5 Reasons to Start Processing Your Own Game
August 1, 2023 by Leigh Hauck
Year after year for well over a decade, the idea of home processing would come up after a hunting season. We would always push it aside because it’s too much work, or we didn’t feel that we had the skill to make a quality sausage in our home, or because the equipment was too expensive. For one reason or another, we would also give up the idea and take our meat to a butcher. We would always be faced with the same things when we did that. We weren’t 100% confident that we were getting entirely our meat back, and we weren’t always 100% satisfied with the outcome of the sausage or the cut quality of the steaks. If you’re lucky enough to have a butcher that makes an amazing product every time that you love, I am jealous!
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Every other year or so, we would make a half-assed attempt at sausage using just the stuffing attachment on our grinder. We would only do a few pounds at a time because we were nervous to commit too much meat to a product that wouldn’t turn out great. Guess what? It always turned out terribly.
After November of 2022 came to a close, between my dad, my girlfriend, and myself we had 7 deer quartered and frozen that we had to make decisions on. After getting 2-3 months wait time estimates from a few butchers in town, it was time to bite the bullet. I invested $900 into a quality grinder, sausage stuffer, and vacuum sealer. I watched hours of YouTube videos on the craft. I went to the local sausage making supplies shop and overwhelmed them with questions while I picked out casings and other supplies. I even contacted a friend of a friend to show me the process hands on. The result after my first season of completely processing 7 deer on our own was the best sausage we had ever had, hundreds of dollars saved, and an immense amount of pride in the fact that nobody had ever laid hands on my animal or meat other than myself and my close family. Never again will I consider taking my game to a butcher for processing!
Here are 5 reasons why you should start fully processing your own game animals at home.
Looking proudly at my first 25lbs of homemade sausage links
How to guarantee to get your own meat back.
This has always been a concern for me when I bring my meat to butcher shops. Some shops will openly tell you that they batch meat. Batching is when the butcher has let’s say 10 orders of jalapeno cheese smokies to do, so he combines enough meat to do them all at once, and each person gets a batch of meat back. You end up with the same amount of meat back, but only a portion of it was your animal.
My issue with batching is that there is no way for me to trust that all hunters are taking the same care and precaution with their meat as I am. One hunter may bring in a deer that sat overnight without being gutted, one guy might bring in a deer that he didn’t care to get tested for CWD... the list goes on. Regardless of how clean and orderly a butcher is, there is no telling what happened to someone else's animal before it made it to the shop. That is a deal breaker for me, and something that has bothered me every year.
When you process your own animals at home, there is simply no room for that type of error or contamination.
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How do I know the butcher cares about my meat?
There are some amazing butchers out there. I will never dispute that. But there is also nobody out there who will care as much about your food as you will.
The biggest job in home processing is getting the meat off the animal, trimming it and cleaning it. There’s no way around it, the job sucks. It can get tedious (especially after doing 7 deer in a month, trust me) and you can get to the point of cutting corners and not doing as good of a job in the trimming towards the end. The thing that keeps you going and keeps you doing a good job is that it is your meat. Nobody else is there to take that extra piece of hair off the meat for you, and you will do it because you care about the quality of your game. I find it hard to imagine that all butchers are willing to put the same level of detail into the trimming and cleaning of my game as I am. In fact, I’ve seen it. I have seen some amazing work from butchers, but I have also seen finished carcasses with plenty of meat left on the bones at butcher shops, I have seen steaks come back with hair on them, and with silver skin still attached.
When you do it yourself, you put the final product in your hands. If you want a clean, and well-trimmed meat collection to show off in your freezer, you will have to work for it, but you can do as good of a job or better than anyone else on your own.
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You can make anything when you process.
This wasn’t something I had thought about much before I started home processing, my decision to learn the craft was mostly based on points one and two. However, I quickly learnt the value in not having the bounds of a set menu from which to choose what kind of sausage or cuts you get in the end.
Typically, at a butcher shop you will need to bring meat in 20-25lb batches. Any extra will usually be ground up and returned to you just as plain ground game. You will have a menu of anywhere from 5-20 sausage types to choose from. When you are working on your own meat in your house, you have absolutely zero restrictions when it comes to the type of sausage you make, and the amounts.
I started by doing 5 batches of 25lbs of sausage, but after my freezer had that many smokies in it I wanted to experiment. I started doing 5lb batches of jerky sticks, and premixing ground deer for tacos, and experimenting with out-of-the-ordinary sausage recipes. There were no rules. I am a huge jalapeno cheese smokie fan, and I love extra cheese and extra jalapenos. I have found that butchers aren’t often willing to accommodate special requests. First, the cheese is the most expensive ingredient. Second, special requests would mean that they are not able to batch your sausage, it would have to be done on its own. I made 50lbs of jalapeno cheese smokies this year... extra cheese and extra jalapenos at will!
When it comes to steaks, I love a thick steak. I am happy to end up with less steaks in my freezer but have them all be 1” thick. Surely you can tell a butcher that you want 1” thick steaks, but how easy would it be for a note like that to get missed? It’s happened to me more often than not...
With the freedom and flexibility I have with home processing, I will never stop experimenting. This year, I am going to buy a meat band saw so I can start cutting my own T-bones and tomahawks!
Does it cost a lot to process at home?
This was perhaps my second biggest concern when I was deciding whether or not to start processing at home. You spend close to $1,000 on the necessary equipment (trust me, you do not want to cheap out). Then you are still buying pork fat, casings, and spice mixes for each batch.
At approximately $5/lb of finished product (where I live), a finished deer usually costs about $225-$300 to have processed (remember I am a Canadian and speaking in terms of our currency!).
For me to buy casings, spices, and pork fat costs me about $60/batch at home and I will get two batches of sausage plus steaks out of a deer. With the initial cost of equipment, it would only take three or four deer to be processed on my own before the equipment had paid for itself. Having done seven deer in my first season of home processing, I was looking at $600-$900 savings by the end of the season already. It paid off shockingly fast!
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Is home processing difficult?
If there was going to be one thing that kept me from learning home processing, the difficulty was going to be it. Turns out, it’s not that hard.
In the hunting community, everyone seems to know someone who makes their own sausage and does a fine job. My best friend has a family friend of polish descent who has been making sausage with his family for years. I contacted him, and he invited me to one of his sausage making days to cut my teeth and learn the craft. He put me to work! After a full day of trimming, grinding, mixing, and stuffing a few hundred pounds of moose meat, I had gained a wealth of information. It was a fair deal, he got a helping hand, and I got a masterclass in sausage making.
My findings in the end were this: it is not a difficult thing to do, but there is a very specific way that things need to be done to end up with a good product. It’s much like learning to ride a bike when you are a kid. At first, it seems impossible to balance yourself, pedal and steer at all once. At some point it clicks, and you barely think about it. Sausage making is a lot like that, you just need to get some hands-on experience.
Once you take the plunge, you will wonder why you didn’t do it sooner. Invest in quality equipment, take the time to do it right, and you will reap the rewards of learning sausage making and butchery for many years to come!
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