Few things taste better or help keep you warm on the trail better than meat. Trouble is, you don’t always have the time to start a fire and cook up something. Meat-based snack sticks are available at the store, but they can be a bit pricey. Here is a way to stretch out your deer or elk and make your own snack sticks for a lot less money.
It is easiest if you make 10 or 20 pounds at a time. For this article I did 30 pounds, and even with a helper it was a bear to get done. You will also need a meat grinder, one medium and one fine (3/8- and 1/4-inch) sieve plate, a couple of tubs to catch, store and mix the meat, and a stick filler attachment to your grinder. Three nice things to have are a foot pedal for the grinder, a mixing bucket and a smoker. I was able to borrow these things from a good friend, Darrell Whitman, who also supervised me in this endeavor. Darrell has been making a variety of sausages, meat sticks, jerky and even frankfurters from game meat for more than 25 years.
We started with 10 pounds of elk meat. The cuts are unimportant; usually sausages and meat sticks are made from trimmings of other cuts. It is important to remove all of the fat and silver skin from the meat. Game meat fat makes the meat taste “gamey,” and the silver skin is a connective tissue that can gum up your grinder.
The first grind is with the 3/8 plate. I have a 1-horsepower grinder from Cabela’s that simply chews up whatever is put into it and fast. A helper is handy to feed the grinder. The foot pedal makes it easy to grind or stop quickly. You will need to add some fat to this, as well as any sausage-like product. The easiest way is to add pork butts or ham. Plan on using fat to equal 10 to 20 percent of the weight of the game meat.
You can buy individual seasonings, but I have found the kits available from Hi Mountain Jerky to be at least as cost effective, and everything comes pre-mixed at the proper proportions. Darrell’s mixing bucket allowed me to get a thorough blending of the seasonings—just follow the directions that come with the kit.
Then it’s back to the grinder, this time with the fine, 1/4-inch plate. Run the mixture through it. My grinder eats up 10 pounds in under two minutes. Now comes the fun part. Remove the sieve plate and cutter. Install the snack-stick stuffer tube assembly. Each Hi Mountain Jerky snack stick kit comes with three 23mm-diameter collagen stuffing tubes. I’m not sure how long each tube is, but 10 pounds will take up about 2 1/2 of them, depending on how much you lose to blowouts. You can help things along by coating the metal tube of the stuffer with olive oil before installing the tube.
The foot pedal control is critical to success when stuffing the tubes. You will have to develop a feel for it. The object of the game is to fill the tube and keep it moving without bursting it. Plan on several bursts your first time on the stuffer. When you blowout, simply take any escaped meat mix and recycle it through the grinder. I used one of my meat tubs and spent as much time turning it to coil up the snack stick as I did making sure I got the right amount in the tube. Darrell helped enormously by keeping the grinder fed constantly. Figure 20 to 30 minutes to fill 10 pounds into the tubing.
Next it’s time to cut the tubing to final size. Because I used a smoker, I cut my sticks into about 12-inch lengths. A smoker adds some flavor to the sticks and sets them at a slower rate. A small battery-operated thermocouple with the probe stuck into one of the sticks is a great way to know when they are done. Because these sticks have some pork in them (from the added fat), it is necessary to cook them until the internal temperature of the stick is 163 to 165 degrees. Any less and you run a risk of contracting trichinosis.
When the sticks are done, remove them from the smoker and allow them to cool to room temperature. Then package them for the freezer until it’s time to consume. I put a half dozen into a small bag and vacuum seal them with my FoodSaver.
If you don’t have a smoker, you can cook them in your oven at 235 degrees until you achieve that 163- to 165-degree internal temperature. In fact, because it was 34 degrees outside, I had to smoke mine for a couple of hours and finish them in my oven.
These game-meat snack sticks offer a healthy alternative to a lot of junk folks are snacking on. You might think 10 or 20 pounds of them will last quite a while, but don’t count on it.