Venison Processing: Field to Table

Venison Processing: Field to Table

Reading Time: 6 minutes


By Jenny Underwood  I would have to say that venison is my favorite meat, especially when it’s cared for and prepared at home. The taste is superior to grocery store meat, is much healthier, and the price is fantastic! However, there are considerations when processing and preparing your venison that you shouldn’t overlook.  

Field Dress

First, after you make your kill, you need to field dress and skin your animal. We prefer to field dress as soon as feasible, but we leave the hide on until it’s hung up to keep our meat cleaner. If we had to haul our meat over rough terrain, then skinning and quartering would be done in the field, but that’s generally not an issue for us.  

My husband keeps a special field dressing kit in his hunting things: his knife, gloves, and hatchet. We feel that it’s best to promptly get the innards out to avoid contamination of the meat, cool off the meat quicker, and make the deer lighter to drag out of the woods. To field dress the deer, make an incision at the anus, carefully cut around the urethra, and gently slit the belly open to the breastbone.  

From there, you can remove all the entrails, heart, lungs, kidneys, and liver. If you like, you can save the organ meats to cook later. Place in a plastic storage bag and rinse at the first opportunity. Be careful to avoid putting your knife into the cavity too much. A lot of the gutting process should be done with your hands to avoid piercing or spilling the gut contents onto your meat. Keep your area as clean as possible.  


Once you get your deer home, it’s best if you can hang it up for the next steps. We have a homemade skinning gambrel that looks like a triangle fixed onto a pulley. The gambrel makes it possible to spread the deer’s back legs apart. The pulley allows us to crank it up high enough to work comfortably from a standing position.

  1. To skin the deer, use a sharp knife and make cuts around the deer’s back legs close to the ankle.
  2. Then make a slit from one leg to the other by the anus.
  3. With your knife and hands, carefully cut at the tissue holding the skin to the muscle. Do this down to the neck.

If you are just utilizing the meat, you can stop there and cut the head off. Or you may continue to skin out the head.

Here you may decide to save the hide by rolling it up, flesh side in, and wrapping tightly in multiple trash bags and frozen to be tanned later.  

Deboning and Quartering

After your deer is completely skinned, you may debone or quarter it.


Quartering it and placing it in a cooler is the quickest way if it’s warm or you’re in a hurry.

  1. To do this, peel out the short loins inside the ribs back by the hams. These are short, very tender pieces of meat, approximately six inches long and three inches wide.
  2. Then cut out the tenderloins that are on the back by the backbone. These are longer, wider pieces of meat.
  3. Next, cut each shoulder off, then the ribs, if you are saving these. Neck meat can be cut off in chunks.
  4. Each ham should be cut off of the deer, and the leg bones sawed off where the meat stops.
  5. Place all of the meat in a cooler with ice, in a refrigerator, or in a walk-in cooler.  


To debone your hams, you’ll see where the joints and seams run.

Carefully slide a very sharp knife into the seams and cut away the portions from the bone. You will notice it almost appears like a puzzle. You will end up with multiple roasts from the ham and some small pieces that contain more sinew.*  

The shoulders may be deboned in the same manner, or you may cook them whole, or cut them apart at the knee joint. We generally smoke or pressure cook ours whole and freeze or can the meat afterward. Don’t forget to cut off your neck meat (it has fat and tissue in layers in it), the ribs if desired, and you’re done with the initial processing. Now it’s time to prepare your meat for cooking.  

*I cut off all of the large roasts and take the ham bone with any remaining meat pieces that were too small to handle easily or contained a lot of sinew and pressure cook them in my Instant Pot with seasoning. As soon as they’re done, I remove the pieces from the liquid and cool them to process further. I often do this with the neck and shoulders as well. It saves a tremendous amount of time and gains a lot of meat for you!

Prep and Storage

Now you can decide if you’d like steaks, roasts, ground meat, canned meat, jerky, or sausage. We prefer to cut all backstraps and loins into butterfly steaks. Make sure to remove all silverskin and sinew from the pieces. This type of fat will not cook out or get more tender, and freezing it makes it harder to remove.   

Freeze your steaks in freezer bags or wrap them in butcher paper individually and freeze them in freezer containers or bags for easier removal. Try to get all of the air out before sealing and if you have a vacuum sealer, use it! Make sure you label all of your packages with the deer type, cut, and date. Trust me. You won’t remember a week later what’s in that package.   

