Blog and photos by Marcus Weiner
Cooking wild game that I have hunted is an interest of mine. Like fishing, gardening, foraging for mushrooms, crabbing, and clamming, I get a fair bit of pleasure from sourcing my proteins from wild sources and growing as much fruit and vegetables as I can store. The self sufficiency and healthy foods bring me satisfaction, for both feeding myself but also my wife and four sons. Butchering a wild game hind quarter is an important part of process of bringing wild game to the table.
Over the years I am becoming more of a student of processing game and am paying greater attention to meat care, from the moment that the animal drops, right to the point where I am serving it for dinner. Understanding the cuts of meat, what they are used for, how to take apart an animal—first in the field and then breaking quarters down at home—are all important pieces of knowledge and will lead to better quality game meat and more satisfaction over tasty meals. In the past, my goal was simply to get the animal deboned, with less attention paid to the unique cuts of meat. By learning how to take apart a rear quarter properly, I am in a better position to use each cut of meat for it’s best preparation when cooking wild game.
Starting in the field, using proper butchering techniques, being mindful of keeping as much hair and dirt off your meat as possible, and monitoring temperature to avoid spoilage when it gets too warm and cold shrinkage when the temps drop too low, are all part of the process of skilled hunters. Keep the meat dry in the field, preferably encased in a game bag, either hanging or off the ground so that air can circulate. Check out last month’s blog about field butchering tips and tactics.
After field butchering your animal, a hind quarter that has been properly cared for looks like this.
Once I get all this game meat home, what should I do with it? Through trial and error, I know that my family will eat steaks, roasts, jerky, ground meat and breakfast sausage. Since the majority of the meat on a wild game animal like a deer is found in the two rear quarters, I think it’s best if we examine a rear quarter and describe the cuts of meat, where they are located, how to take them apart and what they are good for. Cooking wild game starts with identifying the cuts and breaking down the animal into these pieces.
This hind quarter has been trimmed of fat and some connective tissue and silver skin. Note the football-shaped chunk on the top left, this is the sirloin. The bottom round sits below that, just to the left of the knife. The shank is the lower part of the leg. The top round is on the inside part of the quarter and the eye of round sits between the top and bottom rounds.
A rear quarter breaks down into the following cuts: top round, bottom round, eye of round, sirloin, and shank. I begin by first removing the sirloin. It’s shaped like a football and located on the top outer portion of the quarter, adjacent to the front of the femur. First cut away as much fat and silver skin as you can, then make a small cut on either side of the sirloin to allow you to run your fingers along the seam of the sirloin and separate it from both the top and bottom rounds. I find it easier to separate the different cuts with my fingers and use my knife sparingly to slice where needed to remove the cuts I am targeting. For the sirloin, you will need to make a cut at the top of the kneecap and base of the hip area to separate it from the rest of the quarter. The sirloin is a good cut for roasts, steaks and jerky.
Next step is to remove the bottom round, located on the outside of the leg. You can get it most of the way separated with your fingers along the seams and then use your knife to separate from the femur, top of the shank and from the top round. This cut is long and fairly flat: well suited to jerky, steaks, and cubed for stew. I particularly like this cut for jerky.
The top round is the found on the inside of the leg and is about twice as thick as the bottom round. It’s the largest cut of meat on the quarter. Separate the connective tissue with your fingers and cut the muscle connection to the femur. I really like this cut for steaks, but will use it for jerky, roasts, and stew.
The hind quarter has been broken down into components. From top left, clockwise: bottom round, sirloin, eye of round, top round and two chunks of shank.
In between the rounds, on the back of the quarter, is the eye of round. It looks like the tenderloin and can be treated like it. I either cook it whole or cut into medallions. It’s a very tender, delicious cut that shines on the table and can make it look like you have mastered cooking wild game.
The final piece of meat on a deer hind quarter is the shank. It’s the meat on the lower part of the leg, between the knee and hoof. It’s full of connective tissue and sinew, but if slow cooked, it is one of the tastiest pieces of meat on the deer. If you have been grinding this chunk of meat for burger or sausage, which I admit that I did for a long time, then consider what I am saying. After reading other people’s blogs and watching videos over the last several years, I have been converted to keeping the shank intact and cooking it all day in the crock pot.
Game meat ready for the freezer after being wrapped in plastic and butcher paper. Make sure to label each package so you can find the right cut when you are ready to cook.
Spend some time learning how to take apart the wild game that you harvest and you’ll be better prepared to serve it to your family. My boys love wild game jerky and I find myself reaching for certain cuts – like top and bottom rounds – to slice thin, marinate and dehydrate. Using the right cut of meat for the right application, be it steaks, stir fry, jerky, burger or sausage, makes a difference in the quality of your meal and the skills you exhibit when cooking wild game.
Marcus Weiner is an avid hunter, angler, forager and gardener who gets significant enjoyment from knowing where his food comes from. He founded and publishes Fish Alaska and Hunt Alaska magazines with his business partner and sister, Melissa Norris.