Roasting a Haunch of Venison over Charcoal

venison haunchThere is nothing in this world better for a carnivore to eat than this; a crisp, brown, smoky haunch of venison, juicy, tender, and deep rosy pink, yet cooked, down to the bone, fragrant with rosemary and garlic. The texture of the meat is finer than beef or goat, leaner than lamb, juicier than antelope. The taste is iron-rich but delicate; our Whitetails seem much less gamey to me than mule deer I have eaten from Texas.

Right Eating

This meat feels good to eat. You know that this animal lived free, died suddenly, and is the ultimate in free range and grass-fed. Yes, I worry a little about the fact that she probably ate tender tips of GMO soy, but it’s the best we can do right now. Since we butcher our venison ourselves, we know this meat is clean and we usually know exactly where the deer was killed. Our deer population is too high, but not to the point that we have to worry about disease, so we can feel pretty good about eating this meat. This article is divided in to two parts: the recipe and the cooking method, both of which are important to creating this pinnacle of carnivorous eating.

The Recipe:

1 haunch of venison, see post. Takes three days to thaw in a large pan (Blood will come through the wrappings) in the refrigerator, faster in a 5 gllon bucket of cold water if you are in a rush.

1 head of garlic

1-2 tbs sea salt to taste

1/2 cup rosemary needles

6-8 dry bay leaves, crumbled

3-4 tsp other dried Meditterranean herbs, such as oregano, basil, and thyme, as seems delicious to you.

1/2 c. olive oil ground

1-2 tsp coarsely ground black pepper.

Break up the garlicand peel the cloves. You want a good handful. I said a head but it depends on the size of the head. It could be more or less. You can crush them with the flat of a big knife and the skins will come right off. Throw all ingredients (less the haunch) into a blender or food chopper and whirl. You should have a thick, coarse, rosemary/garlic dominated paste. Rinse the meat and set in a pan. Pat dry if you are that sort of person, and rub the paste all over the haunch. Rub it well into the cut end as well. Depending on whether you planned ahead or whether this is a last minute rush, you can either wrap it up and refrigerate it overnight, or refigerate it in the pan until the fire is ready. In winter I just set it on top of the piano on the back porch….. Either way it will be great.

Cooking Method: The Indirect Method

I remember the first time I tried roasting venison this way, on a round Weber kettle grill in my backyard when we were living in the city. My daughter Crystal, then five, was upset to be eating Bambi, and refused at first, but as her father was later and later for supper she grew hungrier and hungrier, and finally agreed to try a little taste. Her little face became very serious as she thought about it, decided it was probably a wicked deer who kicked its mother, and quickly gobbled two big slices. This is the trick, learned from the owner’s manual all those years ago: You can’t just put the meat on the grill when it is going to be on there 2 hours, because the fat will drip in the fire and burn, and the meat will be deeply charred on one side. The indirect method solves this problem. First, take off the grill and prepare to start the coals as you nomally would.

Starting the Coals

I prefer not to use lighter fluid as it is toxic and nasty. There is a weber coal starter which costs about 15 dollars and starts about the right amount of charcoal with a few pieces of newspaper. It is a sort of metal chimney with a basket in it. That is very easy. Another easy way is to put dried grass, twigs, sticks, and charcoal in a paper bag, ball it up, and light it. Keep an eye on it as you may need to move things around to get it to catch evenly. Yes, bags of briquets are not sustainable or virtuous, but charcoal burning has always been a bad thing in that sense. If you burn brush frequently you can try smothering your fires and saving your own. Otherwise, sigh and continue.

The Pan/Coals Setup

You will need a pan that you don’t care about which is big enough to fit your haunch. It is ok if the shank bone sticks out as the meat will shrink away from it anyway. I have even reused old aluminum disposable pans. Once the coals are caught, put on a heavy glove and get a tool to move the coals into a ring in which your pan will sit. I use a garden trowel to clear a space and then tongs for individual coals. Your pan should be sitting surrounded by coals. At this point, since my present grill is awkwardly shaped for this, I heap more charcoal on top of the caught ones. You want to be able to let it go for about two hours. If it runs out, you will either have to finish it in the oven or move the whole hot greasy setup to the side, probably burning yourself and get soot everywhere, in order to add coals.

Finally, the Meat!

