BRAINERD, MINN. – A few years back, when the deer limits were higher and my freezer was flush with venison, I realized I had to find more ways to prepare and consume this healthy meat. I love venison chops and burger, especially grilled, but I'm satisfied with one serving every week or so.
If you've recently clawed through your freezer and found a number of packages of well-wrapped venison left over from last year, you might considering doing what I did.
I walked the sporting goods isle of a local store and bought everything needed to make jerky from ground venison at home in the oven. These items include: a meat grinder, a new set of oven racks and an item called a "jerky blaster." The blaster resembles a caulk gun, but you load it with ground meat instead of caulking compound. The contraption made it easy to squeeze out long, uniform strips of meat, ideal for making jerky.
The traditional method of producing jerky, using thin slices of meat, is more difficult and time consuming than this method. The trouble is, each cut must be of uniform thickness and with the proper grain orientation if the batch is to dry consistently in the oven. With ground meat and jerky blaster, you won't have this problem.
There are a few guidelines one should follow when making jerky from ground meat.
Make sure you remove as much fat as possible from the meat before grinding. Fat does not "cure," nor does it dry during the dehydration process. Also cut away as much as possible the blue sheaths surrounding the muscles, and remove all tendons and ligaments. Remember, your jerky is only as good as the meat from which it is made, so take the time necessary to do a good job.
Whatever method of drying you choose, whether it be a smoker or the oven, be sure the meat reaches a temperature of 165 degrees for at least 15 seconds. Use a meat thermometer to verify the temperature. Since heat rises, place the thermometer on the lowest rack.
Once the meat temperature reaches 165 degrees you can turn down the oven, completing the drying process at a lower setting. Some commercial jerky recipes call for drying at 200 degrees, but the key is ensuring the meat reaches a temperature of at least 165 degrees.
Grinding venison and making jerky is a good way to use excess venison. Best of all, jerky is a tasty and healthy snack you can carry along on future trips into the field.
Bill Marchel, an outdoors writer and photographer, lives near Brainerd.