Most laws state that you need to utilize whatever you shoot while hunting, so what to do if not eat it? However, more often than not, we don’t necessarily eat all the deer meat right away. In most cases, it’s simply not possible.
There are many ways of preserving deer meat, and keeping it in the freezer is one of the most popular modern solutions. Even so, freezing your food can only go so far.
How Long Can Deer Meat Last in the Freezer?
The time your deer meat can spend in the freezer depends on a few factors. The preparation before freezing, the packaging, and the time it takes for the venison to freeze completely are the essential parts that you need to consider before figuring out the “due date” of your deer meat from the freezer.
Freezing can keep food safe almost indefinitely, so the recommended storage times are only quality guides.
Properly stored venison can last in the freezer for around 12 months, depending on the cut and the way it is stored. After that time, the quality will drop.
Types of Cuts and Containers
The better your venison is sealed, the longer it can keep its quality in the freezer. The most common types of containers are Ziploc freezer bags, freezer paper, and vacuum sealers.
Between those three, vacuum sealers can keep your deer safe for longer.
|Cut||Ziploc bag/ Freezer paper||Vacuum sealed|
|Ground, hamburger, stew meat||3 – 4 months||12 months|
|Steaks||6 – 12 months||24 months|
|Chops||4 – 6 months||18 months|
|Roasts||4 – 12 months||24 months|
|Offal (liver, heart, etc.)||3 – 4 months||12 months|
|Cooked meat||6 – 9 months||18 months|
|Leftovers (depending on ingredients)||2 – 3 months||9 months|
Raw vs. Cooked
The general opinion is that it doesn’t matter if the meat was cooked before freezing or frozen raw. It could last a long time in the freezer regardless of the cut.
During freezing raw venison, the meat fibers release myoglobin protein, a relative of hemoglobin, that, after thawing, forms a “blood-like” liquid.
The more myoglobin is removed, the darker the color of thawed raw meat. It doesn’t affect the “due date” of the meat, but it affects the taste and tenderness of it.
However, the deer meat’s quality and taste would deteriorate sooner if you cooked it beforehand. The reason behind it is the lower water content in cooked deer meat.
You can freeze aged venison as well, and it will keep its qualities as long as the fresh one. It is, however, a little tricky. Because aged venison is usually dryer than fresh meat, there is more risk of getting a freezer burn on your aged cuts.
While freezing aged venison, the best method would be to use a vacuum sealer for that extra safety.
The best temperatures for freezing deer meat is 0F or below. Although this temperature doesn’t kill the bacteria, yeast, and mold, it definitely stops them from spreading and spoiling your meat. The 0F temperature also kills some of the parasites; however, it requires particular freezing and thawing techniques.
Notwithstanding that, the University of Nevada research states that -10 to -20F would help maintain food quality for longer than 0 – 32F temperatures. A study concluded by American Meat Science Association showed that fast freezing meat at temperatures close to -70F would keep meat quality at the highest.
However, in those temperatures, the meat cannot stay for a long time. You risk a freezer burn on your deer meat during a prolonged intense freeze.
Some of the states have laws about possession. It means that in those states, you will have to consume all your deer meat still remaining from the last hunt before you head out to the forest to shoot another deer.
How To Recognize Spoiled Frozen Deer Meat?
Many people believe that food in the freezer can last forever. That’s not entirely true.
While it will not spoil the same way as it would while sitting in the refrigerator for an extended time, it can still sustain some damage that could render it inedible, although still not a health hazard.
The damage we talk about is a freezer burn. The easiest way to explain freezer burn is to say that the water molecules in the deer meat prefer the coldest spot while in the freezer.
What this means is that they migrate from within the deer meat to, most often, freezer walls, leaving your deer meat dry.
The freezer-burned meat has certain qualities, making it easier to recognize:
- grayish-brown color,
- leathery spots,
- shriveled look,
- bland taste,
- chewy texture.
After taking your deer meat out of the freezer, it can be covered in ice crystals. It is the first sign that the deer meat might have gotten a freezer burn.
