Preparing deer for consumption isn't that tough
Steve Loder got more than he bargained for the first time he tried his dad's homemade sausage.
A butcher and then restaurateur, his father used to butcher a hog each fall. He'd mix up his own seasonings, prepare the sausage, then fill half the basement with it, letting it dry as it hung from the ceiling.
Loder watched him for years as a child, always wanting to try the concoction that his father and his friends looked forward to with such anticipation. Finally, one year he got his chance.
"Oh boy, let me tell you, was it hot. Wow!" Loder said. "They were old Italian guys and they liked it that way, but it was way too hot and dry for me. I'd eat one or two bites and I was done."
Loder, a hunter and cookbook author who lives in Cranberry, never did acquire his father's exact tastes. But he does love sausage, especially the kind he makes himself at home using venison.
"Oh gosh, I use it for everything," Loder said. "In sauces; it's great in soups. I use it on the grill. It's very lean and it stays together very well."
Taking ground venison and turning it into sausage of various kinds -- be it breakfast sausage, hot sausage or even meat sticks -- is pretty simple, too, said Rodney Schaffer, director of technical services at Con Yeager Spice Co. in Zelienople and a hunter who teaches classes each winter on how to make venison sausage.
The only tool you need that might already be in your kitchen is a meat grinder. Hand-crank models are sufficient if you're doing one or two deer a year and are relatively inexpensive, Schaffer said. If that's not something you want to do, though, a lot of butcher shops will grind your meat for a price, he said.
From there, hunters can create their own spice mixes or buy kits -- marketed by numerous companies, including Con Yeager, Gander Mountain and Hi Mountain Seasonings -- that will take them step-by-step through the process of creating various flavors.
The one thing you want to remember is to add a little fat content to your sausage, said Cathy Cutter, an associate professor of food science at Penn State University. Without some extra fat, your sausage will be dry and crumble, she said.
It's not a good idea to rely on the fat already on your deer meat, though, said Ed Mills, faculty coordinator for the meat lab at Penn State University, who also teaches classes in making venison sausage. It's that fat that produces the "gamey" taste so many people dislike, he said.
"Plus, it's got a higher melting temperature than, say, pork fat. Pork fat literally melts in your mouth, so that you get a nice, oily feel. Regular deer fat won't melt in your mouth, so it will feel tallowy or you'll get a mouth coat effect," Mills said.
How much fat to add is a matter of personal preference. Mills mixes five pounds of ground pork butt with every 15 pounds of venison; Loder mixes his pork and venison on a one-to-one ratio.
Either way, it doesn't take long to make sausage. Loder, for example, buys his pork already ground, so that saves a little time. But the process of grinding 10 pounds of venison, mixing it with the pork and spices and stuffing it into casings or wrapping it for the freezer is easily done in a single evening, he said.
You might have to add a few hours to that if you're making something like bologna that has to be cooked and dried in the oven, Schaffer said, but that's not hard. And you wind up with a product that will last a while and, more importantly, tastes good.
"If you struggle to get your family to eat venison burger, but you can make sausage, bologna, salami, or snack sticks, your deer meat will never go to waste," Schaffer said.
Con Yeager Spice Co. and Rodney Schaffer conduct classes in how to make venison sausage each winter. Each class is held over two nights at the Butler County Vo-Tech School. Cost is $60 per person. Classes are next set for Jan. 15 and 22, Feb. 6 and 13, and March 6 and 13. For information or to register, call 724-452-4120 or e-mail JRettig@ConYeagerMail.com . You can also visit www.conyeagerspiceco.com for information on how to order the company's various sausage making tools and kits.
Steve Loder and his wife, Gale, have produced three cookbooks dealing with venison and other wild game. There are recipes for making various kinds of venison sausage in each of them. For details on how to order copies of their books, visit www.qualityvenisoncookbooks.com or call 724-824-2501.
Penn State University offers a one-day class each fall that teaches hunters how to field dress deer, butcher them, and prepare the venison the venison for the table. A sausage making demonstration is often a part of that class. Cost is $100 per person, with the next class set for Sept. 13, 2008. For details and registration information, visit foodsafety.psu.edu or contact Cathy Cutter at 814-865-8862 or firstname.lastname@example.org .