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.
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.
Flash Card for Proper Meat Preparation - The First Hour
The author, browningbbr, has a degree in Animal Science from Iowa State University (specialized in meat processing) with minors in Food Science and Food Technology. He has an M.S. in Food Science from Oklahoma State University through the Department of Animal Science, again specialized in meat processing.
For the last 30 years, he also experimented on the best ways to handle the processing of wild game to get the best quality meat for the table. When in South Africa, he asked a LOT of questions about how meats are processed, handled and prepared there. The hunting outfitter and chef gave him many insights into their procedures. Not suprisingly, the most effective ones matched basic principles of good meat science.
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