Now, put the grill back in place, put the haunch on top, and close the lid, adjusting the side/bottom and top vents almost halfway open. The meat will be quickly sealed all over by the smoky heat, which will be nearly at its highest at first, and then will gradually go down, so don’t check on it too much as you will be letting out heat and adding to the time. The meat will continue to cook in towards the bone even after the outside has stopped getting darker, which is an added reason for the traditional half-hour wait for juices to reabsorb once it is off the grill. I have tossed a haunch of goat on the grill, gone swimming in the river for two hours, and come back to find it perfect. But I was lucky. Two hours for a haunch is a ballpark figure. I have had a yearly buck’s haunch done in an hour and a half, and an enormous doe’s haunch take two and a half hours. It is pretty forgiving, but I start poking the meat at an hour and 45 minutes. The shank meat will be soft and overdone, and the fattest part will be springy.  The color will be nice and brown, with burnt rosemary and garlic encrusted all over it. I am too Luddite to use a normal thing like a meat thermometer. Generally I just call it done and take it in on a carving board to sit for a half an hour, but put the lid back on the coals just in case I am wrong.


roast haunch of venison

My sister did this one very slowly for that awesome even pink- mine are generally darker with some grey on the edge.

When the meat has sat a half an hour, take a large and very sharp carving knife and slice in perpendicular to the bone. Here is a post about how to sharpen a knife. It should be brown on the outside, grey as you go in, and then pink until the bone. That is the benefit of a fast start and a slow end to your heat. You want it to be pink but not raw, although there are many who disagree. Some people want it as raw and bloody as possible, while others fear parasites. I believe our deer are healthy but I like a deep rose pink, juicy but cooked.

Thoughts on Grills

My kind and thoughtful husband has provided me with a grill that looks a bit like a locomotive and has both gas and charcoal grills on it. It is a princely gift. However the charcoal area is only a little bit larger than the pan I use to do my indirect haunch roasting, so I carefully perch coals around the pan. It is a bit tight and a bit precarious. Honestly, for this particular kind of cooking, which, I might add, is also good for smoke-raosting whole chickens, turkeys, etc., a cheap kettle-style grill is easier. But I would never mention this to my husband.

Best Yummy Venison Curry, garam!

Delicious Venison Curry

Sorry about the photo- we ate so much of it!

Not that I was getting tired of making our deer meat into my Granny’s fabulous Chili con Carne or my mother’s velvety Hungarian Goulasch, but I just had a yen for curry- Curry Goat, Lamb Vindaloo- so why not try something like that with venison?  Having been to India twice and gotten a serious Aunty Manjula YouTube addiction I felt equal to winging it. It came out very well- looks like lamb vindaloo, with the slightly softer texture of venison, with a complex fragrance, just the right heat for us- just short of pain, and leaves a gentle warmth in your stomach, as if the ginger is helping your digestion.

In following this recipe don’t just dump the ingredients in the pot as you read them off. Do follow the traditional steps. It makes a world of difference in the flavor.

You will need:

A big heavy pot with a lid

1 quart-sized freezer bag of venison stewing chunks.

11/2 tablespoon cumin seeds

1 tablespoon mustard seeds ( I have substituted any brassica seed)

2 tablespoons butter, coconut oil, or other healthy fat.

1 onion, chopped

4 carrots, peeled and chopped bite sized

3 potatoes, peeled and chopped bite sized

a knob of ginger root about the size of a walnut

4 big cloves of garlic

4 dried chilies, cayenne type (reduce if you can’t take heat)

1 tablespoon cardamom pods

1 tablespoon coriander seeds

1/2 tablespoon black peppercorns

1 inch of cinnamon stick

2 tablespoons turmeric powder

1 tomato or 4 tablespoons tomato sauce

Water to cover

salt to taste

OK, put the coriander seeds, which you can save from when your cilantro bolts, in the coffee grinder with the peppercorns, the cinnamon bark(break it up with your fingers first), the cardamon pods, and the dry chilies. If you feel the chilies are not really brittle, you should toast them briefly in your dry pot, without turning your back. (This is a nice extra step, and you should learn how fast chilies toast, because you can make your own chili powder. ) Powder your spices finely, and transfer them to your blender or small chopper. Add the garlic, ginger root, and turmeric, and whiz to a coarse paste. BTW if you don’t have dry chilies, I have added fresh ones to the garlic, ginger, etc. and it was great. Slightly different.

