It won’t be long now until various hunting seasons begin to open in Michigan. As hunters set out in search of different game species, they will soon find themselves with meat on the table. While many of your harvests will be enjoyed in short order, there is going to be a lot of meat in need of preservation as well. In order to be able to feast on the fruits of your labor throughout the year, storing meat safely is vital as is preparation when the time comes to eat.
Although there are several methods of preserving meat, freezing is quite likely to be the most common. The goal in freezing your game meat harvests is to give them longevity that will sustain you over the coming months when you will not be unable to hunt. No one wants to lose meat to freezer burn or any other type of tragedy after working so hard to bring it home, so make sure your freezer is functioning optimally before the season starts.
Though the process of freezing seems like an uncomplicated one, meat is susceptible to freezer burn and therefore becoming waste when not packaged correctly. You want to create a protective barrier around food that is resistant to vapor and moisture, both of which are enemies to frozen meats. Then you want to ensure that your packaging is intended for use in freezing temperatures and will not rupture or otherwise fail. Packaging should be able to seal in flavor while not allowing flavors or odors of nearby foods to permeate. Additionally, leak prevention is necessary to avoid any sort of cross contamination as is the ability to label packages, all of which enables a healthy rotation of stock.
When making preparations for this hunting season, an important question to ask yourself is whether or not your freezer is ready to be filled. That means you are going to have to get your freezer in ready condition before you set foot into the field. The first step in freezer readiness is cleanliness. Anything lurking in there that is old and unusable needs to be discarded. What you choose to keep needs to be reorganized in order to make room for new and enable rotation of stock. Any messes should be cleaned; though we try to avoid blood spillage and leaky packaging, sometimes it happens regardless. Now is the time to clean that up.
Now that your freezer is clean and organized, it is time to buy the necessary supplies to preserve the meat you will be bringing home this season. First you should decide if you wish to vacuum seal (by evaporation) or freeze dry (by sublimation) and ensure you have ample supplies to perform either task. If you plan to simply package by hand, stock up on supplies to get that job done as well, such as heavily waxed freezer wrap, heavy duty aluminum foil, and/or plastic freezer bags. Conduct an inventory of current supplies and make a trip to the store to restock if need be. No one wants to find out they are out of freezer bags when they have fresh game in need of prompt storage, so get your shopping out of the way now.
Also very important is to have a method and means of labelling the food that goes into your freezer. Ideally you want to be able to write right on the packages with a tool that will not run or fade, such as a Sharpie marker. Be sure to clearly mark the type of meat each package contains as well as a date frozen and do so legibly. Stacking food by date is also useful to maintain organization. Be careful not to overfill freezers; the capacity is considered to be what will freeze in a 24 hour window.
Remember that when the time come to defrost, this should be done in the fridge. Thawing in a bowl of water or on countertops may allow meat to become too warm, enabling bacteria growth. By keeping it in the fridge, you ensure temperatures never rise above the safe zone (40 °F or below) and will therefore be feeding your family, safe, delicious game meat all year long. Enjoy!