Slowly Inching Forward

Two things for this post today. First: we finally have a dedicated smoker.

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Gotten at Sears on a really good sale. Smokers of this size at just about every store, whether electric, propane, or wood-fired run about $115-$150. I got this one for $80. This one is propane, and hopefully we’ll be able to make a couple venison sausages soon, and smoked trout if we can catch a couple more. No more attempting to smoke things in the grill with the smoker attachment. It never, ever came out right for me, even when watched like a hawk.

Thing two: Matt’s got the beams for the engine cavity of the boat cut out and resined.

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If the weather dries out this weekend, he hopes to be laying a few pieces of fiberglass mat on the interior of the hull, and double checking each of the patches before we begin to lay down the floor supports.

I suppose a third thing could be that the exterior of the gas tank is done. Now we just need to treat and seal the interior of it.

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Matt ground off all the rust, and then painted it with the Rustoleum made for grills and other high-heat, high-durability applications. Not that we think the gas tank will need to withstand fire (we hope). We used this on our actual grill, and it’s kept that from rusting, in spite of sitting out in all 4 seasons.

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Ice Fishing and Meat Grinding, All in One Weekend.

With the holidays in full swing, we’ve been doing a lot of driving.  Saturday was one half of Matt’s family’s Christmas get together, so we drove up north Friday night. Matt wanted to do some ice fishing on the lake that pair of grandparent’s house is on. We fished here back in August, and caught that big 9.5 inch pumpkinseed.

There was about a foot of ice, so people were driving onto the ice in trucks and on snow mobiles.

There was about a foot of ice, so people were driving onto the ice in trucks and on snow mobiles.

Our shanty.

Our shanty.

Lake panorama.

Lake panorama.

SAMSUNG SAMSUNG SAMSUNG

Two flags on the tip ups all day, and this one little northern. After that we had dinner and did Christmas stuff. Matt’s aunt and uncle were there, and we talked about sturgeon spearing with them in February on Lake Winnebago. There was a nasty winter storm bearing down on the area around Madison, though, so we left around 9 to try to beat it home.

We succeeded, barely. It began snowing on us just before we got to Madison, and when we got up Sunday morning, there was over a foot of snow on the ground. After clearing the snow, we got around to grinding up the venison we planned to use for sausage, freezing it, and making jerky. I also sealed up the deer bones I plan to make broth with.

Grinding venison.

Grinding venison.

Sealed venison bones to try bone broth.

Sealed venison bones to try bone broth.

The dogs were thrilled to get the leftover bones.

The dogs were thrilled to get the leftover bones.

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Making jerky.

Making jerky.

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Dehydrators next to deer skulls.

We also tried rendering the tallow for the first time. It came out pretty well even though it was a smelly process.

Freshly rendered.

Freshly rendered.

As it cools, the fat separates from the gelatin.

As it cools, the fat separates from the gelatin.

With the rest of the holidays on the way, we’ll be doing quite a bit of driving. Tuesday, we’re headed to see my family in Illinois. We’ll drive back that night, and up to the Fox Cities Wednesday to see the other half of Matt’s family. After the 25th, the holiday hunt is back up, so we’ll be out again after deer.

 

The Happy Home Butcher, or I Can Explain Why There is a Laundry Basket Full of Meat on my Porch.

After shoveling the light, fluffy snow from Sunday off the driveway, sidewalk, back patio, and path to the garage on Monday afternoon, I was ready to sit down with a piping hot coffee- it was only about 10 degrees out. Preferably a sugar-laden something. But it was not to be. The venison from our two deer was exposed to the air. The cooler it was in was too full, and even in the cold, it was drying out. I had to butcher it.

Chest-o-meat.

Chest-o-meat.

So, I drag that thing around the house and in the front door (an added on doggie door panel makes our back door too narrow). I then set to prepping my kitchen and surfaces. I wiped everything down with some Soft Scrub containing bleach, got containers ready, labelled them, set out paper towels to absorb blood, and sharpened my knives.

Cutting boards in the foreground, packaging area on the far wall.

Cutting boards in the foreground, packaging area on the far wall.

Two chef's knives and my little whetstone. I prefer the 6 inch knife. The bigger one was if Matt showed up. I also had a boning knife and a cleaver handy.

Two chef’s knives and my little whetstone. I prefer the 6 inch knife. The bigger one was if Matt showed up. I also had a boning knife and a cleaver handy.

A good edge is a valuable thing.

A good edge is a valuable thing.

For the next 7 hours or so, I was elbow deep in meat. As a rule, I tend to separate everything into individual muscles or muscle groups. So, I de-bone the hind quarter above the shank, and cut out the big muscles there. That gives me the “football roast” (the deer’s quad), and then two other muscles (one very large, which I cut into steaks, and a small one I cook whole). The back straps from these deer got pretty mangled, so rather than the nice, neat medallion steaks like I’d prefer, they’re long, thin portions this year. I kept and cleaned up the ribs, and even on the younger deer there’s quite a lot of meat there, so those will be grilled come summer, I think. I really wish I had a clean bandsaw. It would have been nice to zip those in half down the middle to make the bones shorter on each cut.