Put the cumin seed and mustard seed in the pot dry and toast them on a medium flame until the mustard seeds start popping.  Add the paste and 2 tablespoons butter or oil. I have used half and half coconut oil and butter. Stir over medium heat until it smells delicious- maybe 3-4 minutes. Compliments will be pouring in. Add onions and carrots and continue to stir so the mixture doesn’t burn but the onions are softened and the sugars are caramelizing a little. Add the meat and stir until the juices that come out of the meat have evaporated and the meat is brown- you won’t really be able to get it brown without burning so- well, gray is fine. Just don’t let it burn. Add a lot of water to cover, tomato, and maybe a 1/2 tsp salt to start with. Simmer covered 30-40 minutes -until the meat is tender, add the potatoes- just sort of tuck them in and submerge them well, then remove the lid and let it cook down until the broth turns into a thick gravy. Be especially careful towards the end that it doesn’t scorch on the bottom. Check the seasonings at this stage. It should be nice and spicy. See if it needs another pinch of garam masala. Many Indian recipes use garam masala at the end, and it is a nice, sweet/spicy rich flavor which adds to the complexity.

It goes well with with Basmati rice, a creamy sour element (raita), a sweet fruity element( chutney), and in our house, steamed greens. Last time I put some very thick Kefir on the table, which substituted nicely for raita. I should have taken a flashlight to the garden for cilantro but I got lazy. Fresh mango or peach or melon chutney is great, but it is winter and I didn’t have any. I think we need to try something with watermelon pickle.

And of course Kingfisher beer!

Abandon the Pernicious Use of Paper Products!

hanging laundry How much money do you spend on paper products every month? How much paper do you throw away, after it has been through the energy consuming process of production, transportation to a store, etc.? Trees may be a renewable resource, but the environmental impact of paper products is huge. You don’t have to use that much paper every day. There are easy, convenient, reusable substitutes right in front of you.

Paper napkins:

cloth napkinsMy sister and I have used cloth napkins for many years, and if you look at the time and money we would spend buying, storing, laying out and throwing away paper napkins, I’m sure it’s less than we spend tossing them in the wash, hanging out, and folding with the laundry we already do. Also, cloth napkins are more attractive. Mine don’t all match, but for daily use, it actually makes sense to know which one you used at breakfast.

cleaning cloths, napkins, placemats sanitizing in the sun

cleaning cloths, napkins, placemats sanitizing in the sun

Paper Towels

I keep a roll in my kitchen because visitors are so lost and confused if I don’t, and once in a while there is something truly horrible on the floor- dog vomit or something- that I just want sent to the landfill. But basically I have a bucket of cloth squares under my sink; clean, dry, and folded, ready for use. Many of them are old washcloths, but you can actually buy reusable cleaning cloths. They clean better than paper towels, and don’t take up much space in the wash.


Newspaper works well, but I read the news on the Net, whenever I yank my head out of the sand, so there isn’t much at our house. When sheets get too worn I keep them for cleaning, straining fruit juice, or even a drop cloth, and they work well for windows, using a vinegar solution. I do use one piece of paper towel to buff away the little bits of lint on bathroom mirrors. “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds…”- Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Swiffer Nonsense

When I had a linoleum floor that needed wiping after mopping, I sewed a pocket out of a piece of worn out bath towel, fit that over my long handled floor brush, and wiped everything spotless without opening a plastic package or squirting a chemical. Now that I have saltillo tiles, I just scrub and mop, but I do keep old towels for big spills.

drying socks

lonely socks can be used to dust household surfaces

I also have a bag that is like a singles bar for socks. Sometimes they are reunited with their partners; sometimes not, but if I am on the phone, or walking through the house doing something that doesn’t require one of my hands, I slip on a clean stray sock and run it over things I pass. Makes me look a little like Vanna White (what ever happened to her?) but it picks up dust and dirt easily, and then I toss it in the wash. Things with more complicated profiles are best flicked at with a feather duster- yes, those antiquated things work great.

A note not for the faint of heart:

People cleaned before the invention of disposable paper products. They also answered the various calls of nature. Men, close your eyes. Women, you can save a lot of waste and money by using a menstrual cup, also sold as a moon cup or diva cup. It is actually easier and less messy than tampons or pads. OK men, you can open your eyes; it’s over.

Now, you may not want to hear this, but if you are a hard core prepper, tremble as you imagine a time without toilet paper. I remember someone told me once some 17th century French writer said there was “nothing so nice as the neck of a goose.”  People talk about using Mullein leaves, moss, etc., but it’s really not so crazy to use a wash cloth if you have running water to rinse it with afterwards. Most of us have wiped babies’ behinds, and that is a lot messier. OK, honestly, I’m not there yet. I may be comfortable knee deep in deer guts but…butt rags, not so much. And in a post-apocalyptic world, I’m sure I’d be the one trading a basket of radioactive chestnuts for a roll of toilet paper. OK, never mind, I’ll go take a picture of a Mullein plant.


