After you have spent the time, effort and money to harvest your own free range meat, it is time to make it into delicious meals or freeze it for later. Part of the process involves taking good care of the meat in the field and after you get it home. The best way to save your prized, hard-earned game is to vacuum seal it and freeze it.
Vacuum sealing meat is a wonderfully efficient way to enjoy your harvest for months to even a year later. I have had a number of vacuum sealers over the years, given that we process a minimum of 10 deer a year plus ducks, geese, small game and vegetables we grow that get frozen after vacuum sealing. We have therefore had our share of issues with vacuum seal units and would like to share a few tips that will help readers make the most of their game this fall and winter.
1. Buy a quality vacuum sealer and bags
It goes without saying that quality should be considered when purchasing a vacuum sealer. Look at reviews and don’t skimp on the funds. You want to get a vacuum sealer that has a few nice features on it to help you save your meat in the best way possible. For me this ended up being a NESCO Deluxe Vacuum Sealer VS 12. Having options such as a manual seal button, pulse vacuum option, marinate (think of those great steaks, pheasant, ducks or roasts, even jerky!) option, and a progress bar to help you monitor how the process is going will come in handy time and time again. For fruits and other delicate items, the “delicate” option is great too.
The same advice goes for bags. Read the reviews and avoid purchasing something simply because it is less expensive. If you put in hours getting the meat, spent the money on the license, firearm and ammunition, why cut corners and “save” a few dollars when preparing your food only to have it wasted? If you decide to try a less expensive brand bag, buy one roll and try just some of your meat and see how it holds up in the freezer. Jostling can tear thin bags, letting in air—which is the enemy of frozen meat.
2. Preparing meat before the freeze
As you would do with any meat, take the time to trim away bloody, projectile-damaged or fatty portions. Fat can give game meat a bad taste as can bloody or hemorrhaged meat. Be sure to remove any sharp bones that can puncture the bag. When separating roasts from a hindquarter or neck, be sure to remove any glands and lymph nodes. Some of these glands are well within the quarter, but can be easily found when separating the muscle groups. The glands can give cooked meat a noxious taste. If in doubt, remove it!
The one exception to the above rule for me would be that sometimes I do leave the silverskin on my roasts when freezing them. This thin, transparent layer sometimes will help protect the meat against any freezer burn and once pulled out and thawed, the silverskin is often just as easy (if not easier) to remove just prior to cooking anyway.
When vacuum sealing, remove all the blood you can and even prefreeze briefly on wax paper and a cookie sheet to solidify those fluids. Doing so will not only allow the meat to last longer, but the juices won’t get sucked out over the heating element, thereby cooling it and creating an improper seal. We prefreeze our meat and then pull it out a few pieces at a time to vacuum seal it. The prefreeze time depends on the size of the meat, but normally it is under two hours. You do not want the meat frozen solid, but rather just starting to freeze, so the juices are not an issue.
Some people will put a folded paper towel at the mouth of the bag just inside the strip where the bag will seal to catch the juices before they interfere with the sealing process. This will work but is added effort and depending on your vacuum sealer, unnecessary.
4. Remove all air
Before the vacuum sealer sucks the air out, be sure to center the meat in the bag so there is room around the meat for the bag to collapse and all the air to be removed. When the machine starts doing its job, be sure to monitor the progress and push out any pockets of air. Remember, air is the enemy of frozen meat. No one likes freezer burnt meat. If you doubt that you got all the air out, remove the meat and put in a new bag. I hate to lose any meat just because I was too cheap to be sure it was sealed and all the air was removed properly.
5. Double seal
Sometimes if I see moisture or liquids creeping up towards the sealing bar during the suction process, I make a point to reseal or double seal each bag. This has saved food several times over the years. I have retrieved something from the freezer months later to find the first seal worked itself open but the second seal held.
That’s another reason I like the NESCO Deluxe VS-12 sealer; it has a double seal feature which works to prevent the moisture (blood) from keeping the seal open or causing it to be weak. To test the NESCO Deluxe, I tried pulling apart the seal after doing a pair of doves, a duck, a pair of squirrels, a venison roast, backstraps, snack sticks and some dry black eye peas. I could not pull the seal apart.
This fall and winter be sure to follow through in taking care of your game meat before putting it in the freezer, so it will taste as fresh as possible when you pull it out to make some delicious meals and host friends and family. A good vacuum sealer with quality bags along with following the above tips will result in a great result at the table to cap off the memory of the hunt!