Proper Game Handling
By John Cartier

According to latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and prevention there are 76 million illnesses, 5,000 deaths and 325 hospitalizations each year in the U.S. due to food borne pathogens. The most startling statistic behind these numbers is that nearly 80 percent are caused by improper handling of meat before it's EVEN PROCESSED. Is it any wonder that some people say they don't like venison because it tastes too gamy? They should be saying they don't like venison because the person who harvested the deer didn't take care of the meat properly.

There's no such thing as "Gamy Flavor." According to Dr. Don Beerman, professor of Animal Science at Cornell University, it's absolutely incorrect to claim there is a universal flavor, good or bad, in the flesh of wild game. The flavor of any meat, wild or domestic, depends on only a handful of factors. Of huge importance is how the meat is taken care of from killing through processing and cooking.

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Meat Science specialists at several universities agree that any truly offensive flavor in wild game is due, about 99 percent of the time, to improper care of the carcass.

This gets us to a study conducted in the food technology department of Texas A & M University. Under the supervision of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, 36 whitetail deer were shot under controlled conditions. They were divided into six groups. Each group was put through conditions such as varying amounts of stress before killing, field-dressed immediately or up to 16 hours after death, skinned immediately or delayed, and aged for one week at 40 degrees F or not aged at all before butchering.

Group 6 consisted of females not stressed before killing, rapidly field dressed, skinned soon after killing, then aged. This group rated at the top for meat tenderness, flavor and juiciness. That's how to have tasty venison.

Grilling Great Venison Burgers

Every deer hunter who grills burgers has seen too many that puff up in the middle during cooking. They also become tough, chewy and dry by the time thick interiors are cooked to medium-well.

The reason all burgers pattied flat puff during cooking has to do with connective tissue that is ground up along with the meat. When this tissue cooks it shrinks, first along the top and bottom surfaces of the burger, then on the sides where tightening acts like a belt. When the sides tighten, the interior meat volume is forced up and down, so the burger has to puff. Making a shallow depression in each patty is probably the best trick you'll ever learn about cooking venison burgers.

Start by forming about 6 ounces of meat into a patty roughly 3/4-inch thick by 4-1/2 inches in diameter. Then make a half-dollar size 1/4-inch depression in the center by pressing down evenly with your middle three fingers. This allows the cooking burger to rise without taking on an orbital shape.

Pre-heat your grill to medium high because you need a good blast of heat to form a flavorful crust. Place the burgers on the grill, uncovered, and cook about 5 minutes per side. Because burgers cook through so fast there is no reason to use indirect heating or a closed cover. Your resulting burgers will be flat and crusty enough to retain juices. Do not press patties with a spatula while they cook. Pressing squeezes out juices and drys the meat.

The late John Cartier was an active outdoorsman who wrote a number of books on wild game cookery. He was a resident of Ludington, Michigan.

One of John O. Cartier's latest cookbooks is titled BEST VENISON EVER. More than a mere recipe book, it offers hundreds of tips on how to dress, process and cook venison to highest quality. It's a "must read" for getting your deer meat to the table as tender and delectable as possible. This book is already in its 2nd printing. It cost $14.75 postpaid. Order from: Cartier Associates, Inc., P.O. Box 68, Ludington, MI 49431. (Michigan residents add 88 cents sales tax.)


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