My Grandmother’s Easy Authentic Texas Chili con Carne (with deer meat)

Venison chili

Greenhouse broccoli with venison chili on turmeric rice

My grandmother, born Crystal Ray Ross, grew up in Lockhart, Texas, but spent a lot of time on a ranch in New Mexico. I don’t think she ever told me the name of whoever taught her to cook chili, but she did say she was allowed to go on roundups, because, as she proudly said, the hands said she knew how to keep out of the way. She had 3 horses; Poindexter, a tall Eastern horse she didn’t like, Negro, a black Mexican cow pony trained to rear and gallop off madly the minute you put your foot in the stirrup, and Old Blue, a gentle grey horse the cowboys called Old Glue because of his age. It was Old Blue she rode on cattle drives, and perhaps that is where she learned to make this chili.

I have changed it a little of course- I use deer meat, and I add more tomatoes and beans than she did. She served beans separately. She served her chili with grits, to which she added garlic, canned milk, and butter.

CRD’s Chili

2 onions, chopped

2 tablespoons healthy oil -or bacon grease, which was on hand….

1 quart bag defrosted ground venison

3-4 tablespoons chili powder

4-6 cloves garlic,chopped

1 tsp. dried oregano

11/2 tablespoons cumin seeds

1 quart canned tomatoes (mason jar)

1 1/2 cups cooked black beans (a can)

salt to taste

Brown the onions and meat well in a big heavy pot, add garlic, oregano, cumin seeds and chili powder. 3-4 tablespoons of chili powder just means a whole bunch. Brown it a bit more to bring out the flavor, then add your tomatoes and beans. Simmer on medium until well combined, salt to taste, then leave it on very low heat until ready to serve, or set it somewhere for the flavors to develop.  It is better every day and freezes well. I have sometimes added beer, but that’s not what Granny did. I also have my own home raised and toasted chili powders, with which I can crank up the heat in this otherwise mellow and savory chili.

It is delicious with grits or rice, some guacamole, a salad and some warm hand patted corn tortillas. A splash of hot sauce and a few bottles of cold beer pair nicely.

@Glory Garden



Update: The drum head works!

This is an update to a series of articles on using a deer. The last two articles were about fleshing and dehairing a deer hide and turning it into a rawhide replacement drum head for a conga my husband uses at work. This was a learning curve project- I’ve never used hides until this year.DSCN7148

After lacing it onto a metal ring that the purchased drum head came on, I bolted on the rim and left the head to dry overnight. In the morning it was stiff around the rim but still wet and rubbery in the bunched up excess, which was also making the head bumpy on top. Here I have taken it off the drum and removed the laces.

DSCN7149I decided to trim off all the hide outside/inside the rim mark. My nifty Chinese scissors did the job, but it was slow going. I was afraid a razor would slip and ruin the head.

DSCN7150After that we went ahead and put it on the drum. Putting the conga upside down and using my weight to pull the rim up/down so I could get the hooked bolts into their holes made it easier. Installed, we could see that some of the excess hide was creating an uneven edge on the drum.Putting on new drum head 001 I could have trimmed further back. Maybe I’ll go back in later, but it doesn’t look bad. I put a damp towel on it for a while to help it smooth down, but I don’t think that was necessary. We didn’t tighten it up too much because the hide still feels cool, like moisture is still evaporating  although it looks and feels dry. It tightens as it dries of course, and I was worried it could split.

The sound is actually better than I had hoped. There is a sweet bell-like tone, and more variation between the rim and the middle than the old head. I am a fiddler, not a drummer, and I know there’s a delight in something you’ve taken trouble over, but I do think it’s a better drum than it was.

Conga drum with deerskin head I made

Conga with new deerskin head

I would definitely do this again. I also found out that you can cut the scraps into strips, following the edges in a spiral. and get rawhide strings. If you soak them and lash something in place, it will stay put. Very paleo! Also if I rehead a drum that needs lacing, like a djembe or a doombek, I know how to make it. I might get a prettier result cutting around the edge of a hide I was planning to use for a head, using a razor and a plywood table. I could leave the hair on and twist it, although if you cut in a spiral it twists naturally. Definitely a fun project for a teenager!

