THE FIRST HOUR - There are 6 things that are important to get done in the first hour (if at all possible) to insure safe, good tasting meat. As you would guess, the first critical step is to eviscerate (gut) the animal and to do so without getting stomach or intestinal contents onto the carcass. I imagine everyone reading this post has done this many times in the past, so I'm not going to go into a lot of detail here. Just get it done as fast as possible. The bacteria that live in the digestive system are the same ones that cause meat to spoil and you want to get them out. A couple of tricks to doing this effectively are:

    1. Hoist the animal up by the back legs. It causes the viscera to slump down toward the lungs and takes pressure off of the abdomen near the pelvis. After doing this, it's much easier to start cutting down the centerline beginning near the pelvis without "popping a gut" and getting manure all over what will some day be your dinner.

    2. Cut around the anus and pull it out. Tie a string (or an electrical zip tie) around the bung. It keeps the manure in.

    3. Reverse the knife in your hand (opposite of how you would hold it at the dinner table) and stick your fist into the abdomen with the knife blade sticking out. With only your fist, the hilt of your knive and 1/4" of the knife blade inside the abdomen, it's real easy to slit open without puncturing the intestines or stomach.

    If you need information about how to easily crack the aitch bone (pubic crest), remove the lungs or any of that stuff, just email me. This is mostly straight forward stuff so I won't go into it here.

    The second critical thing to get done in the first hour is wash out the inside of the carcass with LOTS AND LOTS AND LOTS OF COLD WATER. I can't stress this enough. It's very important to start removing body heat as fast as possible. Take a garden hose and flood the inside of the carcass for at least ten to fifteen minutes. Take time to wash it out thoroughly to get out any dirt or debris, but don't stop just because it looks clean - keep washing. Water removes heat very quickly and just 15 minutes of hosing will drop the carcass temperature several degrees.

    The third critical step in the first hour is to get the hide off. There's a couple reasons for this. First, the hide is a hell of a lot easier to remove immediately after the animal is killed. If you're in the practice of letting an animal hang for a day before skinning it, try doing it right away next time. The difference is dramatic. The second reason for taking off the hide right away it also speeds the cooling of the carcass. Most animal hides are very effective at keeping heat in (that's why they wear those fur coats...) so you need to get it off. When removing the hide, be very careful not to cut the achilles tendons in the hind legs - you are going to need them for step four. Also be careful not to cut into any scent glands - it's impossible to get that smell out of the meat.

    Critical step four is to hang the animal by the hind legs with a spreader of some type to keep the legs apart. A gambrel like the ones used in slaughter plants is ideal and you can buy them in most sporting goods stores these days. The reason that this is important is that hanging the carcass from the hind legs causes the leg muscles and loin muscles to be "stretched" by gravity. This is important because over the next 24 hours, the muscles are going to go through rigor mortis. (Latin for "the stiffness of death") By keeping the muscles stretched, they cannot contract enough to become tough.

    The 5th thing to get done in the first hour is to "shroud" the carcass. This is a practice used by slaughter plants processing prime beef. The shroud they use is a 10' x 6' piece of heavy muslin cloth that is soaked in water then wrapped around the entire outer surface of the carcass and held in place with 4" stainless pins. Why? Two reasons: first, the water evaporates off of the shroud and causes the carcass to cool even more quickly. Second, the wet cloth keeps the meat surfaces from drying out. Game animals are almost always leaner than domestic ones, so this practice is even more important. If you have ever had to peel off the dried exterior of a deer carcass, you are going to love how shrouding helps. Old bath towels work great for this. You can use 10 penny nails to hold them in place.

    The final critical step is CHILLING for 24 HOURS. To understand why chilling (not freezing) and doing it for 24 hours are important, you have to understand that the muscle cells in the meat of the carcass are still alive! In fact, if they are kept cold, they will continue to respire for another 7 days or so. OK, so what's important to control with chilling? Keeping the temperature of the cooler where the carcass is held between 28 and 40 degrees (F) is very important. Below 28 degrees, the muscles will start to freeze and the temperature shock will cause a phenomenon called "cold shortening". This is a non-reversible contraction of the muscle that causes the meat to be extremely tough.

