Frequently Asked Questions from Our Customers

What smoke schedule do I follow when I use Encapsulated Citric Acid in my sausage?
Smoking is certainly an art in itself, especially until you get familiar with your smoker. All smokers vary in air flow, humidity and smoke generation. Here is the smoke schedule I use for sausage when i use encapsulated citric acid: I set the smoke house temp at around 130-140 with no smoke and vents at least 3/4 open until product casing becomes tacky (not wet, but not dry). Then turn smoke "on" with  vents 1/2 open until sausage has the desired smoke color (usually about 3-6 hours of smoke). good smoke color = good smoke flavor. Too dark means it will taste very smokey and too light means very little smoke flavor. Then turn smoker temp up to around 175-185 until internal temp is 150-155. (the final internal temp is quite flexable. The USDA says 145 is considered fully cooked, but an internal temp of 165 or more starts to break down the bind and sausage may start to become crumbly). I never worry about the internal temp except for at the end to make sure the sausage gets up to temp. Be sure to keep an eye on your internal temp near the end in case the bottom of your smoker gets much hotter than the top of your smoker (this is common in most smokers) . When the sausage is cooked to desired internal temp, make sure you shower sausage with cold water for a few minutes.

What grinder should I use? We have a group of hunters and we cut 10-15 deer per year. We are using a 1/2 HP grinder and it's not getting the job done to our liking.
I am a big believer in good equipment. If you have good equipment, you will smile when you process your deer instead of dreading the processing of your deer. I am always disappointed at the products that are labeled "commercial". If the stores that sold these slicers and grinders ever worked in a commercial meat shop they would never call this stuff "commercial" grade. If your crew cuts and grinds even 10 deer per year, I think a 3/4 or 1 3/4 HP grinder is pretty small. And to buy the 1 3/4 HP or bigger grinder is darn expensive. I use Cabela's 1 1/2 HP grinder when I travel to give my seminars. I make 5 lb batches during my seminars. I would get frustrated using this grinder to grind a whole deer at home.

You can buy used commercial grinders from meat plants, auctions, and craigs list for an affordable price, especially when you can pool the money from a few guys together.  A couple advantages to the true commercial grinders are that the machining of the auger in the throat and the blade & plate are much tighter. This makes a much better grind. If your auger has much slop or play in it the meat will not grind well on the second grind.   Most of the 1 - 2 HP grinders are made in China (yes, even Cabela's best grinder) and they don't have very tight tolerances. When the auger is sloppy or the blades are dull the meat 'back feeds' in the throat and grinds mushy, especially during the second grind. The industry standard is to grind hamburger twice through a 1/8 inch grinder plate. All beef hamburger you buy at your local grocery store or your favorite "pub burger" are ground twice, sometimes even three times. Grinding twice (when you have sharp grinder blades and very little slop in your auger/throat of your grinder) gives a better texture.

Anyway, I would look for a used commercial grinder from a meat shop or grocery store going out of business or a company which sells used restaurant and meat equipment. There are a ton of these grinders out there. The 5 HP Hobart grinder with a #32 head on it  is probably the most common commercial grinder in the country and there are lots of these out there. One draw back to this grinder is that it is 3 phase. So I had 220 in my shop and had one of my hunting buddies, who is an electrician and now no longer has to pay me to cut his deer, put a phase converter in my garage so I can run 3 phase equipment. The grinder cost me $1800 and the rotary phase converter cost about $500. It takes about 6 minutes to grind 100 lbs of venison and the texture is grocery store quality. The second grind takes about 6 1/2 minute for 100 lbs. You will never snub these grinders and I leave the chunks about the size of a big coffee cup.

I do know several people who bought 3-5 HP grinders from meat shops that run on 110 and 220. These would be a great find, but they are not quite as common as the three phase grinders.


What part of the deer is really the tenderloin and how does this compare to the parts of beef?
The true tenderloin on a deer is the same as on a beef. The tenderloin is in the INSIDE of the rib cage. Many hunters incorrectly call the back loin from the deer a tenderloin. 
The backstrap from a deer runs the length of the back on the outside of the rib cage/backbone and is several different cuts when referring to a beef.  The farther back portion of a beef "backstrap" or backloin would be the sirloin. Then, moving forward toward the front of the beef would be the porterhouse, T-bone and then rib eye. If the beef  "backstrap" were boneless as we usually like our venison backstrap, the beef back loin would be; boneless sirloin (often called a Top Sirloin Butt), new York strip, and then the rib eye (which is always boneless already).


After watching your Cutting Deer Right instructional video, you accumulate a pile of meat next to you. Do you plan on grinding all the meat that is left over after cutting the steaks, chops and roasts?
All of the trim which I set aside in the video I use for grinding in one fashion or another. Meaning that it is ground into hamburger or ground into some sort of sausage. However, if you like stew meat, there is plenty of that in the pile of trimmings also. You just have to take the time to pick the bigger lean pieces of meat out and clean them up and cut them into stew.  In the video I don't spend a lot of time trimming the fat off the scrap meat. I didn't think it was worth time to show people how to trim fat off trimmings. Most of the hunters who cut there own deer do a very good job of trimming fat off of the trimmings. But don't over do it on the trimming. If your timmings are 90%-95% lean, that is plenty lean. don't waste to much time thinking you have to get every little piece of fat off.


