1. Torch the hair. No matter how careful you are while skinning, some hair will end up on the meat. You can waste time picking it off with your fingers, or get down to business by burning it off using a quick pass of the butane torch.
2. Sharpen knives before (and during). When helping friends cut meat, I don’t know how many time I’ve been handed a dull blade. That’s one of the reasons I travel with my own knife roll. I start every butchering session by running each knife over a hone, then use a steel throughout the process to maintain the sharpest edge.
3. Buy a big box of gloves. A box of 100 food-safe nitrile gloves will cost you about $10 and save your fingers in the process. They grip cold meat better and keep fingers warmer. Plus, anytime you need to grab something you can strip off the dirty pair, do work, then put on a clean pair.
4. Start with a stiff knife. First-timers should opt for a stiff-spined knife, which is easier to wield than a flexible blade. Once you’ve cut a few deer and get the hang of how a knife works, buy a more flexible knife that can fillet meat off bones better.
5. Skip the saw. Yes, professional butchers use a meat saw to cut chops and the like, but do you really want all that bone dust on your meat. It’s possible to break down an entire deer (or elk or moose) with a single knife, and that includes removing the forelegs.
6. Keep everything cold. Bacteria starts growing around 40 degrees, and multiplies rapidly as temperatures rise. Admittedly, it’s hard to get a deer carcass below that threshold without a walk-in cooler or a cold snap, but the colder the meat, the safer you’ll be. Cooler meat is also firmer (see Tip 8) and reduces slippery fat covering everything.
8. Freeze roasts for better steaks. Before slicing roasts into steak, pop them in the freezer for at least half an hour. This stiffens up the big cuts and makes it easier to cut evenly thick slices.
7. Sort as you cut. I keep a couple of meat tubs in front of me as I cut. One for secondary cuts and one for trim meat that will go into the grinder. I’ll also “zone” the tubs, placing round steaks in one corner, backstraps in another, etc., or, for big critters, opt for a third or fourth tub and sort accordingly. This make packaging go quicker with no second-thoughts on what cuts are what.
9. Age later. I’m all for aging a hanging carcass, but few of us has the means to do that safely. Feel free to age cuts in the refrigerator before cooking by placing them on a wire rack set over a plate or pan. It might surprise you what even a week of dry aging will do for a venison steak.
10. Seal well. One of the most important parts of the processing job is the final one, packaging your well-cared-for cut to prevent freezer burn. Vacuum sealing is probably the best method, but it’s also more expensive. If you opt for the paper route, consider wrapping it in plastic wrap first, then tightly wrapping it in a layer of freezer paper to keep cold air—the cause of freezer burn—from oxidizing the meat.