Monday, March 1, 2010

Meat Processing Part III

Let's call this Meat Processing Part III, I'll probably break it into further sections since it will be easiest to understand in that manner. To recap, at this point, the deer or hog has been shot, field dressed, quartered (Part I), cooler aged, deboned and cubed (Part II)... now comes the part where we make it into home-freezer ready food.

We do our meat processing with hubby's hunting buddies at the home of their parents in south Texas. The Koreneks have been home processing meat for decades and are so generous to allow our little family to be a part of it all. Every winter, Mr. Korenek turns his barn workshop to meat processing and makes sausage, jerky, and ground meat for family and friends. He has an 8x10 smoke house built in his yard, a big old grocery shop freezer, a meat saw, two industrial meat grinders, a sasuage press, scales... and most importantly, the know how to turn a dead animal into delicious food.

We do our processing over one long 3-day weekend each year. We generally arrive on Friday night and do any pre-work and preparation. This year, that meant slaughtering a few more hogs to even out the total weights needed for our processing. The pork is added to the deer meat to help add fat and flavor. Deer meat is very lean and contains almost no fat. Wild hogs are a nusciance animal in Texas and they are trapped and shot by local landowners. Just before our visit, Mr. Korenek put out the word that we'd be needing some hogs and these piggys were delivered in the live trap.

The 3 hogs pictured here are young ones, probably around 30-40 pounds, just before this picture was taken, their big brothers were killed and slaughtered.

The two big guys were alredy slaughtered when we arrived, the hogs were quarterd and put into the freezers to chill overnight.

Saturday morning, bright and early, the big work begins. First the freshly slaughtered hogs must be deboned and cubed.

Here is hubby preparing to de-bone a leg section.

The meat processing is broken out and started in order of what takes the longest to process and cure. Since it takes the longest to smoke and dry fully, we start off by preparing the jerky. The deer meat, usually a leg roast, is sliced thinly (about 1/4 inch) and seasoned. It is then strung onto wire hangers to be put into the smoke house for about 24 hours depending on the heat of the house and the moisture content.

This is the jerky after about 8 hours in the smoke house

The next step is to make summer sausage (a smoked and baked sausage that can be eaten cold)

We mix 50% deer meat and 50% fatty pork to make summer sausage. The meat cubes are ground in an industiral grinder and seasoning is added. The meat is passed through the grinder twice to get a small grain and even texture. First pass through the grinder is with a wider grinder plate, then a smaller grinder plate.

This is a 40lb meat ball, all ready to be made into summer sausage.

This is the cast iron sausage press we use. The meat is put into the top of the grinder and then the handle is cranked to force the meat out of a small tube at the bottom of the press. Strong hands hold the casing over the tube and fill the sausages.

The seasoned, ground meat is then pressed into 2.5 inch diameter casings (we use synthetic casings here) tied off, and hung on racks for the smoke house. The casings we used are about 1 foot in lenght.

Summer sausage, ready for the smoker

Next we prepare meat for the link sausages. The link sausages we make are similar to kielbasa, they are smoked but not baked, so they must be cooked fully before eating.

Since these link sausages are a staple of our diets now, we generally make enough to serve it at least once a week for the whole year. Multiply that by four families and this step required a huge pile of meat--two in fact, since we mix pork and deer meat together. The meat is always carefully weighed to determine quantities and how much spice is needed.

The deer meat is on the left, notice it is a darker red color and has significantly less fat than the pork meat pile on the right. These piles weighed 175 pounds total, after processing, the finished sausages weighed in at 173 pounds, not too bad to only have 2 lbs lost water weight.

All of this meat is mixed thouroulgy, seasoned and then ground.

For the link sausages we use natural casings--meaning the washed and prepared small intestine from a pig. This is what a bowl of casings looks like before stuffing.

The ground meat is put into the sausage press and the casings are filled in a similar manner as the summer sausage. Except that the natural casing is a lot longer, probably 15-25 feet in length each, so the filled sausage is a lot longer too.

Here is another shot of the sausage assembly line. The grinder turns the crank, the next person holds the casing as it is filled (this job takes really strong hands), the next person rolls the filled sausage.

Here is a close up of the casing as it is being filled.

The long roll of sausage is cut into approximately 1 foot sections and tied off

Here is a row of tied sausages ready to have the strings cut.

The strings are cut and the sausages ready for hanging

Here are the sausages on the rack in the smoke house.

There were a lot of summer sausages this year.

The last step of the processing day is to make ground meat from the remaining meat. The meat is weighed and mixed 50/50 deer/pork. It is then fed through the grinders.

You can see the two industrial grinders going side by side. For the ground meat, we had 2.5 large plastic storage tubs full of cubed meat.

In years past, we have just weighed and bagged up (in big trash bags) the ground meat for each of the families. At home, each family would portion off the meat into serving sized amounts and wrap in butcher paper. This year, we tired a new method again using the sausage press to fill plastic freezer bags.

Processing Day Two finished

The final day of the processing weekend is where we sample our efforts and wrap and label all meat for the long drive home. During the night, as the various items finish smoking, they are removed from the smoke house and put into the chillers for the evening.

Here is a pile of half of the smoked summer sausage. See the pretty red color the sausage takes on from the smoking?

The sausages are weighed and portioned out for each family.

We work assembly line style to wrap and label the sausages

The sausage is first wrapped in plastic wrap, then freezer paper, then taped, labled and put back into the chillers.

The summer sausage wrapped in a similar manner.

Here is what we got to go home with

What a great way to spend a weekend, and talk about really KNOWING where our food comes from. I am so thankful that we have had such wonderful mentors in this process. When I grew up, meat came from the grocery store, wrapped in tidy plastic trays.

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