Deerskin:Dehairing a hide for a drum head

This is part of a series on preparing deer hide. This article is about making a rawhide drum head. The previous post is Deerskin:Fleshing a hide.enough water

I let this piece of hide sit in a pot full of water and wood ashes for about 3 days. Wearing rubber gloves I reached in and pulled at the hair. When it slipped (released without any effort) I dumped it out in the field and shook off the majority of the ash sludge, then hosed it off and put it on a work table (outdoors) to scrape off the hair. I used a paint scraper. Probably this is something I could use that scapula for…. It came off very easily for the most part, except for one little patch which must have been in a fold that was less exposed to the ash solution. Next time I will use a larger tub and less ashes, so I can move it around more. I used a paintscraper

Attention: The wood ash solution is lye. People used to use wood ash leachings to make soap. Definitely use rubber gloves and some kind of eye protectors- sunglasses or dime-store readers will do, but eye protection is really useful for many outdoor tasks so get some anyway. You can feel the soapy slipperiness on your fingers if you touch it- your fingers prune up instantly, and I got a tiny drop of the solution in my eye while scraping off hair which really hurt. You can really hurt yourself with lye. Seriously. You can go blind. If you get some on you or a little spritz in your eyes, stop what you are doing and go flush it with water until it feels better. If you really get some in your eyes, flush well and seek medical attention. So I told you! Wood ashes make lye strong enough to hurt you.

The hair smells kind of nasty, and it feels rubbery and waterlogged, as if it had been boiled. The hair that is coming off is sort of softened, like when people use hair remover on their legs. Altogether a bit gross. After the hair was off I soaked it for a few hours to clean it and remove the lye. Too much lye can make the leather crack.  Then I hung it up overnight. It froze, so I thawed it by the fire and punched holes all around the edge- about an inch and a half from the edge and an inch and a half apart, by draping the hide over a stump, placing the tip of a large screwdriver against the spot I needed a hole, and striking the back of the screwdriver with a hammer until it went into the wood.

At this point I tried several experiments. I wanted to stretch the hide and work it a bit, and I needed to get it so it was tightly stretched around the ring we took the split drumhead off of. First I put the adjustable rim from the conga on one side of a locust stump that was the same size, and the wire ring on the other side, and wrapped some cord about the thickness of clothesline through the holes I had punched, down the log, around the rim, and back. It looked cool, like the log was a primitive drum, and it stretched the hide pretty nicely, but it didn’t get the hide on the ring. (Sorry I was recharging my camera batteries and I was having too much fun to stop and wait.)

So I took the hide off the log, trimmed the shape a bit rounder, made fresh holes where I had trimmed, and wrapped it around the ring. I did this by making a small ring of rope which I put in the middle, and then laid the edges of the hide over the ring so the ring was enclosed in the hide, and looped the rope from the edge of the hide to the the rope ring, until the whole thing looked a little like like a Native American hand drum or a bodhran. I hope you can see what I mean by looking inside the drum. You can see how I tightened the skin onto the metal hoop before tightening the rim a little. I will take all that out once it has dried. here I am strectching the hide on the rim. You can see the bunched hide underneath. I'm going to trim that once the drumhead has dried into its shape.

Once it was tied, I kept tightening it more and more as it stretched. Finally I decided to try and put it on the drum temporarily. My theory is that the leather on the ring will dry, shrink, and stiffen, and then I can take it off and trim away all the excess rawhide that is making bulges under the head and dulling the sound, but the hide will stay on the ring. Then when I put it back on it will be stiff enough to stay in place and tighten up when I tighten the screws on the rim. We’ll see.

Come back for the update! OK here’s the link. It worked!


How to make Venison Goulash (Not gamey at all)

Now that you have read all about how to turn a deer into neat little chunks, it’s time to cook. This is a delicious and simple recipe my mother taught me, perfect for cold nights when you are hungry. The rich, savory gravy is red with paprika and tangy with yoghurt or kefir, and is glorious over egg noodles or potatoes. It is Hungarian. Now, bear in mind that I have never used a measuring cup to make this, but it is the kind of recipe you can tweak for yourself.

Time: bout 2 hours? Depends on the meat. Could be less.

1 quart bag venison stew meat, thawed

2 onions, peeled and chopped

1 tbsp oil

1/2 tsp salt, to taste

1/4 cup sweet paprika powder

1-2 bay leaves1 tsp peppercorns


1 cup yoghurt or kefir

2 tbsp flour

simmering venison goulasch

This is before the gravy is thickened.

In a deep heavy pot suitable for stew, saute chopped onions in oil, until colored, add  deer meat and brown. It will give off juice, which is why I salt later. Let the juice boil away. Add paprika. Yes, it is a lot. Make sure you don’t use the hot kind in this recipe. It should be enough to coat the meat well. This is a big part of your gravy. Continue to stir dry meat in the paprika until it is well mixed and hot, but don’t burn it. Add water to cover, salt, bay leaf or leaves, and peppercorns. Simmer until the meat is nice and tender.

