Hang time

Flash in the Pan

It must be hunting season, as my inbox is choked with letters from people wanting to pick at the insoluble riddle of how long to hang big game. This is a squirrelly question, one that might lead you to places you might not have wanted to go. Can you hang?

Dear Flash,

My brother and I disagree on how long to hang wild game. He claims hanging 8-10 days prevents him from farting.

But our camp eats tenderloin the day of harvest (with no “stinkies”), and it’s as tender as could be (sliced thin). I’ve spoken with several meat processors and asked them about the proper way to handle wild game.

They say wild game needs to hang only long enough to “set up,” i.e., 2-3 days. Wild game doesn’t need to hang as long as beef because it doesn’t have “marble.” So that’s how I handle my wild game—in the freezer within 5 to 6 days.

As for the “stinkies,” what are your thoughts?

—Smells like a Rose

Dear Rose,

Let’s disentangle the “stinkies” from an otherwise enjoyable discussion on meat hanging. First, confirm that hanging meat 8 to 10 days reduces your brother’s farting. Then write back, and we’ll go from there. Until then, let’s quit thinking about the billions of particles blasting from your brother’s asshole into our collective noses, and stick to the meat of this issue, which the following letters explore quite well.

Dear Flash,

My research has revealed that backstraps are NOT as tender as we think relative to some other cuts. Experiments on my wife and kids compared deer backstrap steak to certain hindquarter cuts—all from the same animal, cooked the same way, and eaten during the same meal. The results have been 100 percent in favor of the hindquarter meat when it comes to tenderness. I know this differs from your experiments, but I’m sticking with my results!

My brother-in-law says if the animal is hung in a way that puts the muscles in a stretch, the meat is more tender. When I hang our animals, I do so from the Achilles, and for two to three days. How do you do yours? Perhaps we should try hanging by the neck and put heavy weights on the back legs and see what happens. Anyway, since hunting season is soon, we have some work to do.

—Don Harris

Dear Don,

Thanks for sharing. I hang my animals by the neck, in part for the reason you mentioned. Also, the longer period of time you hang an animal, “they” say, the more tender it will be. And yeah, attaching weights to the legs might help.

Dear Ari,

Last year’s deer was the best ever. After the harvest, I couldn’t get the carcass (plus my family) into my Loyale in one piece. So we cut the buck in half right above the back haunches.

Because of this cut, I hung this deer by both the front legs and the Achilles tendons. I hypothesize that in doing so I was providing a stretch to each of the four quarters.

Anyway, a foodie friend recommended hanging the deer for as long as possible for maximum tenderness, so we let him swing a while. After a week, poking the large muscles left a dent that foreshadowed an end to toughness. A week later, the meat was frozen, but the color was deepening. I was finding excuses to be in the garage. Sometimes my wife would catch me with my arms wrapped around the frozen treasure, whispering softly…

Dear Carcass Whisperer,

Sorry to cut you off, but I think we all get the point. And for the readers who aren’t privy to this gi-normous letter in all its glory, I’ll just say that in the end, the meat was extremely tender—“venison pudding,” according to Carcass Whisperer.

Since we’re sharing hanging stories, I should mention that last week my buddy Postal went hunting. His game-damage hunting permit [special permits, applied for in June, that are given out in areas where crops are frequently damaged by large numbers of deer] allowed him to shoot three does in an irrigated field, which he did one hot fall afternoon. Given the heat, Postal wasn’t inclined to let these deer hang, and he cut them up the next day. “They’ll age in the freezer,” he said.

I went home with a chunk, which I fried in olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper, and then tossed with minced garlic and served with mayonnaise. Yeah, it was chewy, but as tasty a deer as I’ve ever sunk my teeth into, and with red wine flowing I was happy to keep chewing.

As for ageing in the freezer, well, that’s an old-husband’s-tale if I’ve ever heard one, but the following letter writer has an interesting point that seems like it holds weight in the lab.

Dear Flash,

According to studies at the University of Pennsylvania, meat can be thawed and re-frozen more than 10 times without adverse effects. For best results, they say, re-freeze the meat at the “sherbet” stage of thaw, when it still has some ice crystals in it.

This breaks down the solid matrix of the meat, and works great. I like to take out a few packs of steaks/loins, etc., when I get a pack of burger. I let these thaw and put a hash mark on the outside of the packs before putting them back in the freezer. That way I know how many times the meat has been thawed. After three times the meat is very tender. If you have a tough old bull, it may take four cycles.