How to Process a Deer at Home: The Ultimate Guide
Part One: Skinning and Butchering Basics
Many hunters each season harvest a deer and pay a processing facility to butcher the animal. One of the comments we saw a lot when we made our video on butchering a deer at home was the amount of meat that many processors waste. That’s exactly why we wanted to put this guide together.
There is a special relationship you will find knowing that you harvested your venison, dressed, skinned, and butchered the meat, and made a meal that your friends and family will talk about for years. You can butcher a deer at home and know that you wasted nothing, plus you'll save money. Once you know the best way to butcher a deer, you can do it quickly, often finishing the major steps in less than half an hour.
Skinning Your Deer the Right Way
A properly harvested deer begins with good shot placement and field dressing the animal quickly. We have put together guides for you to properly field dress a deer in print and on our Youtube channel.
For this process, we are going to use the Outdoor Edge RazorMax. This knife has interchangeable blades, so you can quickly switch from a 5” boning knife to a 3.5” drop point. You can purchase our favorite knives right from our website.
Begin skinning your deer by making a cut down the back of the hind legs. Be careful not to cut the Achilles tendon, as you will hang the deer from that at a later stage. After you have made the incision, you can start to pull the skin down the leg, like removing a sock. Keep the meat as clean as possible. Disposable gloves are a good idea, and you should change them when they are contaminated.
As you pull the skin down, you will find a joint. You can make an incision with your knife around and into the joint and snap the lower leg off. Continue pulling the hide down and rolling it so that the hair does not touch the meat and expose the tendon. Do this for both back legs.
You can go to the front and do the same thing as with the back legs. Simply find the joint, make an incision, and snap the lower leg off. Now you are ready to finish skinning your deer.
Hanging Your Deer
The easiest way to skin a deer is by hanging it. We are lucky to have an overhead hoist in our butcher shop. If you don’t have access to a hoist, there are a number of ways to hang a deer. You can use a chain fall and gambrel from the rafters in your garage. You can even use a sturdy tree. Placing a waterproof tarp underneath will help with cleanup.
If hanging a deer to skin is not possible, it can be done on the ground, but it is much more difficult and you should plan on making sure your carcass stays clean. Use tarps.
You will fit the gambrel through the tendons of the back legs and lift the carcass up to about chest level. This will give you good leverage to push the hide down. You'll hardly use your knife as you skin the haunches. You can finish your cut through the groin and pull the skin back to the haunches.
When you start to work along the front of the legs, be careful not to cut the flap meat. You will find a membrane that holds the flap, and you want to make sure not to cut into it. You want the flap meat to stay on the carcass, because it will make pulling the hide off much easier.
At this point, you can pull the hide down and cut through the tail. Continue to grasp the hide and push down with your hand or fist. Be careful to avoid contaminating your deer. Change your gloves regularly. When you have gotten down to the chest area, you should raise your deer up again if possible.
Finishing the Skinning Process
The hide will be more difficult to remove in the neck, particularly with a buck. If you're not cutting the cape for a shoulder mount, you can cut the hide down the throat to the jaw. This will make it easier to pull the hide off. Use your knife to cut through the spine at the base of the skull. Cut through the esophagus and pull the hide off the rest of the way.
Pull the esophagus through. Now you will have an opening through the neck. Your carcass should be pretty clean without any hair on it. You can rinse the cavity out to get rid of any blood. If your deer was gut shot, you should not rinse it. All you are doing is spreading contamination around. You will need to cut the contaminated parts out and discard them.
Skinning an animal is a skill that takes practice to get good at doing. When you first start out skinning, it will take you a long time to do the job, and that’s fine. You should be patient and be careful to make sure you remove the hide cleanly without damaging your meat.
A few tips that can help a lot:
Start with a Sharp Knife
This may seem obvious, but you wouldn’t believe how many times we have seen mangled, hacked up deer because someone tried to use a dull knife. You should become skilled at sharpening a knife and you should have a basic knife sharpener with you on your hunt. Regularly ensuring the blade of your hunting knife is kept sharp will speed up your skinning process. Even the best knife in the world will not hold an edge forever. One of the reasons we recommend the Outdoor Edge RazorMax is the quick-change blades. This way, you don’t have to stop halfway through the process to sharpen a blade.
Use Correct Knife Technique
A sharp knife makes it easy to cut, but you still must be cautious about the way you use your knife. Always be aware of where your hands, or a helper's hands are when working with a knife. It’s unbelievably easy to accidentally cut someone or yourself when skinning. Make short, precise cuts away from yourself. Keep your knife handle clean. A non-slip handle is very beneficial.
Gloves will significantly help your cleanup process, but most importantly, they help prevent spreading contaminants around while you are skinning and butchering. It is particularly important to prevent spreading hair around on the meat. Changing your gloves periodically while skinning will help to keep the hair on the hide and off your dinner.
