The Deer Aging Thread

robby denning

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OK, we've had a few threads about this subject come and go with lots of interest. Some guys have PM'd me about my method. I wrote a big blog post on it a few years back here but it was more about the chef who taught me the method and didn't lay out the pics and details of the aging process.

So on this buck from last fall, I decided I do the entire 21-28 day process in a thread.



Some of the PMs and comments I've received are guys worrying about time of year they shot the buck, no walk-in cooler, space issues, limited time to process, quality of re-frozen meant, and age of the animal. I've tried to cover all that here (see bolded sections) as it's a problem for me too. Still not everyone will be able to do this, but I'll get it out there for those who can.

1) Time of year. I don't have a walk-in cooler. Just a garage. I live in SE Idaho and by experience, I know my garage isn't cold enough until December to do this (proper aging only occurs between 33-40 degrees). So what do I do when I kill a deer in September? I quarter it up and freeze until the garage will be cold enough. Since this aging process is going to dry out any exposed meat, this automatically means I'm going to lose a bit more meat because quartering it up exposes more surface area. But I find that the little more of trim I lose is worth the better flavor and tenderness I get, so I do it anyway. There have been other years where I've either killed bucks really late or was able to arrange with a butcher to hang the entire carcass. This makes for less waste and is always preferable.

For this year's buck, killed it October 12 in the extreme backcountry. I only had one packhorse and it had to pull camp the 14 miles, too, so I ended up deboning the buck too. Deboning only exposes more meat to drying and ups the trim waste. But I've been aging deer seriously for over a decade and knew that the loss is worth the benefit. So I put the deboned meat in the freezer October 13 and there it sat until December when my garage was consistently in the 30-degree range. If you do this method, you'll need a room thermometer and a internal meat thermometer (with at least a 30-45 degree range.)

I pulled out the frozen bricks of T.A.G. bagged meat on December 8th and hung them from a pole I chained in my rafters years ago



I weighed the bags so I could give you an approximate weight of how much is lost in the aging process.


So 78lbs total

All the quarters, neck, rib, and backstraps were frozen into two solid chunks.

It took almost three days, so the 11th, before the meat was thawed, starting the timer on the 21-28 days. The blood really began to flow onto the piece of cardboard on the floor.

On the 15th, I separated the pieces within the three bags, two with quarters/backstraps, one with neck/rib.

I removed the neck/rib bag and the backstraps from this process as those pieces are just too small to age, with all the drying, they'd be jerky at best. I could have either refroze them for grinding later (that is not a problem despite what you may have heard) or grind them now, or butcher them now and cook them. I did a little of it all.

On the backstraps, I don't age them unless they are left completely intact on a whole carcass. It's not that they don't benefit from aging, (they do and are superb once aged) but with all the surface area exposed, it's not worth the loss of meat for a cut that is already fairly tender. So I cleaned them up, butterflied, double wrapped in butcher paper, and refroze.
I cooked up some of the neck meat for me and my sister and brother-in-law.
It was good, but still tough as it had only aged about five days. It was the same experience I had with all venison growing up over the years and in my opinion is why too many people don't like it--tough and a little gamey

I rehung the quarters to continue aging. They still hadn’t dried out much and the blood was flowing heavily. A sign they had a ways to go. Most people have already processed their meat at this point

2) Space Issues
I had to put a big piece of cardboard on the hood of the truck every night to keep the blood funneling to another piece on the floor. A pain, but I know it’s with it.

3) No walk-in cooler. Got pretty lucky for this buck in that the garage stayed close to the ideal 33-40 degrees for the whole month. There were a few days where the garage climbed above 40 degrees. Checking the internal meat thermometer, the meat climbed too but never got above 40 by days' end. On those nights, I left the garage window open and put an old fan in to suck air through the garage. By morning, garage would be near freezing and internal meat temp would be down a few degrees.


I also keep an old sleeping bag in the shed for just this. While I didn't have to this December, there have been times in the past where I'd wrap the meat in the morning to hold the temp down during the warmer part of the day. While this is a pain, it's also a little bit fun and has shown me that most people living in a northern climate could pull this off (side note, I've tried aging bucks outside but temp swings are much wider outside of my insulated garage, so it was very hard to control the internal meat temp.) The internal meat thermometer is indispensable for this process
 
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robby denning

robby denning

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Another week later, on the 23rd (12 days into the aging process), the blood flow had slowed significantly. Still had to put a piece of cardboard on the truck hood, but in the morning, there would just be a few drips. The meat was starting to show signs of drying out.
Compare this pic taken on the 23rd to same pic in above post taken on the 15th. The quarters are visibly shrinking as they should

Close examination will show a 1/4” thick layer of meat that will have to be trimmed.

