I was 32 when I started cooking; up until then, I just ate. ~Julia Child
On Saturday, we finally had the chance to make deer bologna and deer jerky. Is it hard? Nope, not even close. The hardest part is monitoring the cooking, or in the case of the jerky, the dehydration machine. As long as you keep a close eye on the meat, perfection! A healthy snack!
Way back in December, during hunting season, which seems like a lifetime ago now, we ground up the deer meet into hamburger. Yes, we have a grinder to grind our own meat. Believe it or not, we use it during the winter months, not only for deer, but also if we’re butchering a cow (ground chuck) or pig (sausage). By next year, I’m going to raise my own turkeys, and make ground turkey meat. (I love turkey burgers!) We weighed the meat, sealed it in plastic wrap, wrapped it in freezer paper, labeled it, and froze until ready to use. We use the ground deer meat for burgers, taco meat, and meatloaf, among other recipes. This year, we set some aside specifically for the bologna and jerky.
Before beginning, the weighed meat needs to be removed from the freezer, at least a day or two in advance to slowly defrost. I wouldn’t suggest using a microwave to assist with this process, because even though the microwave “defrosts” the meat, it still cooks the edges slightly, and that’s no good. Do yourself a favor, and take the time to let the meat thaw naturally.
In the past, we’ve made deer Salomi, but from what my parents said, they didn’t care for it as much as the bologna. So bologna it is!
We purchase our bologna mix at Gander Mountain, and sometimes Cabela’s. There’s a certain brand my parents like, although I can’t remember the name (It’s in an orangeish bag). You can purchase bologna kits, that contain the pertinent spices, as well as the casings. We prefer the fat casings, as opposed to the thinner ones. The thinner ones tend to dry out fast, especially when cooked alongside the fat ones. So cook them separately, if you choose to use a combination of fat and thin casings.
Starting with the bologna, since it takes a while to cook, we dropped the thawed weighed ground deer meat in our hand crank mixer. Using dad’s homemade red wine instead of water, we diluted the spices in the liquid. Simply follow the directions on the package for exact measurements. Now, it’s really as easy as adding the diluted spice mixture to the meat, mixing, and then stuffing. Make sure you soak the casings in warm water prior to stuffing.
To assist us a step further, we added the meat mixture to our hand crank stuffer, typically used to stuff sausage. It works wonderfully with the bologna casings, as long as you use the smallest tube and keep the air out by holding the end into the meat. Simply, crank the mixture into the casing, leave a little room at the open end to twist, and seal. Lay the long cylinders together ready for baking. I wouldn’t recommend adding the bologna rods in the oven one at a time. Save yourself some frustration, and confusion and add them all together, on the same rack. Again, use the cooking directions on the package.
On a side note, during the mixing stage, we added chunks of cheddar cheese to the meat. My family is partial to the meat and cheese mixture, but you can add, jalapeno peppers, spicy cheese, or garlic pieces. Experiment to find out what your family likes best. Keep in mind, when another ingredient is added to the meat mixture, it will increase the amount of bologna, in turn increasing the number of casings used. So, have an extra casing or two handy, you’ll need it!
I do want to call out, during this process, Kyle would not touch the raw meat with his hands. That cracks us all up! He simply just can’t do it. Knowing this, I couldn’t help but smear a little meat on his cheek or hand. Kyle snickered and played along for a while, until he had enough. He’s not the adventurous or traditional type of cook. He’s more the, stand-on-the-sidelines and dictate direction. I love that kid!
Okay, funny story, yes besides me grossing Kyle out. It’s always an adventure in the Piper household, especially when Kyle and I are involved. While Kyle was cranking the meat mixture into the casing, he was struggling a bit. Toward the bottom of the metal container, it does get tough to crank. Smarty pants me, told Kyle to step aside, thinking he was being dramatic. When I began cranking, Kyle sarcastically commented, “It’s not that easy is it Aunt Heather?” In a way, he sounded just like his dad, Ryan, when he was trying to prove a point. While I was flexing my muscles, literally, I too wanted to prove a point. My point? That there was still plenty of cranking room. While doing so, we heard a huge BOOM noise. Everyone looked at me, like I had a clue what that noise was. I back peddled the crank to find that I was pressing the mixture so hard, it created a vacuum and blew the cheese cubes flat to the bottom of the metal container. Keep in mind, there was still meet mixture in the tube leading to the casing. During the back peddling process, the space beneath my sealed top, where there was a void of air, it pulled the meat mixture back into the container. It was amazing, it happened so fast we just stood dumfounded. The force was so great, the meat gathered in a large single mass in the center of the container. Science, too cool! It’s little moments like that, that make this so much fun! We were giggling, and having a good time.
While the bologna cooked, we started the deer jerky. Same process really, take the thawed weighed ground deer meat, and the spices diluted in dad’s wine, and mix well. Instead of using the stuffer, we added the meat mixture to a press, which resembles a cookie press, or an odd looking firearm. (fitting) Anyway, we used the thin narrow tip to squeeze the meat directly onto our plastic dehydration racks. Since the racks are circular in shape, we lined up the meat strips from outer ring to the center, giving it a wheel appearance, leaving space between strips for air circulation. Then, on the next row, I staggered the meat strips, compared to the rack below. This continued until all the meat was used. One batch filled our machine, almost perfectly (I believe we have extra trays). We placed a timer on the machine, and let modern technology do the rest.
With each, the deer bologna and deer jerky, it’s prudent to constantly check the progress, and not let the oven or the timer on the dehydrator dictate when the meat is done. Nope, you be the judge. Check the temperature of the bologna, and check the texture of the jerky. Also, keep in mind with the dehydrator, some trays will finish sooner than others. Don’t over do it.
Once you’re done, sit back, and enjoy the fruits of your labor. It’s totally worth it! Gathering as a family, and passing along cooking traditions such as this one with Kyle, makes it a truly memorable experience. Kyle loves his deer meat, and he enjoys cooking, but he loves being a part of the family the most. Even at his thirteen years, I could tell he likes to be included in our traditions, as much as we adore including him. Happy snacking!