Use the Buddy System
Skinning any large animal is a chore to do by yourself. Once you have plenty of experience, it won’t be as difficult, but an extra set of hands and eyeballs can really come in handy for balancing the carcass while skinning and butchering.
With these tips and our guide, you should be able to start skinning like the professionals. Practice makes perfect, so keep at it. Offer to help others who are skinning, just so you have the opportunity to see and experience the process. The more you do it, the easier it becomes. For a visual breakdown of the process, make sure you check out or video below.
Next, we will show you how we butcher a deer so that you can learn to do it at home, save money on processing charges, and get the cuts of venison you really want. Later, we'll show you some of our favorite ways to prepare venison and share some family favorite recipes and techniques.
Part Two: Butchering and Preparing Venison
So you field dressed and skinned your deer, but what’s next? In this article, we're going to explain the process and techniques we use at home to butcher a deer and prepare the meat for final cuts. A lot of the information here can also be found on our Youtube channel if you would like to see the process we use.
It’s key to make sure your deer is completely clean and free of hair and dirt before butchering. Cleanliness is essential. You do not want to accidentally ruin your venison because of carelessness.
Butcher a Deer
We are going to go through and show you how to break the carcass down into the different muscle groups, then we will come back and show you how to further process those parts. We are using the Outdoor Edge Butcher’s Knife Kit. It comes with all of the essential tools you need. We're going to use the bone saw, the boning knife, and a larger butcher blade that is similar to a Bowie knife. This is a great set of tools to pick up, we highly recommend them for your at home butchering. Let’s get started!
Tenderloins or Fish Tenders
The first thing you will do is reach inside the carcass and find the tenderloins. We call them fish tenders because, well, they are about the size of a fish fillet. Once you get them started, they pull out easily. A lot of people miss these or cut into them when field dressing their deer, which is really a waste of one of the best parts.
We are going to use the Outdoor Edge bone saw to quickly remove the hind quarters. This just makes the next steps easier. First, trim the flap meat, then cut through above the hip joints.
Switching back to the boning knife, you will use some downward pressure to separate the hip joints and slice the haunch off. You can use the edge of the table as you cut to get leverage. This will help separate the joint. Set the rear haunches aside for now. Later, we will break those down into the sirloin, top, bottom, and eye of round roasts and tell you how to make some jerky.
Most of the time as you are butchering an animal, you will see visual cues where to cut. As you work along the front legs, you will find a membrane between the muscles. Just follow that with your knife, and the shoulder will come apart easily. Use short strokes with your knife and apply pressure with your other hand. The muscle groups will usually come apart. Set the shoulders aside. Later, we will clean these up and describe how to cut a venison flat iron steak.
Ribs and Backstrap
Use your knife and make an incision down the spine. Cut along the carcass to the rib, and work the knife back toward your first cut. Like filleting a fish, if you make these cuts right, your backstrap will come right off. The backstrap is one of the most prized parts of a deer. You will make these cuts on both sides to remove the backstraps. Later, we will tell you how to finish processing these and make them into chops.
This is where the heavier bladed butcher knife comes in handy. You will need to cut through the sternum to separate the ribs. There is a piece of cartilage that makes cutting easier. You can also use the bone saw to quickly hack through the sternum.
Use the heavier knife and a sawing motion to cut the ribs from the spine and remove them. These are great on the smoker as is, but if they are too big, you can cut the bottom portion off. Find the cartilage and cut through it to remove. You can process that part later to add to ground venison. Now, you have St. Louis style ribs.
Use the bone saw to remove the remainder of the ribs. An extra set of hands comes in very handy on this step. A pro tip is to use your knife to cut through the muscle to the bone before starting to cut with the saw. This way, you are not wasting energy cutting muscle with the saw.
Waste Not, Want Not
Carefully go over the remaining spine and neck portion to remove any usable bits of muscle. These can be ground up with other trimmings and make amazing sausage. Most of the bones can be boiled down and used to make stock. Venison bone stock makes out-of-this-world gravy, and is an excellent natural immune system booster. The only bones you should not use are the skull, brain, and spinal cord. Some animals can carry diseases that may be transferable to humans and can withstand industrial heat sanitation temperatures. It’s just not safe to use these parts.
Many people have very strong opinions on using deer fat, and there are some serious things you should consider before embarking on rendering your fat.
Probably the most important thing to consider is the diet of the animal you harvested. Deer feeding on grasses, grains, or acorns are likely to have fat similar to that of grass-fed beef and will be pleasant. Deer eating scrub brush and such should be avoided. These deer are likely to have little fat, and what they do have will not taste good.
