Book Review: Meat Eater: Adventures from the Life of an American Hunter

Meat Eater
Book Review Steven Rinella: Steve writes about how he became the hunter he is today, and adds some wild game recipes in as a bonus.

I don’t watch hunting shows. Most of today’s shows are made purely for entertainment. I don’t hunt to be entertained. I hunt to eat (please don’t sue me Janis). So when one of my buddies told me about this show called “Meat Eater” with Steven Rinella, I was like, ok, whatever.

Then he would pester me every once in a while. “Did you see the show where he cooked the bear?” or “You have to see how he cooked the heart!”. It was time to check it out. I’ve never seen a hunting show where they actually cook what they kill.

The first episode I saw, Steve goes out in the mountains. He hunts for a whole week, busting his ass in the field, up and down these mountains. He had a harder hunt in one day than I ever hunted in my life (I have a nice river valley hunting camp – nice and flat, and I LIKE it like that!). He gets skunked, and goes home empty handed, but determined to try again.

Holy crap. Skunked?! And he made a show about it?! I can respect that. I was hooked.

One thing Steve does at the end of every show is cook some part of what he kills (if he has a successful hunt). This isn’t a cooking show, but to me it’s more a demonstration about what the hunt is about. Hunting isn’t about killing. It’s about living.

While this may seem like I’m going on about the show, the book is a very complimentary read to the show. Steve is a great story teller, and it shows in this book. A good part of the book covers Steve’s youth and background on how he got where he is.

Most books I read fall in two categories: I learn, or they have swords. Or magic. Or swords AND magic. While this book doesn’t quite fall in either of those categories, the stories were good. AND in similar tradition to the show, each chapter ends with a wild game recipe and some insight into that animal or recipe. One of the things I really appreciated about the book is Steve’s take on some of the ethical conundrums of hunting. Why do we kill these animals? Why do some fishermen do catch and release? These are conversations every outdoorsman  should have, with themselves, AND with other hunters.

So, check out Steve’s book, Meat Eater: Adventures from the life of an American Hunter. And check out his show. AND his podcasts. It’s a bunch of guys sitting around talking about hunting! He’s not paying me for this, so if a cynical hunter like me likes it, I think you’ll like it too.

Get his book from Amazon:

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A Meat Grinder For Hunters

A meat grinder for hunters.
A durable meat grinder that won’t break the bank.

Over the years, there has been a gradual shift in the way I process my deer as I get it in the freezer. In the beginning, we made sausage out of everything except the loins and tenderloins. And we did it all in one session. With a manual meat grinder. Never. Again.

Lessons learned:

  1. Grinding a whole deer up all at once AND making it all into sausage at the same time is EXHAUSTING.
  2. I do actually like manual grinders. Just not to make 70 lbs of sausage at once.
  3. This was a later lesson: You can do way more with meat that is kept whole. You can always choose to grind it later.
  4. Keeping frozen deer portions to 2 to 5 lbs is ideal – you can do a sausage making session with this much meat in about an hours worth of time.

We already had a KitchenAid mixer, so after that first deer, I bought the grinder/sausage stuffer attachment. While this works great, if you are a serious hunter DON’T GO THIS ROUTE. You will eventually have to buy your wife a new mixer. I prefer a stand-alone grinder, and after a LOT of research, I gave the TurboForce 2000 a try.

I know you just said that in a Monster Truck announcer voice.

Partially Frozen Meat
Partially frozen meat is easier to work with than totally thawed meat.

One of the things I’ve read about grinders, is you want one that is described in horsepower, not watts. And, the more horses, the better. This grinder was over 2 HP. And it was CHEAP. Which concerned me. Grinders of similar power were much more expensive. But the reviews didn’t scare me off, so I figured I’d see how it does.

At first look, it’s a solid little grinder. It comes with 3 blades, a coarse, medium, and fine. That was already better than the KitchenAid. Then I ran it. It is quite loud. But I’m a shooter after all, I have hearing protection. So I put my ear muffs on and ran some meat through it.