Now you have choices on your other meat. You may cut steaks, roasts, or grind your hams. You can also make sliced jerky by partially freezing and cutting thin strips across the grain. Marinate in jerky seasoning (your own or premade) and either dehydrate or smoke the jerky. To grind your meat, have it very cold and grind it at least twice; once on coarse and once on fine. Package in one or two-pound packages (whatever suits your family size best) or make patties and place butcher paper between them and freeze. In my experience, it works even better to flash freeze patties then wrap and put them in bags or containers.  

Minced raw meat coming out of a grinder.

To prepare roasts, you will need to determine how much your family needs per meal. I usually prepare a one- to two-pound roast for our family of six. The hams work excellent for this. After deboning the ham, simply cut any exterior fat, gristle, or silverskin off and freeze your desired size roast. Remember, the fat on a deer is not flavorful or desirable, so remove it before cooking. If you can’t remove it before, remove it as soon as the meat has been cooked.  

You may thaw the meat to cook and then refreeze, but do not thaw frozen meat and refreeze it raw! (The second thaw will break down even more cells, leaching out moisture and changing the integrity of the product. Frozen and thawed food will develop harmful bacteria faster than fresh.)   

Any smaller chunks of meat may be trimmed and canned, ground, or made into stew meat. You can freeze the canning meat until you have enough from several deer or process all your meat as canned meat. Just consider your storage needs and what your family likes to eat.  

Slow-simmered Venison with Gravy  

  • Venison steaks  
  • Seasoning (your range of choices is vast, from venison-specific seasoning to zesty lemon pepper, or just plain salt and pepper)  
  • Extra virgin olive oil  
  • Water  
  • Heavy skillet  
  • Flour (I use whole wheat)  
  1. Combine 1 cup flour with 1 to 2 teaspoons seasoning. Dredge steaks in this.
  2. On medium heat, add enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the skillet. Once hot, add floured meat and brown on both sides.
  3. Add a small amount of water (enough to cover bottom of skillet) and turn down heat to medium-low. Simmer covered for at least 1 hour, adding water as needed to prevent it from drying out.
  4. When fork-tender, remove meat and add 2 cups of milk whisked together with 1/2 cup of flour.
  5. Heat over medium heat, stirring constantly until bubbling and lump-free.
  6. Serve with biscuits and fried potatoes.  

Pan-fried venison:  

  • Thinly sliced venison steaks (loin, ham) lightly pounded or tenderized   
  • Pepper, salt, garlic powder  
  • Flour  
  • Olive oil (light, not virgin, or lard, tallow, or coconut)  
  1. In a heavy skillet (I use cast iron), heat enough oil to cover the bottom about 1/2 inch. Heat over medium-high heat until a small piece fries instantly.  
  2. In a bowl, combine flour and spices (adjust to your taste preference), and dredge the steaks in the flour mixture. Shake off excess flour.  
  3. Gently place in hot oil, being careful not to overcrowd the skillet. Fry until crispy on one side, then flip. Fry until crisp and remove onto paper towels to drain. Serve hot or cold with mashed potatoes, corn, and hot biscuits.  

Venison BBQ:  

  • Venison (steaks, roasts, or pieces with bone or sinew)  
  • BBQ sauce  
  • Water  
  1. In a pressure cooker or Instant Pot, place meat and 1 cup water. Pressure cook meat for 45 minutes. Remove from pot and drain off all liquid. Shred meat and combine with enough BBQ sauce to make a thick mixture. Pressure cook for another 15 minutes. Serve with sauerkraut, rolls, crispy fried potatoes, or use as a topping for loaded baked potatoes. Freeze any leftovers for a quick, easy meal.  
  2. This meat can also be prepared without BBQ sauce and seasoned with taco seasoning for venison tacos or cubed and pressure cooked for stew. It can also be used as a replacement for ham in beans. The ground meat can be used in chili and pasta dishes.  
  3. Remember, venison can be a drier meat that contains less fat, so be sure to keep the moisture in while it’s cooking for a tender, flavorful meal.  

I hope you give venison a try, and once prepared properly, I bet you’ll be hooked on this delicious, healthy meat that helps you reduce your grocery store purchases. Just remember, cut off all fat and sinew, and preserve properly to enjoy your harvest all year long.  

Originally published in the November/December 2022 issue of Countryside and Small Stock Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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