Fat you find inside the carcass and surrounding the liver is called suet. This is used to make tallow for candles and can be saved, but is usually discarded when field dressing a deer. If you want to embark on a candle-making adventure, or if you know someone who is interested in buying suet to make tallow, you can save these parts.
If you do render deer fat for cooking, remember a little goes a long way. Too much, and it will coat your mouth in an unpleasant way. Deer fat does not keep and will go rancid within three to four months even in the freezer.
Getting Ready for the Next Step
Your deer has been broken down into the major groups now, so it is time to move on to the types of cuts you can get from your deer. We have videos on our Youtube channel that show the best way how to skin and butcher the deer you have harvested.
In Part Three, we will discuss how to get the best cuts and share with you some of our favorite ways to make venison at home using The Bearded Butcher Blend spices and seasonings.
Part Three: Dressing Up Your Cuts
Once you have finished the basic butchering steps outlined in part two of this guide to butchering at home, it is time to process your quarters into proper cuts of meat.
As we go along here, we will explain the different cuts and give you some tips about the way we like to prepare and season venison using our Bearded Butcher Blend Spices. We are going to continue using the Outdoor Edge Butchering Kit. The knives in this set are excellent for making great cuts of venison at home.
Back to the Vension Backstrap
The first thing you want to do when trimming your backstrap is to find the seam in the muscle. You can open this up by hand, and then give it just a little help with the knife to expose the edge. Trim the long edge off and save it for trimmings.
Next, find the thick spinal sinew that runs all the way down the backstrap and cut that out. This is often used to make traditional bowstrings. Now, we need to remove the silver skin.
Use the fish fillet method by starting at the thick end of the backstrap and cutting down to, but not through the silver skin. Then carefully press the knife away from you while gently pulling the edge of the silver skin and the silver skin will come off. If some parts are missed, you can flip the backstrap over and angle your knife blade against the skin and gently cut away from yourself. This way, you can catch the skin and lift it off without destroying the backstrap.
With the silver skin and sinews removed, you can cut the backstrap into 1 ¼” slices for chops. These are some of the most desirable cuts of venison.
Dressing up a Deer Backstrap
A way to cut and prepare a backstrap that is sure to impress is to butterfly the backstrap. To do this, you will cut the backstrap into thirds. Using the thickest portions, place your hand on top of the backstrap and use your knife to cut as close to the table as possible without cutting through the backstrap. Using your other hand, gently unroll the backstrap as you cut. You can continue to cut and unroll the backstrap until you have one uniform, thin layer.
You can season this with Bearded Butchers Spices. The Original is a personal favorite on a backstrap like this. Next, you will layer whatever filling you would like. Feta cheese, spinach, and onions is a good choice. So is cream cheese and jalapenos for a creamy spicy kick. All you have to do is roll the butterflied backstrap up and tie it off. Smoker, grill, or the oven, this is a great way to make a backstrap.
Breaking Down the Deer Hind Quarter
Next, we are going to separate the hind quarters. These parts can be used for many great dishes. The major portions are the round steaks. These are the ideal cuts for jerky. We are also going to detail how to get a great sirloin roast from a hind quarter.
Get started by applying a little downward force with your knife at the knee joint. When you are in the right spot, you will cut the shank off cleanly. Alternatively, you can use the bone saw to cut through the joint, but be sure to start with your knife. Bone saws don’t work well on muscle.
Using your boning knife, follow the femur bone down until it is separated from the meat. Cut around the bone and lift it out of the muscle. Now you will have a 100 percent boneless piece of venison.
There are four muscle groups we are going to deal with in the haunch. The first is the round point. The round point, also called a sirloin when it is properly dressed, has a membrane that holds it in place. You can start working it free by hand and use your knife sparingly to trim it out. This is the best piece to make roast venison, but you can also cut it up into cubes for stew meat. If you remove the connective tissue, you can also slice this into jerky.
From here, you are going to separate the other three muscle groups. These muscles will pull apart pretty easy when you find the seam in the membrane. This will take experience to learn to do quickly. A trick is to look at the direction of the grain of the muscle and work toward the direction the grain goes. You will typically find a membrane between the muscles that pulls apart.
Use your knife to cut out the top round, bottom round, and eye of round.
You will find a glob of fat on the bottom round that you should trim off. Inside the fat glob is a gland that you do not want to cook with. It will give your meat a bitter, off flavor that is unpleasant. Trash that thing.
The round is the prime cut for making jerky. It is lean and has little connecting tissue that is unpleasant in jerky. What you will want to do to prep your round steaks for jerky is to remove any excess fat. You want jerky to be as lean as possible. You will see the grain running in one direction. Slice your rounds into 1” to 1 ¼” slices against the grain. Then, set the cuts face down and slice into jerky thickness. This way, the grain will run sideways to the length of the piece of jerky, making it pull a. Part when you eat it.
