How long should you age your kill this winter? Read this guide and find out.
Game carcasses under 100 pounds often chill rapidly if the temperature is below freezing at the time of slaughter.
Muscle contraction or rigor mortis hardens the muscle to a greater extent than if the temperature is above freezing. Very rapid chilling and hardening causes meat to be tough. This condition is known as cold shortening; it will occur if the internal muscle temperature drops to 32ºF within 12 hours after the kill. Leaving the hide on will help prevent cold shortening and also help to keep the carcass from freezing.
Carcasses which undergo cold shortening should be aged at 34ºF. If the carcass is frozen while hanging, little additional tenderization will occur because enzyme action is very slow at freezing temperatures. Frozen carcasses should be thawed and maintained at 34ºF. Alternate periods of freezing and thawing should be avoided because these temperature variations lower meat quality.
Recommended Aging Times
Antelope carcasses should be cut and wrapped for the freezer within 3 days after the kill. This short aging period helps prevent the “liver-like” or “mushy” texture often found in antelope meat.
Deer, sheep, goat, cow elk and cow moose carcasses should be cut approximately 7 days after the kill. If they have been held at higher temperatures (above 40ºF) the meat should be cut before 7 days of aging are completed.
Under ideal conditions bull elk and moose carcasses should be cut after a 14-day aging period at 34º to 37ºF. However, these carcasses are seldom handled under ideal conditions. Slow chilled carcasses and carcasses that have been in camp for a few days require less aging.
The preceding recommended aging periods are sufficient for tenderness and flavor development in most game carcasses. These aging periods are not needed if game carcasses are to be ground, cured or made into sausage. In addition, most meat recipes utilize moist heat cooking methods which tenderize the meat and shorten the needed aging period.
Do not age any game carcass if it was shot during warm weather and not chilled rapidly, if the animal was severely stressed prior to the kill, if gunshot areas are extensive, or if the animal was under 1-year of age. Aging has already occurred if the carcass has been in camp for 1-week in relatively warm weather. No further aging is recommended.
Aging periods longer than those recommended are often accompanied by extensive bacterial growth on the game carcasses and by drying and discoloration of the meat. Reducing the aging period reduces bacterial growth on the carcass. At present there does not appear to be any evidence that there is a health risk in eating properly cooked game meat. Nevertheless, adequate precautions with regard to aging time and aging temperature should be followed.