The biggest issue with freezer burn is the poor food quality after it occurs. The meat is still safe to consume, but it is preferred to dispose of the freezer-burned parts to increase the quality of the remaining deer meat.
Apart from freezer burn, it would be best if you considered passing on the meat in a few other instances. When you look in your freezer and see the deer meat in a frozen puddle on the bottom, you can be sure something has gone wrong.
The most likely scenario is that the package wasn’t air-tight enough, and the water from the meat escaped and pooled around. The meat could be good after thawing, but we recommend not risking your health to check.
Another thing to look out for is the smell. If, after thawing, the meat smells funky, it would be safe to consider the meat spoiled and pass on eating it.
Can You Refreeze Deer Meat?
Despite the common misconception, you can refreeze deer meat after thawing. According to the USDA, you may freeze again any meat previously defrosted in the refrigerator, as long as it wasn’t standing out of the fridge for more than two hours.
If you thaw the deer meat using other methods, you need to cook it before refreezing.
Some best thawing methods:
- Refrigerator. This method allows the deer meat to thaw slowly and safely. While using this method, you have to put the frozen meat on a plate or in a bowl to prevent any juices from contaminating the refrigerator and other food.
- Cold Water. You can place food in a leak-proof plastic bag and immerse it in cold tap water. For faster thawing, you should change the water every half hour. You should cook deer meat immediately after thawing.
- Microwave. Special programs are allowing defrosting in the microwave. You should cook meat directly after thawing with a microwave.
After cooking previously frozen raw deer meat, it is safe to freeze it once more. Another USDA advice is that you may refreeze the unused portion of cooked deer meat that was thawed in the refrigerator.
Best Ways To Freeze Deer Meat
To avoid freezer burn and losing your deer meat, you should make sure that you pack it properly.
Before freezing your deer meat, you should make sure it is clean, and you should remove all possible fat to lower the risk of the meat getting rancid and having an intense “gamey” taste.
After that, there are a few methods that work really well.
- Vacuum packing
It is one of the best methods of preparing your deer meat for the freezer. The vacuum sealer will suck out all the air from the bag with your meat and seal the end so that no air will come in.
It stops your meat from losing water in the freezer and getting a freezer burn. This, in turn, allows for longer storing time without losing too much quality.
- Ziploc bags
Storing your deer meat in the Ziploc bag is one of the most popular packaging methods for the freezer. It locks deer meat in, not allowing more air to come in, and prevents most water from escaping the bag.
The only disadvantage of Ziploc bags is that, unlike vacuum-sealed food, they still contain air inside, which can speed the deterioration process for as long as enough oxygen is left.
- Freezer paper
Wrapping deer meat in freezer paper is the second most popular method of storing meat in the freezer, and it is definitely cheaper than Ziploc bags and the vacuum packer. It is also not as good as the other two methods.
While you can try and wrap your meat as tight as you can, and it will still last a while in the freezer without losing its quality, you can very rarely wrap the meat air-tight.
Every time you open the freezer, the air can get in, and because the wrapping is not sealed throughout, the water molecules can still escape making your meat more prone to sustaining a freezer burn.
- Rapid freezing
Regardless of the method of packing your deer meat, the best solution for lasting quality is rapid freezing. The faster you can freeze deer meat, the longer it can keep its top quality. Slower freezing also works, but it allows for ice crystals to form.
However, during rapid freezing, there is no time for osmotic dehydration because the outer layer of the meat freezes first, and there is no space for ice crystals to form. This method works best for a single piece of meat in a packet.
- Freezing in parts
For top results, it is best to freeze no more than 4 lbs of deer meat per cubic foot of freezer space at a time within 24h. To have perfectly frozen meat, you should avoid stacking deer meat. Instead, it is best if you spread it evenly if possible. It will allow for frozen air to reach each part of the meat.
Modern technology gave us a great invention of a freezer and allowed us to store our deer meat for a long time without worrying too much about its quality or whether it will go off.
However, there are still certain things we have to remember when storing venison in the freezer because no food can last forever with the top quality.
The most important part is to wrap your food properly and follow the guidelines for storing your deer meat in the freezer to get the best and long-lasting results.