Mix the flour with the yoghurt or kefir in a small bowl or cup until smooth. Pour it through a small sieve into the goulash so there will be no lumps. Stir as you go. The gravy will thicken right away so go slow and decide when the gravy is perfect for you. You don’t have to use all of the thickening mixture. Adjust the salt to your liking.

Like I said, serve over wide egg noodles or potatoes. I also love sweet and sour red cabbage on the side. Salad and red wine and you’re set.

Freezes well and stores well in a non-reactive container.


Deerskin: How to flesh a hide

fleshing closeupThis is the first year I have done anything myself with hides. Usually I just give them to my friend. She is amazing with Native American skills, and she is involved in an African drumming group as well, so some of my hides have gone onto djembes. The drum master apparently has decided he prefers goat, though. I have 2 hides in the freezer, because it is so cold and damp that they wouldn’t dry well outdoors, and my husband wouldn’t be too thrilled to have them indoors even if I did have a rack to stretch them on. So I planned to wait for spring to nail them to the side of the milk-house.  My friend showed me how to flesh the first hide over at her house. The next day I stretched it out with nails on the side of the aforementioned milk-house, sawed open the head with a handsaw, put the brain in the blender with a little water, mixed it into more water, and painted the strawberry milkshake colored result on the hide with a paintbrush. Kinda gnarly, but it could have been worse. Still, it wasn’t really drying and absorbing like it needed to, so I folded it fur inwards, bagged it, and threw it in the freezer. The next one I didn’t even flesh.

even with the holes I made this is big enoughThe reason I am writing this now is that one of our congas that we use at work has a split head. Rather than spend the 30 bucks to buy a new one, we decided to do the sustainable thing and use what we have. So let’s see what happens!

First I took out the skin and thawed it by the woodstove. Then I put in on the kitchen floor and put the head ring on it to cut around. I didn’t feel like fleshing the whole hide because I knew I really wasn’t set up to do it, so I wasn’t sure how it was going to work out. My friend uses a length of large-diameter PVC pipe; about 9″ I think, to drape the hide over. She braces the bottom of the pipe against a wall and the top end against her hips, with the hide caught between the top edge of the pipe and her stomach. To scrape the hide she has a piece of stainless steel about 14 inches long that has a sharp beveled edge to it. The ends are covered with pieces of garden hose for grips. The edge is sharp enough to remove membranes but doesn’t cut the hide. I think she bought it from a website. Here is an Amazon link for fleshing knives so you can see what they look like.:fleshing knife What I used was a length of 2 x 6 lumber and a machete. This worked ok but the machete was a little sharp (cut my fingers a bit) and the 2 x 6 had corners, so I did end up going through the hide three times. Luckily the holes are around the outsides of the circle, so it isn’t a disaster.

fleshing a hide (16)What you need to do here is remove all the scraps of meat, fat, and membranes from the flesh side of the hide. First make sure you have the hide braced so you can scrape it while pressing down pretty hard.  Hold your scraper at about a 60 degree angle. You have to get under the stuff you are scraping off, but your scraper can’t be too sharp, so you just scrape until you get through it and it starts to form a bar of membranes that you can make short, hard scrapes against. Keep working it down towards the edge of the hide. If your blade gets too much hair and fat stuck around it just wipe it off and keep going. Hair around the blade does slow down the scraping a little. Be patient. Talk to a friend or think about something. Have your dog near to pick up the scrapings and talk to him or her. Once it gets going it is very satisfying, especially when you get to the edge of the hide and the pieces of membrane disappear into the waiting jaws of your canine buddy.pushing towards the the edge, dog helping It is starting to look like a usable hide now. You will see that some of the hide looks red or discolored. This is soaked-in blood and I don’t think there is too much we can do about that now. If I keep doing this I will take more pains to keep blood off the hide, which is very absorbent. Maybe when I soak it in wood ashes it will improve.

even with the holes I made this is big enoughNow that the hide is scraped I need to remove the hair. My husband asked why not soak it first- maybe the fleshing would be easier after a few days in wood ashes. I don’t know about this, and I will ask my friend, but it sounds nasty. We have a wood stove which fills up with ashes every week, so I half-filled my big enameled canning pot with those, added water enough to make a slurry, and submerged my piece of hide. The next day the hair was loose, but not very. I want it to come off very easily. I decided this after I had dumped it out, so I piled handfuls of wet ashes back unto the hide and set it to work some more. When I pulled out some of the hair, my fingers suddenly pruned up like they had been in water for hours, and I was reminded that wood ashes and water was where country women used to get their lye for making soft soap, and I went for some rubber gloves! I should be able to get the hair off in the next few days so I’ll continue then as a new post.