I also saved half of the larger deer’s belly (brisket?), and a part of the smaller doe’s belly as well. They aren’t quite thick enough to cook like beef brisket, but they are quite fatty. Since Matt and I conferred and nixed the idea of venison ham until we buy a dedicated smoker (really worried about temp control in our grill/smoker), I decided I might try to salt these and smoke them into deer bacon. Bacon is smoked at a higher temp for a shorter time than a ham is, so there’s much less chance for error (and botulism!). I think bacon + maybe smoking some sausages will give me some good practice to work up to doing a ham some day. Plus, if I mess these up, the most we ever did with the thin, usually-mangled-from-the-gutting-process belly was to toss into the sausage pile or feed it to our dogs.

Last, but definitely not least, came the shoulders. The shoulder meat is pretty tough, given that deer spend their lives walking around constantly. Two years ago I tried grilling up a whole shoulder over low heat. It turned out OK, but there is a lot of connective tissue in there. Plus, this year I found Hank Shaw’s recipe for venison barbacoa. So, I demuscled the shoulders, too. The part I’m going to slow cook into barbacoa and shredded venison is the portion between the shoulder blade and elbow, which if my memory of anatomy serves, is the deer’s latissimus dorsi. The meat on the lower part of the front leg was sliced out to be jerky or sausage meat.

Here comes the part that was really exciting (for me). Once we got the deer home, we picked up a vacuum sealer.

I didn't think it was possible to love another small appliance after my Kitchenaid died.

I didn’t think it was possible to love another small appliance after my Kitchenaid died.

So. Once everything was butchered out, I didn’t have to mess with the hassle from years prior. I used to double-wrap everything in plastic wrap, and then foil, then label either the foil or a piece of masking tape on the foil with the cut and the date. And let me tell you, this thing works like a dream. Plus, it was pretty fun to watch it suck all the air out of each parcel. It’s also really easy to use a Sharpie and label each item, and you can tell what’s in there at a glance through the clear plastic.

So, by the time I got done with packaging and clean up last night, it was after ten. And already below zero outside. Our forecast low for the night was -15 before the windchill was applied. On top of that, our chest freezer is a mess. I need to reorganize it, and Matt has a bunch of taxidermy to-dos hanging around in there. It’s also in an odd, dark bonus space in our house, accessed only by a door from the outside. I didn’t want to mess with it in the dark and the cold. Plus, the air temperature was colder than my little freezer could hope to be.

Vacuum sealed items in this laundry basket.

Vacuum sealed items in this laundry basket.

I cleaned the cooler out, bagged the sausage met, jerky cuts, and random fat and tendon scraps. They went in there with the cleaned bones.

I cleaned the cooler out, bagged the sausage meat, jerky cuts, and random fat and tendon scraps. They went in there with the cleaned bones.

So that’s how I got a laundry basket full of meat on my front porch. It worked better than a flash freezer. It was solid within an hour, and this morning everything looked a good, fresh frozen.

As far as everything in that cooler goes: we haven’t purchased a vertical stuffer yet. It’s on the list for Friday. We’ll grind and mix the sausage and cure the jerky all in one day. With the considerable amount of tallow we have, I might attempt to render it. Matt wants to make candles (why? I don’t know), but his buddy’s fiance will be eating sausage from his deer, and she keeps Kosher. So, when we grind his deer, we won’t be able to cut it with pork like we normally do. She’s being pretty understanding of us using the equipment we have, and I just want to try not to put anything not-Kosher directly into her food. I might be pulling to grind up some of the tallow to cut their sausage with. We’ll also have to find non-hog casings.

My plan for our sausage is a couple summer sausage logs maybe, and then some breakfast links and bratwurst, or a kielbasa style sausage to smoke as a nod to Matt’s very Polish heritage. Or some bangers for my Irish ancestors. Anyhow, all that will be done Friday.

 

The Title Image of This Post is Misleading.

The plan for this weekend was to get in an afternoon of muzzle loader hunting at an acquaintance’s out west of Richland Center, Wisconsin, and to begin processing the three deer hanging in our garage.

The hunt was a cold one- Saturday never broke 20F, and when we arrived in the evening, our weather apps told us somewhere in the 7-10F range.  The drive out was lovely- I’d yet to really go into the Driftless Area. The hills there aren’t glacial drumlins like we get in other parts of the state, and it’s definitely a lot more vertical than anything I was used to growing up on the prairies. Unluckily, the windows of the truck are all cruddy, so snapping pictures was tough.

Just as we arrived at our location.

Just as we arrived at our location.

It would be a wash, though. We saw lots of sign headed in. Matt heard some deer crunching, and we both heard a buck snort. But we didn’t see anything. We hurried back to the truck in the last of the cold, fading light, feeling like our hands and feet had been replaced with clumsy wooden blocks.

Friday afternoon, Matt’s buddy and his fiance came over. He’d hung a deer in our garage opening weekend, and we had our two. It was time to start processing. After this point, there are some gory images. Viewer discretion, and all that.