It ate everything I threw at it. I even ran some mostly frozen meat through it. It doesn’t sound pretty, but it handled it. When grinding meat, I recommend chopping it up with a knife while it is partially frozen before running it through the grinder. While this grinder has so far proven to be pretty tough, you should help it out if you can (that might have saved my KitchenAid).

Medium Grind
Run the meat through a second time through the medium plate.

I will usually run the meat through twice: first through the coarse blade, and then through one of the finer blades depending on what I’m making. If you are adding some kind of seasoning, add and mix it in with the meat before the second grind. When you grind it again it will be mixed just that much better.

Bottom line:

Is it the best grinder out there? No. For the money? Probably. I really expected this grinder to die pretty quick, just because the price was so low. But it has held up for several years now, and has run through probably 100 lbs of meat for me. If you need to grind constantly, I’d say go more higher end. But if you plan on only doing 5 to 10 pounds of sausage at a time, a few times a year, this grinder is a good way to go. I have not been disappointed with it.

Just PLEASE don’t burn out your wife’s KitchenAid. There are no winners when that happens. There’s a link down below just in case you need to buy a new one…

Check it out on Amazon:

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Let a Hitch Hoist do the heavy lifting on your deer

Use a hitch hoist to load a deer to your ATV, your truck, or to create an ad hoc butchering station.
A hitch hoist is the one hunting partner that will still give you a hand when everyone else has to “get home to the wife, or else” on those Sunday afternoon hunts.

The first deer I ever killed was an incredible learning experience. I was hunting with my father-in-law, who hadn’t hunted since he was a kid. Neither of us had any real experience gutting a deer. I read everything I could find on how to field dress a deer. I managed well enough, but where I really got stuck was after the field dressing: “umm, how we gonna hang this thing?”.

None of my reading material or online research ever mentioned that. Of course I had rope, and some nice trees with good size and height. The first time we tried hoisting him over a branch, we were taught about the effects of friction between a branch and rope. “Snap”. The second try we managed to get him up, with one of us pushing/lifting the buck while the other pulled on the rope.

We had hoisted him up by his back legs, because that’s how I’d always seen pictures of deer hanging. I then found a stick of appropriate size to get his legs spread, because I knew I had to get the body cavity open to get him cooled. We then learned about the pressure created between two points on a line, and the tremendous amount of force needed to separate them once once 130 lbs of pressure is applied to said line. Three sticks later, we were in business.

Kids, if you want a lesson in physics, go to deer camp.

Ironically, I had taken many a physics class in high school and college. I was aware of these amazing simple machines known as levers and pulleys that can multiply forces. Unfortunately I didn’t think about how much they could help me until after I needed them.

I immediately bought a pulley/gambrel hoist upon returning home. Wow, does that make life easier. I’ve also since purchased an ATV. Yeah, I won’t go into the “Deer Drag Lesson”.

Hey buddy, you OK?
Hey buddy, you OK?

While the gambrel/pulley worked great, I started seeing these hitch mounted hoists. I was intrigued, so I started researching them and reading reviews. Some were too wimpy. Some were just too damn expensive. I settled on a middle of the road Foreverlast Hitch Hoist, purchased it through Amazon, and hoped for the best.

To date I’ve used this hoist on four deer. It fits in a 2″ receiver, and I’ve used it on both my truck and my UTV. This thing is solid and HEAVY DUTY. As a bonus, you can remove a pin and it will swivel to help load a deer into your vehicle. No, your tailgate won’t open with it on, unless you also have a hitch extender.

Now, for the cost, while not exorbitant, it is one of those purchases you wouldn’t go and get as a new hunter. But if you are a hunter who has all the gear you need, or if you are buying a gift for a hunter who has everything, I would recommend this hoist.