Link to next post: dehairing the hide.



Processing the meat into usable pieces

Processing the meat into usable pieces:

It's great to have friends come help for a share of the meat.
It’s great to have friends come help for a share of the meat.

You need:

4-5 medium sized bowls for different designations of meat.

a cutting board and a sharp knife for each person helping

a meat grinder set up and clamped in place.

a box of quart and or gallon sized freezer bags

a permanent marker/sharpie

(a box of snack sized bags if you only have one dog)


a stock pot for bone boiling

a heavy pot for fat rendering

I really love to throw a party and roast a whole haunch of venison on the grill. Therefor I wash both haunches, triple bag them in plastic grocery bags or garbage bags, and toss them in the freezer.

It is pretty easy to cut the meat off the shoulders; the front legs.  If you have a piece an inch or so thick, cut it into stewing chunks and put it in a designated bowl. Have another bowl for smaller pieces and strips to be ground up into hamburger. Have another bowl for the stuff you want to use for dog food. Gristle is fine in stew and hamburger, but too much sinew clogs up the grinder, and you will get a feeling for what works well for stew meat. The shoulder blade is cool looking- too bad it is really too soft to make a stone age hoe. There is good meat on it; just follow the flat of the bone with your knife. Once the meat is off the forelegs I put all that into a giant stock pot on the woodstove and simmer it forever with a half a bottle of leftover wine. The wine helps the mineral leach out of the bones. We all need to eat more bone broth. It is so good for your joints. Read some of the studies quoted on the Weston Price Foundation’s website.

The torso is a lot of work. Some people waste it. I wouldn’t. The fat on the hind end is thick and stiff. There is usually a lot of thin sheets of fat over the ribs as well. I put that in my black iron pot on the woodstove to render. Leave the lid on; it has an odor. Mixed half and half with beeswax it makes a good candle. I used to save paraffin candle ends to mix with it and give it color, but I found out it gives off unhealthy gases so I just use old beeswax from my hives now. It is too soft to use straight; your candles would sag comically.

The neck has lots of good meat on it for stewing and grinding. If you are willing to take your time you can get lots of little bits out from between the complicated bones of the neck. Detach the long muscles for hamburger and throw away the windpipe. Once I had a deer given to me who had regurgitated food in her esophagus. It smelled really bad and I had to wash the meat a lot, but it made good chili.

Inside the rib cage there are a set of tender straps of meat along the backbone about ten inches long and 2-3 inches wide.  Detach them easily by running your knife along the sides of the spine and under along the ribs.They are delicious to fry up or grill right now to give you strength to get all this meat processed. Just wash, pat dry, rub with a little salt and garlic, and throw it in a pan with some oil or grease. Very primal. Yum.

The meat on the hips is great stewing meat, very tender. You could really make pounded chicken fried steaks from a few chunks of that. It is similar to haunch.

If you don’t want to roast your haunches whole like I do, many people slice them perpendicular to the bone and grill that as a steak. I find that a bit tough, plus it is a cut easiest to make if your meat is frozen solid and you are cutting it with a band saw. If my good buddy Terry Price would care to include instructions for her grandmother’s pounded venison steaks in a comment, that would be a good use, plus jerky, stewing, or hamburger.

The last meat I take off the rib cage is the fatty, gristly flat muscles on the outside of the barrel, and the strips of tough dry meat between the ribs. If your knife is sharp it is easy to run the blade along the edges of the ribs and take out the dry little strips. You could throw that in the grinder but I put that in the designated dog food bowl.Satisfied that I have gotten the good of the torso, I carry it out to the field and offer a few encouraging yips to the foxes.

Wash a tenderloin and lay it out on a longer cutting board if you have one. Trim off little messy bits. Notice the shiny pale sinew on top. Run your knife blade under it and slide the blade along, detaching it. Start with little bits until you get the hang of it. Don’t take off any meat if you can help it. Eventually you will be pulling off the sheet of sinew and scraping the meat away from it as it lifts off. I would think you could use it to sew with if you were so inclined. It is very strong stuff. Once your tenderloin is all prettied up, cut it into 2 or 3 pieces. I do three. Wrap and freeze, meticulously labeled. You would be so mad if you accidentally gave this to your dog.