 

Spike, doe, doe.

Spike, doe, doe.

This same buddy came over last year to watch us skin and quarter our deer- he’d been getting his professionally processed before this. So, the fiance and I let the boys get at it. I recorded the whole process.  In order, we skin them, remove the shoulders, the ribs, and then the hindquarters. The DNR advises us to discard the spines due to CWD. The meat went into sanitized coolers. Considering we won’t be breaking above freezing for the week, we can separate muscles at a different date.

Sunday, Matt and I both decided we were burnt out from so much hunting in frigid weather. We opted to get some things done rather than add to the deer pile. We ventured out to the garage in the snow. I scraped the hides and Matt cleaned the skulls to make European style mounts, and skinned the heads to begin his taxidermy practice. While we were out there, the snow piled up. It’s around 5 inches as I write this Sunday evening, and more overnight.

So the garage once again smells like propane and boiling brains. We’ll be getting to packing up the meat within a couple days, and once we pick up a vertical stuffer, we’ll get the sausage done as well. I refuse to relive the last two years with our awful horizontal stuffer. I’ve got a couple new ideas to try in the cured meat department. Like maybe a venison ham.

 

Play Outdoors Had a SausageFest

This weekend we finally got all of the venison processed. I am well aware that this was basically a two week long project. Matt had most of Saturday off. So, after waiting in a Starbucks for him to wrap up a couple things in the office, we made the rounds to the outdoors stores and our local awesome PawnAmerica (a totally non-shady pawn shop), where we sometimes find gems in the form of nice, cheap powertools, fishing poles, and electronics. My next camera will probably come from there. Technically, there could be another Dispatch from his toybox, but honestly, I’d be doing one of those every two weeks if I recorded every single one. We each got a fly rod this weekend, though, and he picked up some more lures, and a heavy-duty rod to complement the other two or three we have so we can troll for muskie, and also catch giant catfish more easily. Onward to the meat of the story.

This is what 25lbs of summer sausage looks like.

This is what 25lbs of summer sausage looks like.

Matt and I took on the herculean task of meat grinding, stuffing, and curing on Saturday afternoon. I only got a couple pictures, as, again, my hands were too grody to really handle a camera. We were at it from about 4pm until after 1am. Luckily, we purchased a dedicated electric meat grinder for this season, since an errant bit of silverskin murdered my Kitchenaid with the meat grinder attachment last year.

The Kitchenaid is dead. Long Live the Kitchenaid.

The Kitchenaid is dead. Long Live the Kitchenaid.

So, after much grinding and stuffing with possibly the worst-designed sausage stuffer in all the world, we were finished late Saturday night. Before cooking any of it, we had 25 pounds of summer sausage, as pictured, 15 pounds of snack sticks, and 15 pounds of jerky meat before dehydrating it. I also had an upsetting amount of dishes to wash.

Snack sticks and the meat grinder.

Snack sticks and the meat grinder.

We turned the oven to about 200 degrees, loaded most of the summer sausage into it, and let it go overnight. We took those out in the morning, swapped in the last two summer sausages, and some of the snack sticks, and just rinsed and repeated this cycle. It’s still in progress as I type. Last night before bed we put the jerky in the dehydrators, and it was done this morning when I got up.

More jerky than you can shake a stick at.

More jerky than you can shake a stick at.

Even with all the scrap we had to grind up, we still didn’t end up making any into breakfast sausage or bratwursts. It all was cured into dry sausage and jerky. So, I have quite a bit of hog casings that I need to figure out how to store. Any recommendations are welcome.

Wanting to wrap up this deer processing once and for all, we also oiled the hides yesterday afternoon. We took them down from the line and rubbed a lot of canola oil into them. They soaked it right up, but are still quite stiff. I think we let them dry a bit too much, and hopefully it can be corrected.

Taking the buckskin down.

Taking the buckskin down.

With the oil on them and a heater pointed at them.

With the oil on them and a heater pointed at them.

We were hoping that we’d have a mild week with enough sunny days to melt off some of the snow so we could work on getting the old tires off the boat trailer. There’s still a lot of ice on the lakes (and snow on the ground!), but there are thin ice caution signs popping up everywhere, and it gives me hope for spring time and open water.

From being backed into the water as often as the trailer probably was (we bought it used), they’re rusted on tighter than anything, as well as possibly being cross-threaded. As I said before, that’s a post in it’s own right. The one tire is completely chewed up around the rim. Like, COPS-police chased, torn up tire. The other went flat over winter. However, it’s snowing right now, and the forecast has us right below the freezing mark for most of the week. Ever the optimist, though, I plan to pick up a lot of WD-40 to soak them with. If that doesn’t pan out, I can possibly pick up fabric to complete the camper.

Oh, and if you need summer sausage, you know the girl to ask. We have more than we could eat and expect our blood pressure to remain reasonable.

 

The array of dishes did get washed, and yes, by hand. That dishwasher doesn't work. A lot of stuff in this house is out of order.

The array of dishes did get washed, and yes, by hand. That dishwasher doesn’t work. A lot of stuff in this house is out of order.