Trimmings, Bones, and Everything Else
Once your jerky cuts are finished, you will have a good pile of parts you have cut off. Trim off the fat and use those pieces for ground meat. Some of these pieces may even make good stew meat, so cut carefully to remove fat and don’t waste anything.
Save the bones and hard cartilage pieces. You can simmer these for several hours to make a bone broth that is one of the best natural cold remedies you can find. The bone broth can also be used for making gravy and enhancing stews and soups.
You will simply repeat this process on the other rear quarter. Once you have finished prepping, you can make some jerky.
Deer Jerky Recipe: Bearded Butcher Style
We are going to share our super simple way to make our favorite venison jerky. We are starting with the slices we made earlier from the rounds we cut up. You will want to find a tinted curing salt, usually available online. This will help cure the meat and preserve it.
We are going to use 12 lbs of venison today and we are going to add in ½ oz of curing salt. You can use any of the Bearded Butcher Blend spices for jerky, but our Chipotle Seasoning is a family favorite with venison jerky.
This couldn’t be easier:
Our magic ratio is about two ounces per pound of meat, so for 12 pounds of venison, we are going to use an entire bottle of Chipotle.
Add in half, then mix by hand to start getting a good coat.
Once the jerky is getting coated, you can add the rest of the bottle.
Keep mixing until all of the jerky slices have a nice and even coat.
Let this dry rub rest overnight to cure and get a really good flavor.
You can dehydrate your jerky however you like to do it. You can use a smoker, The Big Green Egg, even your oven. A food dehydrator works great also, but takes a little longer.
When all is done, you will have between six and eight pounds of jerky you can be proud of, because you made it yourself.
The Fore-Quarters and Shoulders
We are going to break down the fore-quarters, and show some tricks to make sure your cuts are great. The first thing you want to do is to find a fatty glob on the top of the shoulder blade by the neck and cut this out. This is another gland that you do not want getting into your meat.
Use your knife to cut through the shoulder socket and break the shank loose. The shank meat can be trimmed and added to your ground meat pile. With the remaining shoulder, you can get a little bit of meat for jerky if you want, or you can trim that into your ground pile. We trimmed off the bottom steaks and will add that to our ground venison.
Deer Flat Iron Steaks
With the rest of the shoulder, we are going to describe a different way to cut these up to get some really amazing steaks. If you look at the shoulder from the bottom, you can see how the blade runs all the way through. Make a cut with your knife on the top following these two bones down.
The flat iron steak will be the wider portion. You can use your knife to cut right down to the bone and following along, remove the whole steak. Cut the sinew from the shoulder steak and trim off the edges for your ground venison. When you are done, you will have a nice piece of meat with a muscle on the top and a muscle on the bottom.
Again, use the fillet method to separate the two muscles. In between, you will find silver skin. Using the same fillet method as you used with the backstrap, slice the silver skin off. Trim the steaks down to remove sinews and fat.
The flat iron steaks you are left with are going to be small, but these are some delicious cuts of venison and well worth the effort to trim out.
By the time you have trimmed all of these wonderful cuts of venison from your deer, you will have a significant pile of trimmings. You will need to carefully trim off as much of the fat, connective tissue, and any other inedible parts.
You will need to determine when you feel enough meat has been removed from the bones. The best way is to start by cutting to the bone, then working your way back. If there are bits of unpleasantness, it is easier to remove stuff you don’t want once it’s off the bone.
One of our favorite ways to use all these trimmings is to make some fresh venison bratwurst.
When you are trimming pieces for your grinder, you will need to determine the right size of cuts to get a good grind. Our grinder tends to like golf ball-ish size pieces. You don’t have to remove every little bit of sinew from the venison as you trim, but you should remove the heavier and larger sinews you find.
Tricks for Grinding Venison
When you have trimmed your pieces out for grinding, the muscle will be very lean. We add in about 10 percent pork fat to our grind to make up for the leanness and keep the sausage from drying out. We also use our original Bearded Butcher Blend Spice. We add the whole bottle into the mixing bowl before grinding. Once your meat is ground, it’s your choice how you want to stuff. We use a five pound press-type and collagen casings. You can use natural casings if you desire. Make sure you check out our post and video breaking down how to make your own sausage and bratwurst with fresh ground deer meat.
There are dozens of different ways to prepare the cuts of venison you have made following our guide. No matter what meal you choose to prepare, any of the Bearded Butcher Blend Spices will be the perfect compliment to your feast.
Remember to take your time trimming and cutting. Our videos make it seem super fast and easy, but we have lots of experience. The more you practice, the faster you will get, and the better job you will do trimming your harvested animal perfectly and wasting nothing.
If you haven't watched our YouTube video on the entire process, check it out below.
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