While you are cutting all this meat up and filling the bowls, I hope somebody else is grinding the hamburger designated pieces, bagging up dinner sized quantities of hamburger and stew meat and labeling it with contents and date, and filling up snack size bags for daily dog portions. If not it will give you a break from working too long in one position.

Always scrub everything with hot soapy water and especially clean all your knives, saws, the grinder, meticulously. My husband even likes to bleach the cutting boards, but I think hot soapy water is less toxic and does a fine job. Careful cleanup after a big butchering job is very important. But remember, this is a good clean animal and you are giving so much more attention to cleanliness than would ever happen in a commercial abattoir. You are doing a good, responsible, respectful thing by using this animal as human beings have used them since ancient times. Then hunting wasn’t a sport; it was life, and hunters gave thanks to their gods for the deer.


Disjointing the carcass

Disjointing the Carcass:

Now you have a clean, skinned carcass. It’s time to make it into useable pieces. Set up a clean area where you will be cutting the meat off the bones and putting it into the meat grinder, preparing for freezing, etc.  I clear and clean my kitchen table, set up my meat grinder, get out bowls, freezer bags, sharp knives, etc. I will put up an article on my simple Mexican grinder which you can access by searching the posts, since I don’t seem to be able to create internal links yet.

My father used to saw down the spine like they do at butcher shops. Now that we know about prions we don’t do that. The likelihood of you harvesting a deer with a wasting disease is low, but this is apparently the same kind of sickness as Mad Cow Disease, so you understand why you are safer just not opening the spinal column or the brain. My friend uses brain in tanning her hides but she doesn’t eat it. Besides, sawing down the spinal column is a lot of work.

Start by removing the forelegs.butchering deer (30) This is amazingly easy. Pull the leg out away from the ribs and cut the thin layer of muscles holding it to the chest cavity, then cut through the thin layer of muscles, running your knife around the shoulder blade, as shown. The leg will just lift away. Take it into the preparation area. Grass and leaves are hard to pick off.

Now for the choicest cut; the tenderloin, also known as the backstrap. This is venison filet mignon. On a young animal I have cut barbecued medallions of venison with a butter knife. It is to drool for. Turn the spine towards you and feel the two long columns of meat on either side. butchering deer (52)They go from the diagonal edge of the haunch muscle all the way down to the neck. Imagine your own back, and feel where those long backstraps begin. Start by inserting the knife along the edge of the spine. it will stop at the ribs. You can run the knife all the way along the edge of the tenderloin, and it will pull away easily from the vertebrae. You will now notice that there is a sheet of membrane over the tenderloin, with a coating of fat on it, which you need to peel away to see the whole of the backstrap. (I do save deer tallow for candle making. Up to you.) Now that you see the outer edge of the backstrap, put your fingers in there so you can know where to cut. You need to make that oblique cut at the top where the backstrap comes off the leg, and then just gently pull and cut so that it lifts out. butchering deer (56)It gets smaller as it heads into the neck but that is still delicious. Later you will tidy it up and remove the tough, iridescent sheet of sinew. Put it reverently in a bowl and carry it into the kitchen.

For the next step the deer has to come down. The haunches are easy to remove, but the carcass is still pretty heavy so I would generally lay it down on a heavy black plastic bag or something I could wash, like an old sheet. Grasp the hind leg firmly and pull it out and away from the body. Cut the thin belly wall between the haunch and the belly area, and open the leg out as fully as you can. If you push down on the edge of the crotch you can feel where the leg connects to the hips. This is where the ball joint is. Cut through the meat and keep pushing until the joint opens up and you can see the ball coming out of the socket.  The photo shows the pelvis in the left side and the leg opened out to the right and upwards. You would then slip the tip of your knife into the socket of the hip joint and sever the tendon that keeps the ball attached to it. This releases most of the tension.

The round white ball joint is in the center of the photo.
The round white ball joint is in the center of the photo.

Now you can finish cutting off the leg. Make a curving cut up towards the spine so that that meaty area comes away with the haunch.  Anything that stays on the hip can be trimmed off for chunks of stew meat. The leg comes off looking like a ham from the grocery story. Saw off the hind legs above the hock just like you sawed off the front legs. Carry that to the kitchen.

The torso has a lot of good meat on it, but it is an awkward thing. I just wrap my arms around it and carry it to my kitchen table, where I will get every bit of meat off it I can. Once that thing is out of the kitchen, though, things look a little less barbarous.