The Four Tools You Need
It didn’t seem like it was all that long ago when we used to sit around the kitchen table at camp with a giant roll of freezer paper wrapping up someone’s recent kill. If I remember it correctly, we had a couple people cutting and a couple wrapping and at some point, the wrappers would say something to the effect of “slow down, I got a pile of meat here already and no place to wrap!”. Oh, freezer paper, for something that seemed so simple, it did such a poor job of keeping freezer burn off of the meat and created an absolute mess when defrosting. But hey, it’s what we had, and it worked when it really came down to it. When affordable vacuum sealers hit the market, I remember thinking that it was absolutely be instrumental to keeping our fish and game fresh for much longer than the conventional freezer paper method. When I looked into the price of these, I thought they were a bunch of money, and that maybe it was more of a luxury than a necessity. What I can tell you now is that I was wrong and that we as outdoors enthusiasts should be spending the same good money on processing tools that we do on our rifles, bows and gear. So, here are the four things that I think are critical for processing game and fish.
The Vacuum Sealer
For something that does such a simple task, they sure are one of the most important tools that you can have while processing. When they first came out I had a standard suction vacuum unit and it did the job quite well. From time to time, I would get a bad seal, but that was usually due to a wrinkled bag that wasn’t sitting flush in the machine. A couple of seasons ago, I transitioned away from this type of unit and upgraded to a chamber sealer, and it has made a world of difference. From an operational perspective, the chamber sealer evacuates all of the air within the sealed chamber and then seals the bag. Comparatively speaking, my experience with this type of unit vs. a suction vacuum sealer gives a much more thoroughly sealed item. It also allows the user to adjust the pressure and seal time when operating, which is a really beneficial feature for those sealing liquids or different kinds of items. Without a doubt, the addition of this unit to my processing table has been a no-brainer and worth every penny.
Mike’s Pick for Best Vacuum Sealer for Wild Game: MEAT! Chamber Vacuum Sealer (Click to Shop from $809)
This sealer has traveled with me across the country and packaged more wild game than I can even shake a stick at. For a medium-sized chamber sealer, it’s an absolute workhorse that can do it all. What I love most about it is the ability to alter the vacuum settings to accommodate sealing wet foods and liquids. The heat sealer on this unit is second to none and I’ve yet to have a bad seal on one single bag! Do yourself a favor and buy some extra bags, because you’re going to turn into the camp processor quickly.
The Meat Grinder
Meat grinders come in all shapes and sizes and with that also comes a really large range of prices. Back in the day, we used a hand grinder to get our ground meat and it worked, but it was a chore to say the least. Eventually I added a grinder attachment to my kitchen stand mixer and felt like I went from a Model T to a Camaro. So, you can imagine the surprise that I had when I went all-in on an actual grinding unit! A standalone grinder is well worth the money, regardless of whether you grind 10 pounds or 100 pounds each year. The power that these units have cannot be compared to anything coming out of the front of a mixer. Not only will this allow for you to grind larger quantities of meat more quickly, it will also much more effortlessly do so. And after a couple of long grinds with my mixer, I felt like the strain on that unit was going to eventually lead to damage.
Now, the other added benefit to having a larger dedicated grinding unit, is that it doubles as a large sausage maker, too. Having the ability to load up the top lug with more meat, ensures a better packed casing and a much quicker end result.
Mike’s Pick for Best Meat Grinder for Wild Game: The Mighty Bite from LEM (Click to Shop from $219)
Unless you have a specific location for all of your processing gear, chances are that you’re probably going to be using it on your kitchen counter during the season. Because of this, the Mighty Bite is just the size for grinding a bunch of meat without taking up too much room, like some of the larger commercial units. This unit can even connect to a foot switch when your working through large batches.
The Small Bone Saw
One of the most in-expensive, yet extremely useful pieces of processing equipment for me has been owning a small bone saw. A few seasons ago, I got really into cutting my own bone-in chops and stumbled upon a small saw that folded up into my knife roll. Since then, it’s been a breeze to cut these chops, shanks and further break down pieces of animals that would have been out of the question normally. Honestly, the best part about this saw is that it breaks down into a few small pieces and hardly takes up any room in my pack. For literally $70, these saws allow you to further break down animals into cuts of meat that your friends.
Mike’s Pick for Best Bone Saw for Wild Game: Wyoming Saw 1 (Click to Shop Wyoming Blades from $12)
This little saw has been an instrumental part of my knife roll for the last several seasons. Since it has the ability to break down into a couple of pieces, it doesn’t take up any extra room and is always ready to go. It’s just the right size to handle bone-in chops, shanks and even splitting some animals in half.
The Carbon Steel Boning Knife
At the backbone of meat processing, cutlery is obviously one of the most important tools that you’re going to need. Personally, I’ve tried just about every style knife under the sun over the years and the only one that I use now is a seven-inch boning knife. It’s stiff enough to carve out the quarters of big game, yet still manageable to handle removing smaller pieces of meat, like tenderloins. Now, the most important part, the blade. Like most, I’ve been a stainless-steel guy forever. My blades were always sharp, and they cleaned up like new. When I switched to a carbon steel blade, I noticed the longevity of the blade was significantly better than stainless. High grade carbon steel is much harder than stainless steel, which allows these blades to hold an edge for much longer between sharpenings. And this really helps to cleanly and efficiently process game with far less waste from a potentially dull knife. Aside from a sharper blade, the other main difference between carbon and stainless is the fact that a carbon steel blade will take on a patina over time. Water, blood, acid and fats will discolor these types of blades, which is completely normal. So, if you’re not used to it, admire that new carbon knife before you first use it, because it won’t look like that ever again.
Mike’s Pick for Best Carbon Steel Boning Knife for Wild Game: Dexter Russell Carbon Steel 6-Inch Boning Knife (Click to Shop from $21)
Dexter Russell knows a thing or two about making high quality knives at a super affordable price-point and this boning knife is no exception. This blade has just enough flex to work around joints and tight spots and is still perfect for taking out long cuts like a backstrap. For $22, it’s really difficult to find another knife that is this caliber.
In conclusion, the four essential tools for processing wild game – a vacuum sealer, a meat grinder, a small bone saw, and a sharp and durable knife, are fundamental for anyone looking to handle and prepare game meat effectively. A high-quality knife ensures precise and clean cuts, maintaining the integrity of the meat. The meat grinder allows for the transformation of tougher cuts into ground meat, expanding the culinary possibilities. Vacuum sealers play a critical role in preserving the freshness and flavor of the meat, ensuring its longevity. Finally, the small bone saw for breaking down larger parts of the animal and getting those delicious bone-in meats. Together, these tools form the cornerstone of efficient and successful wild game processing, enabling hunters and outdoor enthusiasts to fully utilize their harvest in a respectful and sustainable manner. By investing in these tools, one not only enhances their processing skills but also pays homage to the tradition of responsible and self-reliant food sourcing.