Some guys (and professional butchers) can’t stomach this. You could jump ship at this point as lots of the blood (think gamey flavor) is gone and you might even save a little trim, but not much. It never really dries deeper than that 1/4”. To me, it's worth another 10 days to let the enzymes really take effect and tenderize the meat. And this is where dry-aging beats the salt-water soak. Salt water will pull out a lot of blood but doesn't do much for tenderizing the meat. Only the enzymes can do that. There have been a few bucks I've aged in a rented butchers freezer that I've stopped aging at this point due to schedule conflicts with the butcher. They were good but still not as good as those I've let go over 20 days.

Limited time to process, quality of re-frozen meant Something else that is nice about doing it this way is that you can stop the aging process anytime by refreezing the meat. Maybe work is hectic and you're done aging but not ready to cut. Just refreeze the quarters then thaw when you're ready to cut. I've done this more than once and could detect no loss of meat quality due to the multiple refreezing. And it takes the pressure off me compared to the old days of a buck hanging in the garage in October and I have no choice but to get it cut up before it spoils in the warm temps.
 
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robby denning

robby denning

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Finally, on January 5th, after 26 days of aging, I pulled the quarters from the pole. I hadn't seen a fresh drop of blood in days, and even quit covering the hood of the truck. The quarters now weighed 15% less than when I started the process. That loss is due to blood (and water) and according to the good Chef McGannon, one of the keys to succulent meat.

Mold (and even some slime) had also begun to form on much of the meat. Most of us have heard an ol' timer say that is when they used to start tasting fine, and they're right.

Don't let the mold freak you out, as it will all be trimmed off when you remove the 1/4" dry layer. Another advantage to dry aging is if you happened to get your meat dirty in the field (and everyone knows how hard it is to keep hair off), all that will go with the 1/4" trim.
Your meat will be cleaner than ever. At least some of the time that I lose trimming the dry meat would have been spent picking hair and dirt off an unaged buck.

I spent the next few hours trimming, cutting steaks, roasts, stew meat, and trim for burger.

There was virtually no blood on my cutting board. Compare this pic of my cutting board to pic #8 in post #1.

The meat had lost it's typical rubbery texture. It yields to finger pressure and is slightly darker than unaged meat.

I did have to trim more than normal due to starting with boned out meat and all that surface area, but it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. It's still always preferable to age the deer whole and reduce the surface area exposed to air.

I finished wrapping all the steaks, roasts, stew meat and refroze the trim for the burger until I had time to grind.

Once the burger was ground, I pulled everything out of the freezer and weighed it.

I had 50 lbs of prime dry aged meat. I started with 78lbs of unaged boned out meat, so lost 28lbs to blood/water loss and trim. Not near all of that 28 is due to aging, as even an unaged buck will have many pounds of trim, especially if the meat is dirty. I'd guess I'm doubling the amount of trim due to the dry age process.

I don't know how much the buck weighed on the hoof. He wasn't huge, so maybe 225-250lb live weight as a rough estimate.

So I retained 20-22% of the meat in they very worst case scenario (dry aging boned out meat.) I think I've read unaged meat will get you closer to 30-35% of live weight. Only you can decide if it's worth the loss. As for me, I'll take the hit 7 days out of 7.

Now for the good stuff. I heated a 12" cast-iron skillet with a few Tbs of canola oil to almost a smoke and seared both sides of a salt-n-peppered steak cut from the top of the front shoulder, for about a minute per side, killed the heat and covered the skillet with another 12" cast-iron skillet and let the meat finish.

While front shoulder meat isn't known for tenderness, this piece was great. Knife cut all the way through with one slice and really tender with little effort to chew. No strong gamey flavor, just the savory almost-mild flavor you'd expect from a cow elk. The loins and sirloins are going to be even better.

About a week later, I unthawed the burger trim in a refrigerator for four days, then worked with Sophia to finish up the entire project.

I ground this burger with no added beef or pork suet. I did do a few pounds with a big piece of tallow from the buck.
I'd fried some of the tenderloin in camp in the tallow and it was delicious. I'll have to chime in later after I've tried the burger. For that night, I just grilled up the fresh burger with no added fat. Had to be careful when handling it as it can fall apart more easily without the fat.

I added three pieces of Genoa salami to the top, then a piece of cheddar cheese over that, stuffed it all in a whole wheat bun with some light mayo.

While technically you don't need to age burger for the tenderization that it provides (as the grinder takes care of that) biting into this burger reminded me that the flavor enhancement from dry aging is worth all the effort it takes to pull this method off.

 
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Brendan

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Pretty interesting, definitely feel I have to try dry aging... I'm always very reluctant to freeze, and then re-thaw because I've heard that it can hurt texture. Will see if I can find an article on it, but who knows. Robby - I'm same as you, no walk in cooler (Although I've been thinking building one DIY in the garage as it's pretty simple), but for me it's primarily smaller whitetail that I can get home whole. And, I don't hang in the garage, normally outside under our deck with good airflow.

