Vacuum Sealers: How to Make the Most of Your Deer Harvest
OutdoorHub Reporters 12.05.17
It’s easy to be a big hit cooking in hunting camp when you prepare everything ahead of time. Some might consider it cheating, but I have made large batches of stew, chili, spaghetti sauce and soups, months in advance of hunting season. I learned years ago that a hearty meal after a day of hunting is the best way to recharge for the next morning, and to ensure you get invited back.
Years ago, sealable containers were used to store prepared foods. They would form heavy frost crystals on the meat, and did a poor job of protecting my carefully prepared larder. When I discovered vacuum sealers, I went a little crazy trying to find new applications and uses. Cabela’s offers several sizes of premade vacuum bags, or rolls where you can cut to a specific size. Cabela’s Zippered Vacuum Bags say right on them “reusable, microwavable, freezable and boilable,” which opened my eyes to how I could use my sealer even more.
When I show up in camp, my cooler has vacuum sealed bags of food ready for the pot. Nobody likes to do dishes in deer camp, so we heat the stew, chili, or whatever else we are enjoying right in the vacuum bag. Drop it into boiling water, and you end up with a perfectly heated dinner that is as fresh as the day it was made. You can even start with a package that is partially frozen. There is only one pot to clean, and it has the hot water to quickly do up the utensils and other dishes.
Hunting caribou in the Far North, my outfitter recommended a meat service to process our game. It was professionally cut, vacuum sealed, labeled and flash frozen. I flew home with my northern groceries and enjoyed the spoils of my hunt for many months. About a year later, I came across one of the packages of caribou meat and was worried the clear vacuum bag might have allowed freezer burn. However, to my delight, the meat was as good as the first package I had enjoyed.
There are so many vacuum sealers on the market that it is hard to know which one to get, how they differ, and if your prized wild game will be safeguarded if you use the machines regularly. The secret to vacuum sealing is to get all the air out of the package before it seals. There can’t be corners or edges around the meat where the air is trapped at the time the seal is finished.
When done properly, vacuum sealing your favorite cuts of venison will make them last longer, and stay fresher tasting, than with conventional methods.
You Get What You Pay For
I’ve experimented with the economic vacuum sealers and have always been disappointed. Looking back, I’ve owned about six different models, and with the “beginner priced” machines, over 30 percent of the packages made and sealed were not successful, leading to food loss. I eventually bought the professional grade sealer from Cabela’s and have enjoyed using it and experimenting with different applications. The Pro-Elite, and Commercial-Grade models not only work consistently, but also provide more sealing options.
My vacuum sealer has settings to allow marinating in the bag. Normally, the sealer would vacuum any liquid out of the bag, but on the right setting, you can rest assured there won’t be a mess to clean up — when you thaw the package it will be ready for the grill.
It is hard to beat venison steak when it is done right, so why not make it perfect for cooking without any prep time on the day of eating? One of the tricks I’ve learned over the years is to use a Jaccard Super Meat Tenderizer (below) on my steaks to make sure every morsel can be cut with a butter knife. The unit has 16 blades, which cut the long muscle grains when you push them into the steak. The tiny holes left behind can’t be seen by the naked eye but are great portals for the marinade to work its way right through your steaks or roasts.
Bags or Rolls?
I’m always stocked with a variety of vacuum sealer bags. Cabela’s reusable bags are dishwasher safe, easy to label, and guarantee against freezer burn. When I’m making pepperoni, jerky and snacking meat, I prefer the zippered sealer bags because they allow me to snack and reseal at will.
I also like to use the larger zippered bags for making a waterproof, small-sized emergency kit for my deer pack. Extra socks, gloves, and cap are always with you if you need them and the package takes up little space. If it’s wet and rainy, I even seal my licenses.
Occasionally, I’ll make a special cut of meat, like a baron of venison, or the entire loin. In those cases, I, use the continuous rolls that I cut to size.
The better vacuum sealer bags on the market have places to label and date your package. It helps keep your freezer organized and easy to identify the different cuts. It is surprising how much room you can save using vacuum sealer bags when compared to traditional meat wrapping paper. Less bulk means more freezer space.
I like to organize my freezer with cloth grocery bags. One is for steaks, one for roasts, another for burger and so on. When you’re looking for something, you can lift out an entire bag without rooting through dozens of packages. When you’re done, it all goes back in right where it came from.
Thaw Trick: When I thaw any meat, I cut an “X” into the bottom of the package while still frozen. I place it in a colander, which sits inside a bowl. As the meat thaws, blood and liquid drain from the package and prevents your meat from sitting or swimming in the brine. You will notice less gamy flavor and a better product overall.
One Last Thing!
If your vacuum sealer has an attachment for jars, you can ensure no leaks in the fridge or cooler. When you mix a batch of cure and brine for jerky, you can seal it to last longer and prevent moisture from forming lumps.
The canister attachments are ideal for quick marinades, or to store jerky, which you know will be gone in only a couple of days.
This article was produced in cooperation with Cabela’s.