    Full rigor mortis is achieved in 24 hours. After that, freezing does not cause cold shortening because the muscle cells have used up all of their energy that could have been used for contraction, that's why the 24 hour chill cycle is so important.

    This covers the first hour. I only hit the high points and didn't go into a lot of explanations. Please feel free to ask if I didn't explain something well enough. Feel free to add info I missed.

    .....OK, I'm tired of typing for tonight. Tomorrow I'll take a whack at Part 2 - Freezing and Sausage Making
     
  2. Shallom

    Shallom AH Enthusiast

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    Great stuff bbr... the more we know, the better we can serve. In my case, we can rarely get the above done within an hour, but we try our best to do it within two hours. In most cases we are operating 1-4 hours from camp on a daily basis.

    We only wash our meat once it is ready to go into cold storage. We believe washing it and hanging it accelerates spoiling and fly infestation. What are your thoughts on this?
    Due to high temperature we usually cannot age our meat in the field during the first 24 hours, but put it into the freezer. It does however, take at least 24 hours to freeze after being out for an additional 6-10 hours in the field and skinning shed. We find this allows sufficient time for the meat to relax and we do not have to re-kill it in the kitchen though we always make it a point to only cook game meat at least 48 hours after it has been taken. In the kitchen, we usually tenderize the meat with marinades and the only piece of meat that we serve without added flavors and marinade is the tenderloin.

    You need to visit us in Tanzania to try some of our specialties and also to show us how to improve our meat processing and storage. Looking forward to reading more about it on here first though. Thanks for the knowledge bwana. Cheers,
     
  3. browningbbr

    browningbbr AH Enthusiast

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    Taking more than an hour

    Ryan: I undestand the limitations of what can actually be done in the field. The "first hour" that I cited is the best for the meat. If you can't get it done that quickly, go as fast as you can.

    As to washing v fly infestation, I've found that it does not seem to matter to the flies. It's still better to rinse thoroughly to clean and cool the meat.

    Freezing is still a bad idea when it is done before full rigor sets in. A large carcass will easily take 24 hours to freeze, but the outside is frozen long before the center of a "round" (meat of the hind leg) even gets cold. Thick portions of the carcass will have thermal gradients (colder outside, warmer inside) as the heat comes out and the cold penetrates. The outside which freezes first, will be tougher than you want it to be.

    I'd suggest setting your freezer at 0C or 32F and then shroud as I noted above. Carcass cooling will occur more rapidly than if you set the freezer at minus 10 C. It's amazing what a wet shroud will do.

    On my first post, I said I'd go into freezing and sausage making next. It was late and I was not thinking straight. I'll go into freezing and AGING next. There are times when it's not appropriate to age meat and there are times when it is an absolute requirement. I'll try to explain why.

    I do have to get to Tanzania some day. As we discussed a couple months ago, my older daughter is leaving to visit your beautiful country next week. We'll have to chat off line - I've got a bottle of fine single malt for you that I'd like to send along with her.

    More later....

    - browningbbr
     
  4. Shallom

    Shallom AH Enthusiast

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    Browningbbr... this is great stuff you are sharing on here and many of us will be better for it. I for one, take so much for granted when it comes to meat processing and storage and i cannot wait to put some of your guidance to practise and see/taste the improvements.

    Awaiting the offline comms, but i must say - you are a confident and trusting man - not only are you sending your daughter over, but with a bottle of single malt too!!! You are already top of my list :) Don't worry bwana, both precious cargo are in good hands. Your daughter will be well guided and advised and the bottle will be awaiting our triumph over the Cape Buffalo when you do make it down here. Cheers,
     
  5. BangFlop

    BangFlop AH Senior Member

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    Browningbbr,

    My grandfather also taught me that the "first hour" is very important. However, instead of shrouding and hanging the meat for 24 hours, he believed in quartering the animal and placing the quarters in ice chests full of ice. He would leave the meat in the ice and water for 3-4 days before wrapping in butcher paper and freezing.

