In less than 36 hours, Michigan deer season 2020 will have begun. At this moment you are likely double-checking your gear, making last-minute plans of what stand location to hunt in, and checking your trail cameras. Tonight I spent some time going through my freezer and making plans for the last of the venison I brought home last year. I thought it would be a good time to go through what I feel are the must-have pieces of food processing equipment to make the most of the deer you kill this fall.
- Electric Meat Grinder – No single piece of equipment is so essential to so many different ways to prepare venison. From grinding up scraps to making sausage and jerky, the meat grinder should be the core of your venison processing operation. I recommend saving up and buying quality models for all of your food processing gear, but that is especially true for the grinder. Get a solid unit with at least 1/2 hp of power. Lesser units will overheat, get bogged down, and waste your time unclogging them and trying to cool your meat back down. I recommend the Weston Pro #8 electric grinder. At 3/4 horsepower it will power through anything you throw at it and will last for decades.
- Bag Neck Tape Sealer – This entry may be a bit less exciting than the grinder I mentioned previously, but is no less essential. The best way to store ground meat is in tubular plastic ground meat bags. The key to keeping the ground meat fresh is getting a tight seal on the bag and getting it sealed as close to the meat as possible. The less air in the bag, the less chance of freezer-burned meat. There are two schools of thought when it comes to sealing ground meat bags: hog rings and a tape sealer. The metal hog rings seem like a good idea, but the sharp metal tends to puncture the bags and also to leave some air in the bags. Go for the neck tape sealer. It’s a cheap and easy way to make sure that ground venison is portioned out properly and still fresh when you want to make chili for next year’s deer camp. At only $23, LEM makes a fantastic bag neck sealer.
- Vacuum Sealer – While you don’t want to vacuum seal all of your meat, the steaks and best cuts should be vacuumed and frozen for maximum freshness. As a bonus, a vacuum sealer goes well with a sous vide if you want to use the immersion method to cook perfect temperature meats. You can likely get by with a cheaper vacuum sealer to start, but eventually, it will be worth it to get a quality commercial-grade unit. The better-built models will allow you to seal larger bags and will do a better job of drawing down a vacuum in the bag to ensure the best preservation of your meat. If you’re just starting, you can’t go wrong with the Food Saver V2244 which is available for around $80. For an upgrade choice, I recommend the Weston Pro 2300 as a fantastic quality vacuum sealer, available for around $400.
- Dehydrator – Everyone loves making and eating jerky—especially from venison. Look for a tray-style unit that holds at least 10 trays. Anything smaller and you will find yourself having to make multiple batches to get a decent yield. The jerky making process takes 8 hours at least once it hits the dehydrator, so you will want a unit that can handle some volume. A jerky pistol can be a great accessory as it allows you to make jerky from ground meat, but you can always just use a jerky slicer to cut it up as well.
- Sausage Stuffer – Your meat grinder, especially if you buy a decent unit, will come with some attachments for making sausage. While this will work in a pinch, if you enjoy eating fresh homemade venison sausage you will want a dedicated sausage stuffing tool. Grinders force the meat out at a continuous rate which takes away control while filling your casings. A dedicated stuffer will feature a handle that you use to control the rate at which the casings are filled. The slower you fill them, the more control you have over the process, and the easier it will be to avoid air pockets. I recommend the LEM 5 pound vertical stuffer. At $150 it is an extremely capable and durable unit that will last longer than you.