By: Dave Hurteau
How to Skin the Deer
I hang my deer head-down from a gambrel for cooling and aging, which keeps the blood from draining into the best meat. And because I can’t think of a good reason to turn the thing around, I skin it that way, too, using these steps:
Step 1: Lower the carcass so the hams are roughly eye level and the head is touching the ground, which helps keep the critter from swinging as you work.
Step 2: Starting at the groin, slip your knife’s point under the skin, blade up, and cut a long slit up from the bottom of one ham past the knee. Repeat on the other side. (I don’t worry about hair on the meat during the skinning process. I rinse the meat and pat it dry after boning it out and before trimming it.)
Step 3: Loosen the skin around each knee and cut all the way around each joint. Grab and peel the skin off the back legs and down to the tail.
Step 4: Sever the tailbone and then keep peeling all the way down to the front shoulders, using your knife when necessary to help free the skin.
Step 5: Cut the front legs off at the knee. (Sharp lopping shears are handy for this.)
Step 6: Starting at the chest opening, slip your knife under the skin and cut a long slit along the inside of each front leg to the severed end. Peel the skin off the legs, then over the shoulders, then all the way down to the base of the neck, using your knife as necessary.
Step 7: Slice through the meat of the neck with a knife, and cut through the spine with a saw.
Boning The Deer
Step 1: Get two large, clean pans or buckets. One is for meat we’ll categorize as Good—the tougher, fattier, more sinewy portions that will become burger, sausage, jerky, stew meat, and pot roast. (See “The Cut Chart” above.) And the second for Best—the larger, leaner, more tender cuts that make tasty steaks, dry roasts, and kabobs.
Step 2: Detach the front legs: Grab a shank, pull it slightly away from the body, and start slicing between the leg and the rib cage. Continue cutting around the leg, eventually between the shoulder blade and the back. If your knife is sharp, you’ll be shocked at how little attaches the front leg to the body. Repeat on the other side, and set both front legs aside.
Step 3: Remove neck meat, brisket, and flank and toss into the Good pan. Since this will all be scrap meat, it’s not important that you get it off in one nice piece. Hack it off as best as you can. (I know people who like neck roast. I just don’t know what’s wrong with them.)
Step 4: Next, remove the backstraps. For each, cut two long slits from the rump to the base of the neck—one tight along the backbone, the other tight along the top of the ribs. Make a horizontal cut across these two slits at the base of the neck, and lift the backstrap while scraping along the bone beneath with your knife to collect as much meat as possible. Toss into the Bestpan.
Step 5: Take off the shank meat on each hind leg and add to the Good pan. On the rest of the hindquarter, natural seams of silverskin run between large muscles. I find it easiest to first separate these muscles as much as possible by working wetted fingers into the seams. Then just cut the muscles off the bone to get clean, largely seamless hunks of meat, all of which goes in the Best pan.
Step 6: Cut the shank meat from the front legs and toss into the Good pan. The upper portion of each front shoulder does have some reasonably sinew-ree meat that can be used for roasts or even steaks—just not very good roasts or steaks. I put this, as well as any remaining edible meat on the carcass, into the Good pan and use the best of it for stew meat and jerky.
Trimming the Meat
Step 1: Sharpen your fillet knife. Grab the Good pan, and take any piece of meat and assess it. It’s O.K. to have some silverskin and a small amount of fat in what will become burger or sausage. But you want very little to none in your jerky and stew meat. So if the piece you’re holding can be easily trimmed into a small hunk of clean, lean meat, trim it and toss it into a pile designated for jerky or stew. If not, trim the fat as best you can (don’t worry about the silverskin) and toss it into a second pile for burger and sausage.
Step 2: Now take your Best cuts and trim every last bit of fat from each. If you expect your venison to be in the freezer for longer than six months, leave the silverskin for now and trim it later, as it can help protect the meat from freezer burn. Otherwise, take it off.
Step 3: Cutting the backstrap and parts of the hindquarter into steaks now limits how you can prepare the meat later. Instead, cut the backstraps into 10- to 12-inch-long sections, leave the individual muscles and muscle groups of the hindquarter whole, and freeze it all like that. When you take a package out to thaw and cook, you’ll still have the option of making 1⁄4-inch-thick medallions, 1-inch-thick steaks, 5-inch-thick fillets, or whole dry roasts.
This story first appeared in Field and Stream Magazine