I’ve used it as an aid in field dressing. I’ve used it to help me load a deer into my UTV. I’ve used it to just move a deer around camp. I’ve used it to age a deer. And best of all, I use it to quarter and butcher my deer. As you can see from the picture, it doesn’t get the deer far off the ground. My truck will be a little higher naturally, but the Kubota is actually a perfect height for quartering. My preference is to hang from the head while skinning and quartering. Notice I use a rope as well, could get a little higher without that. The Kubota puts the deer where the rear legs just touch the ground, which actually helps the process: this keeps the deer from spinning/moving as much while I skin it.

And if it starts to rain, I can get the whole thing under a pop-up canopy and continue to work.

If you hunt alone, or if you just want to reduce the heavy lifting in deer hunting, this is a great hoist. You can get it here at Amazon:

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Cooking with Cast Iron Pans

castiron1
Cast Iron Pans: the original no-stick pan

Cooking on cast iron brings to mind nostalgic images of cowboys cooking over an open fire, stars shining, someone strumming a few guitar chords as the day winds to an end…

Ok, hold on. I never ONCE saw anyone try to clean one of those pans in those old westerns I saw as a kid!

And that’s where I believe a lot of people nowadays hesitate when it comes to buying or using cast iron. Well, hesitate no more! If you are reading this, you are likely a hunter. And if you are a hunter, you NEED to have some cast iron in your kitchen arsenal! If not, you should start out with at least a skillet, or better yet, a set of skillets. When do you ever just fry one thing at a time? Having two or three pans will help to keep dinner prep moving along.

Why cast iron you ask? I’ll answer your question with another question: how long do those crappy “no-stick” pans last you? And I don’t even want to think about what makes them no-stick. Magic? That would probably be safer going through your system. Cast iron cookware has been around a long time, and for good reason. When it’s properly taken care of, it’s easy to use, easy to care for, and will likely save you money if you have been replacing scratched pans every few years.

Once you have a good cast iron pan, you need to season it. Most new ones that you buy today come pre-seasoned. If not, it will have instructions on it how to season it. This is usually as easy as scrubbing real good, drying, applying a thin coat of vegetable oil, and putting in the oven on low (325ish is good) for an hour. Piece of cake.

Pan fried venison liver and onions
One pan meal: liver and onions

The more you use it, the better it will be. The initial seasoning is a good start, but be prepared for things to stick the first time you use it, especially if you go light on the oil/butter. This is actually one of the reasons cast iron is great to cook venison with: venison is lean. By needing to use a little extra “fat” for cooking, it will keep that steak from drying out and turning to leather. In my opinion, a pan fried venison steak beats a grilled venison steak every time. When you grill, the moisture and little bit of fat in the steak just cooks out. In a pan it stays there. But I digress, back to the pans..

Once you’ve used your pan, clean up is as easy as running under hot water and wiping out with a paper towel. Maybe that’s why the old westerns never showed that: paper towels hadn’t been invented yet. If something is cooked in pretty good, you have a few options to deal with it. You can throw some water in the pan and boil it for a bit to soften things up. I recommend also having a metal spatula to  use with your cast iron pans. Use it to scrape gunk off before washing, or if you have to use the boil method, it helps to scrape as it simmers as well. These methods will clean your pans 99% of the time.

Simply using hot water and a paper towel will clean your well seasoned cast iron 99% of the time.
Simply using hot water and a paper towel will clean your well seasoned cast iron 99% of the time.

When water alone doesn’t cut it, have no fear, all is not lost. All you need is some coarse salt. I always have some kosher salt handy for my brining, so dry out the pan a little, pour in a tablespoon or two of salt, and now scrub it with a paper towel. You’re basically doing a slow sand blasting. I have yet to have something so charred in this wouldn’t take care of it. Once the charred spots are set, go back to the hot water scrub/rinse, then dry it off.

This process may seem a bit tedious, but even if it comes to the salt method, I find it’s much faster to clean cast iron than if I had charred a “no-stick” or stainless steel pan.