Here's an article and a product I found somewhere this year, can't remember where. The interesting part to me is it helps you gauge how long it's aged, normalizing for different temperatures.

https://www.jagareltd.com/blog/the-knowledge-behind-aging-meat-1

The process I have followed that has worked well is to hang as long as temperature allows, debone and clean the meat. Dry as much as possible via air and paper towels, and then put it in plastic bags, into a cooler, cover it in ice, and then wet-age while I get around to processing a little at a time. With my Elk, I've had it take me total 2+ weeks from when I killed them to get the animal totally frozen and it's worked great... Allows me to come home from work, grab a couple bags, and do some every night...

But, I'm getting more and more inspired to do some dry aging.
 
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robby denning

robby denning

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Brendan, I read that entire blog post that you linked. Very informative and he addresses some of the biases against aging that I hear all the time. I like that he gives other options for different temp ranges as not everyone can maintain the temps needed for the 21+ days. Thanks for posting up


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ianpadron

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Good stuff Robby.

When you take a buck out whole, are you talking about fully gutted out but with quarters still attached to the body?

I dry age all my waterfowl, and it is definitely a game changer.

I'll have to get creative here in Washington, as it's never cold enough even during the winter to keep the garage at those temps.

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robby denning

robby denning

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Good stuff Robby.

When you take a buck out whole, are you talking about fully gutted out but with quarters still attached to the body?

I dry age all my waterfowl, and it is definitely a game changer.

I'll have to get creative here in Washington, as it's never cold enough even during the winter to keep the garage at those temps.

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hey man, yes when I refer to aging the whole buck, I mean hogdressed (guts/windpipe out) and everything else, including backstraps, left on. I've tried it with skin on, but it didn't really prevent drying out any less meat, so I usually take it off.

In the last 12 years, I think I've aged 2-3 whole because I rarely get them close enough to a road to age whole.
 

realunlucky

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I've never aged anything that long but might have to give it a try. Our seasons are typically early and warm this converted fridge comes pretty handy to regulate temps while hanging.


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robby denning

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I've never aged anything that long but might have to give it a try. Our seasons are typically early and warm this converted fridge comes pretty handy to regulate temps while hanging.


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Sam, that fridge you converted is awesome!

I didn't mention in the post as it was getting really long, but I had one of those for a while. It was only big enough to handle two quarters at a time (so I left the others frozen until those two were done).

It was much easier on me as the crisper trays contained the blood, and as you said, temp regulation was a cinch! Only thing I did notice was air-flow was a problem and the humidity was high, so I'd unplug the fridge for a few hours an prop open the door to get some air flow. Meat turned out fabulous.

That fridge was really old so it died the next year and I've just never made the time to go find another one. You may have inspired me!

People who are interested in another option, Sam brings up a great way to do this dry-aging if you're not doing a lot of animals and have an old fridge.
 

Travis Bertrand

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I've never aged anything that long but might have to give it a try. Our seasons are typically early and warm this converted fridge comes pretty handy to regulate temps while hanging.


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I have an old fridge I’m going to to as well. One trick a chef taught me was to put a small fan in there to circulate the air.


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Brendan

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If you do some searches on DIY Meat Curing chambers - there are people rigging up both humidifiers and dehumidifiers to to maintain the correct humidity too. If you're really into it, and especially if you have the space and time to build something, sky's the limit:

https://www.hinckleymeats.com/single-post/2016/10/11/Building-A-Dry-Cure-Locker

(Also, pretty sure fridge should constantly dry out the air, so I think most are adding humidifiers to keep humidity up)
 

blackdawg

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I've never aged anything that long but might have to give it a try. Our seasons are typically early and warm this converted fridge comes pretty handy to regulate temps while hanging.


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Could you share how you converted that fridge or start a thread and share how to convert a fridge? I need to do something like that!


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sneaky

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For those that have any kind of shed or small building you can insulate, you can buy an older window unit where you can remove the sensor to get the unit to run cooler before shutting off and you can make your own cooler to age meat pretty inexpensively. It'll get down cool enough to stay below 40 degrees and give you the time to age the meat. You can make whatever size you want. The one we built we put a commercial cooling unit on, but we might have ten or twelve deer in there at a time so that made sense for us. For only doing small numbers the converted window unit will do the trick.

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robby denning

robby denning

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Lots of good ideas for coolers on here. I wanna see a thread of some Rokslider building one. I nominate Sam/Travis!


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ljalberta

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Brilliant write up. Thanks for this. Looking forward to trying a longer age next year!
 
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