Aging of Wild Game Meats
Old-timers and aficionados recognize the importance of properly aging meat in order to enhance its inherent quality. Unfortunately, this step is rushed or skipped altogether by many purveyors in the name of efficiency. The aging process consists of three factors: moisture loss, tenderization, and flavor enhancement. The usual purpose for "hanging" carcasses in a cooler for a few days prior to packaging is to allow the carcass to pass through the rigor mortis phase before cutting. Cutting the meat away from the bone before this phase passes causes the muscles to shrink and become tough due to "foreshortening" of the muscle fibers. At Broken Arrow Ranch, we use special equipment to "electrostimulate" each carcass immediately after the animal is killed. This process prevents the rigor mortis phase. It also produces a considerable improvement in tenderness and taste.
Here at Broken Arrow Ranch we allow our meat to undergo a double aging, double handling process that is labor intensive and time consuming but essential to quality. Once transported from the field, whole carcasses are allowed to dry-age for three to five days, which allows flavor concentration from moisture loss and tenderization from the muscles' natural enzymes. In the first day or two of hanging, a carcass can lose up to 6% of its original weight due to evaporation. This weight loss is obviously a cost to us. We have found that it is important to let the carcasses hang for this long, however, because the slight drying of the meat enhances its flavor.
The carcass is then cut into primals (large, bone-in cuts such as whole legs and saddles), vacuum packaged and allowed to continue aging for another 2 to 4 weeks, maximizing tenderness and flavor. Natural enzymes in the meat further break down the connective tissue and produce a meat much more tender than would be the case if the meat were used immediately. The vacuum packaging allows us to obtain the benefits of extended aging without overly drying the meat.
A key distinction in our aging process is that the meat is left on the bone as it ages. When muscle is left attached to the bone the natural tension it creates helps relax the muscle fibers further increasing its tenderness. Only after the meat is fully aged and at the peak of its perfection is it boned out and packaged as individual cuts.
Since we harvest all of the venison and antelope we sell, Broken Arrow Ranch can provide you with meat aged to your exact specifications. We can even provide a shipment consisting of meats with various aging to allow you to use some immediately and hold the rest for later use. This is another advantage of buying from Broken Arrow Ranch where we actually harvest the meat we sell.