Now that your pan is clean and dry, pop it back on the stove and crank the heat up for a minute to get the pan hot. Take another paper towel (damn, I REALLY want to know how those cowboys managed!), and wipe a light layer of vegetable oil or shortening (I use shortening myself) over the entire surface. Let it cool, and you are good to go for your next meal!

Once you start cooking with cast iron, you’ll find that you use it more and more. And the more you use it, the better seasoned it gets, and the easier clean up becomes. Then all you need to do is find a good home to donate those crappy old pans you never use anymore to..

 

Use a food slicer to expand your venison options

ChefsChoice
Use a food slicer to cut those perfect strips of jerky, consistently, every time.

A meat/food slicer is one of those tools that can be hard to justify purchasing. If you are just starting out hunting, there are way more important things you should be spending your money on, namely the gear you will be using in the field. But after a few years, your gear needs tend to wind down (unless you are one of those guys that get’s a new bow/gun/latest gadget every year!), and you can start to invest in your kitchen gear.

A meat slicer was down on my list processing appliances. Dehydrator. Grinder. Sausage stuffer. Jerky gun. Then, I was ready for a slicer. I made a pretty mean summer sausage, but I wanted sandwich slices. THIN SLICES. I was getting better at making jerky, but it’s tough to get consistent cuts with just a knife. A slicer solves all these problems.

I went with a middle of the road slicer, the Chef’s Choice 610 model, and it has served me well. It’s still available, but there is a newer version, the 609, which is currently a bit cheaper, as well as a premium model, the 615 which seems more comparable to the 610.

Here’s my YouTube video on the assembly and maintenance of the 610:

The newer model (609) has a cut away where the meat will fall. I haven’t tried it myself – I kind of like how the 610 falls onto a tray – keeps my counter somewhat clean. The 615 appears to be much closer in design to the 610. Either way, I don’t think you could go wrong with any of them. The price points are close enough where none of them will break the bank, and you can pick based on your personal preference.

I’ve put my 610 through regular use for 3 years now, and it still works great. It’s not a commercial slicer, so I don’t think it would hold up under daily use. But I use mine at least once a month and so far it has done the job and held up great. As far as maintenance goes, I recommend some food grade silicone spray for the blade, and some food grade petroleum jelly for the contact points and the blade drive gear. A little dab will do it.

They come with a serrated blade, which has worked fine for me. There is a non-serrated blade you can get as well – my understanding is you can get finer (thinner) cuts with it on meat that may tend to shred on the serrated blade. An upgrade I may be adding this year!

Bottom line, a slicer is one of those “nice to have” kitchen tools. Mine has paid for itself just in lunch meat alone – we get whole chicken, turkey, or ham at a fraction of the cost of deli counter prices, and I slice it myself. Package it for what you use weekly, storing the extra in the freezer, and you can go months before needing to buy more. Being able to have more processing options for my venison is just a bonus.

You can read more about it here, or here’s what you’ll need from Amazon:

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Book Review: Making The Most of Your Deer

makingthemostofyourdeer
Book Review Dennis Walrod – this book provides some of the most comprehensive information on fully using your deer that I’ve seen.

When I started hunting, I read tons of books and magazines about hunting. As I refined my tactics over the years, and settled into my own hunting property, I became much less interested in how to hunt deer, and more focused on what to do with deer after I’m lucky enough to harvest one.

One thing I don’t like about many of the books I’ve read on processing deer, is that they don’t focus enough on the actual processing. They spend unnecessary time trying to cover all the basics of everything involved in the hunt. From tactics to how to drag a deer – this is necessary for new hunters, but I really hunger for a “Deer Processing 201”, or even 301 book.

Making the Most of Your Deer by Dennis Walrod falls somewhere in the middle for me. He provides information that I haven’t seen before. The tanning and soap making sections were particularly interesting, as the more deer I take over the years, the more I try to make the most of every part of them.