    What are your thoughts on this technique?

    Thanks for the great info!!
    BangFlop
     
  6. browningbbr

    browningbbr AH Enthusiast

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    The next logical topic to cover is "Aging", but let me try to answer BangFlop's question first:

    Immersing meat in ice water is a heck of a lot better than cooling it too slowly, it's just not optimal. There is some risk (depending how long it took to get into the water, too soon is bad) of getting the "cold shortening" that I mentioned in my first post. Also, in order to get it in the cooler, you have to break the carcass into primals (loin, round, shoulder, etc.) Remember what I noted about hanging the carcass from the hind legs so it would stretch? Well, you give this up too when immerse them in the ice water. Having said all of this, if I had to choose between spoiled meat and possibly tough meat, I'd be toting ice bags.

    - browningbbr
     
  7. Pete E

    Pete E New Member

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    Interesting post and while I generally agree with most of it, I don't think its all "cut and dried"..

    Part of it will depend on circumstances; the approach I take with a Roe or Muntjac here in the UK, would be completely impractical for a backpack hunter who's got an elk down ten miles from a road in the States.

    Personally, I like to leave Roe, Muntjac and Fallow in the jacket as it prevents the meat from drying out. Thedown side is that its a bit more difficult to skin when the time comes. Having said that, I am not usually hunting in high temps, and will very often be able to get the carcass to to a chiller within an hour or so..

    I'm not too keen on covering a warm carcass with damp material either. Generally I have always been taught water is the enemy of a good clean carcass. Damp conditions encourage bacteria and mold growth and generally shorten the time a carcass can be hung. Things may well be different in the hygienic conditions of a meat plant, but most hunters/stalkers do not have access to anything more sophisticated than a simple chiller, if that.

    Washing the carcass is a very controversial subject based partly on what I have already said. If washing to remove contamination from say a gut shot, be aware that while you may remove visual contamination, the over enthusistic use of a hose may end up spreading bacterial contamination.

    If you are going to wash, you must use fresh potable water, not water out of some stream or cattle trough. Use the minimum amount and wash from clean areas to contaminated if possible. Freshly opened kitchen role is sterile and is great for this sort of thing. Change and discard frequently, again working from clean to contaminated areas. Better yet is to remove contamination by trimming if possible. Also if you are going to wash, better to wash when the carcass is warm (if possible) so that it dries and minimises mold and baterica growth.

    After the carcass is washed and clean, its also an idea to wipe the insides down with paper towels soaked in a little white vinegar. This leaves no taste, but is a natural anti bacterial and anti fungal..

    Another technique to stop the carcass drying out once skinned is to wipe over with a paper towel dampened with good quality olive oil..This may not be practical when dealing a with large numbers of carcasses, but for the hunter who has a single fallow or whitetail deer, it works well...

    With regards chilling, I agree thats very important where practical. Generally if the weather conditions permit, we let the carcass cool towards ambient temp for a couple of hours and then move it into the chiller and hang it just above freezing..Depending on a number of factors, it can be hung anywhere from 7 to 30 days if in a proper commercial grade chiller.

    In the improvised versions many hunters in the UK use, 5 to 14 days is more usually...Check the carcass often, and if you start smelling a "gamey smell" or see mold growth in the body cavity, its time to butcher it asap. Usually a wipe over with a paper towel dampened in white vinegar will remove the smell, but its really time to act...

    Below is a couple of pics of a converted fridge I use to store Roe and Muntjac..It will hold a couple of Roe or three of the smaller Muntjac..When stalking in the warmer summer months, this in absolute boon and cost me less than US$90 delivered of Ebay.

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