Please share your thoughts about aging. The older hunters in our group insist that aging is good for venison.

I am very opposed to aging deer. This is not just my opinion, there is science behind it.
Beef is the meat that we were all raised eating, that is commonly aged. And only the young beef raised for steaks are aged (steers and heifers) not the beef that is made into hamburger and sausages. Hamburger animals are usually older animals, most often cows that are past their peak milk producing years. Beef have an enzyme within the marbling of the meat that breaks down in time "aging", especially when aged for a long time at specific temperatures and humidity. And aging does significantly improve the tenderness of that meat. However, venison does not have those same enzymes in the marbling. In fact, even if venison had that same enzyme, venison has little or no marbling within the meat. There are very few animals that are aged. Pork and poultry are always cut and packaged ASAP. Even when you buy commercially raised deer and elk (which are raised on farms and butchered and inspected in the same way as beef), they are not aged. If aging was beneficial, those animals would certainly be aged because that market sells to restaurants and high-end grocery stores. 
The reason I say never age venison "on purpose" is because if venison is properly cooled, it does "tolerate" a fair amount of temperature variation. Venison is a low moisture meat and has a very low moisture fat which tolerates "hanging around" better than most meats. This is very beneficial to us hunters who hunt out west or other far away places where refrigeration is delayed. The key to any meat tasting fresh and not having off flavors is to field dress and cool the animal AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. The usual conditions (in the woods or other less than sanitary settings) which we kill our venison also adds LOTS of bacteria to the meat. That bacteria is a big culprit for "off" flavors in venison. When venison or any meat sits or "ages", that bacteria grows like crazy.
In summary, In a perfect world, I would shoot my deer, gut it and hang it in a cool place as soon as possible (if it's warm out, throw a bag of ice in the chest cavity and drape a bag over the hind).Then I would wait about 24-36 hours to cut my deer. The 24-36 hour wait isn't to age the deer for a day or two, it is to get the initial body heat out of the animal and have rigor mortis set in. Only on specific cases are animals ever cut up "hot" before the body heat leaves. And to explain that whole theory would be a very long explanation. But it pertains to sausages and the binding of meat proteins in sausages.


Do you find it an advantage to use a special "skinning knife" when you skin your deer? The commercial "skinning knives" I've seen have a big round blade.

You're right about the shape of a commercial skinning knife. But those knives are used for skinning beef, hogs, etc in a commercial slaughter house. There is a big difference between skinning deer and skinning animals in a commercial slaughter house. When animals are butchered in slaughter houses they are warm and lying on there backs in a "cradle". The big round sweeping blade enables an avid butcher to make very long sweep strokes with his knife, therefore skinning the animal quickly. This takes considerable practice to be efficient.

I'm not big on using different knives for every different application. If you get used to a good knife, you can do almost anything with that one knife. The 6" knife I use for cutting deer is the same knife I use for cleaning fish, turkeys, skinning and cutting bear, and kitchen use.  But the knives I use for skinning deer are a bit different... they are my old, worn out boning knives. They are the very same knives I use for every day deer cutting, except they are worn out and only about 4-5" long now (and a bit stiffer) instead of the usual 6 inches. The reason I use a shorter knife for skinning is that it is not necessary to cut deep when skinning deer. In fact, if you cut real deep around the neck of a skinny necked doe, it's possible to pull the head off while skinning it. And when cutting up the neck of a small or skinny deer, it's less likely to cut into the wind pipe. So really, its just some fine tuned preferences. You will do well using your favorite cutting knife or the victorinox 40515 boning knife (the knife in my youtube videos) for skinning and all of your cutting needs.

It is easier to skin my deer when its still warm. Is this when you recommend skinning deer?

It is very important to cool a deer off ASAP after it is dead. I hang my deer by a hind leg over night to cool, and if its warm out, I'll throw a bag of ice in the chest cavity and lay another bag over the hind.
Even though it is slightly easier to skin a warm deer, I prefer not to skin them when they're warm. The moisture evaporates so fast from the meat when the skin is removed (while warm) that the meat gets a dry crust on it. It really doesn't hurt anything, it just requires a bit more trimming while cutting.

In a perfect world, I skin my deer the day after I shoot it and I cut it soon or for sure within 12 hours of skinning. If you are going to have your deer hanging for several days before cutting, I would always wait to skin the deer until you're ready to cut it. The meat stays much cleaner with the skin on. The skin protects the meat from bacteria growth, drying and dirt. I am not a fan of aging deer, but sometimes when we're far away from civilization, we don't have many options.