His walk through on field dressing and butchering are also very well done. I would have preferred more pictures – but having butchered a good number of deer myself, I could make up for some of the missing imagery.

While some of my techniques on processing and butchering differ from Dennis’, I still read this book before each deer season (well, at least certain parts). I keep a small library of books that I have learned from, and go through a “refresher” every year. This book is in that list for me. When you haven’t butchered a deer in close to a year, a little review helps tremendously.

I made bird suet for the first time thanks to this book. I’m working up to soap. I’ve been able to get the wife to eat venison. I don’t know how long it will take to get her to bathe with it!

Buy it here on Amazon.

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Book Review: Gut It. Cut It. Cook It. The Deer Hunter’s Guide to Processing & Preparing Venison

GutItCutItCookIt
Books Review Gut It, Cut It, Cook It – One of the best illustrated, most complete deer processing books that I’ve seen.

When it comes to deer hunting, there are probably a few billion books out there on how to do it.

When it comes to wild game recipes/cooking venison, the numbers are up there too.

When it comes to butchering a deer, there are maybe five. Maybe I exaggerate a little, but you get my drift.

The hunting and even some of the recipe books may have an excerpt or two about how to butcher and process a deer, but I often find them lacking on detail. Or pictures. This book doesn’t lack on either. Gut it, Cut It, Cook It is one of the most comprehensive books on deer processing that I’ve found.

It’s a large book (physical size, not number of pages), set up in a binder type format. That means you could actually have it open WHILE you are processing your deer, and the page will stay where you are at.

On top of that, the pictures are large, with great detail, the authors do a great job of actually showing what they are describing in the text. It does not currently have a digital format, and I hate to admit it (I haven’t bought a physical book in 10 years, other than this one), viewing this on a small screen would lose detail, so no digital version is not a bad thing.

If you are a deer hunter, you should own this book. If you process your own deer and think you know everything, buy this book – you will learn something. If you don’t process your own deer, get this and you will see that butchering isn’t as complicated as you might think. I’m not saying that processing your own deer isn’t work, but the more you understand about the muscle structure of the animal, and better yet, the more you practice you get, the easier it is. Plus you will get more meat from your deer (hey, butchers have a time sensitive business, no offense to the butchers and commercial deer processors out there), and it will be processed exactly how you want it!

Buy it here, or read more about it here on Amazon.

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Brining Venison – Add flavor and tenderize in one step.

brinerjr1
Use the Briner Jr to make Corned Beast!

When working with wild game, a common technique to “enhance” or “adjust” the flavor is to brine it. This is actually true with a lot of commercial meat as well, it just happens before you see it. For the most part, brining is soaking meat in a salt water/seasoning mixture for some time period. For squirrel or rabbit, it’s a day, for corning, could be a few weeks.

When brining, you need to keep the meat submerged. There are many ways to do this, but I use a container called the Briner Jr.

It’s a plastic bucket, about 10 inches tall and 9 inches in diameter. There are step grooves along the side that a plastic plate fits into that will push the meat down into the liquid and hold it there.

The lid does seal pretty well, but I like to cover the top with press-n-seal, then put the lid on. This cuts back on odors in the fridge (corning a venison roast for a week can tend to make your fridge smell like pickling spices – not bad, but kind of obnoxious after a while), and also makes it a bit more water tight. I’ll take the whole container and swirl it around once a day to “stir” the mixture.

brinerjr3
Easily fits in any fridge.

I’ve used this with roasts up to 7+ pounds, with room to spare. They do maker a bigger model – but it’s huge. You would need a big fridge to hold it. This smaller version fits nicely in my beer fridge. I just hate when I have to make room in the beer fridge…

After a number of uses, it may start to yellow a bit, but hey you only use it for brining. You can easily brine with containers you already have, but this is a reasonably priced container that simply makes the job easier.