It's Time for a Pre-Season Freezer Cleanout

It's Time for a Pre-Season Freezer Cleanout

Hunting season is almost upon us. Smart hunters have spent the summer prepping for it. Legs and lungs are ready for the mountains. The bow is tuned to perfection and rifle shoots to center.

You're steady and ready, with a pack load of gear that's been refined over and over again. The calendar advances week by week as you anxiously await, tag in hand, for the sun to rise on opening day. But I'm betting there's one important thing you haven't considered: the deep freeze.

cleaning-your-freezer

Of all the tasks hunters face as they prepare for upcoming hunts, the freezer cleanout may be the most daunting. Who knows what lurks at the bottom of the big, white beast humming in the basement?


Among the tubes of ground venison, bags of veggies, and that full-feathered canvasback that hasn't yet made it to the taxidermist are white paper packages with blurry, indistinguishable markings, Ziplocs bursting with goose breasts from two years ago, and vacuum-sealed bags vaguely marked "mom's muley" or "Wy. Elk '14."


Take Inventory


Before adding to the freezer with freshly packaged venison, it's smart, and ethical, to deal with the largesse of previous seasons. At the very least, an inventory is in order. Line up several coolers or meat totes, don a pair of gloves, and start digging. Divide the freezer's contents by the age of the packages, the animal species, or cuts of meat. Having a system not only helps you know what you've got, but also makes future cleanout jobs easier.

Set one cooler aside just for meat to be donated. Now is a great time to help the less fortunate, whether that's the local food bank or your hapless brother who never manages to fill his tag.

Many hunter-led organizations, such as Hunters for the Hunger and others, hold special "freezer cleanout" days in the fall, setting up central meat drop-off locations to make it easier to donate. Just make sure these packages are clearly labeled — and resist the temptation to give away just the dregs of your freezer.



"Call it "fall cleaning." Make room for a new stockpile before notching this season's tags."



Keep a tub close at hand for any meat you suspect has gone bad or suffered freezer burn beyond saving. Freezer burn isn't a burn at all, but an oxidation that occurs when cold air is allowed to make contact with meat.

The dehydrating effect sucks moisture from the meat, turning it white or gray as it dries out and converts to a leather-like texture. There's really no saving tainted meat, though it is possible to trim off small areas of freezer burn to salvage cuts. For severely affected meat, the trashcan or dog bowl is your only option.

Once the freezer is empty, defrost it, chipping away any ice or thick frost. Wipe the inside down with a good kitchen cleaner, then repack everything in an organized fashion. Decode mystery packages, unwrapping them if necessary, and relabel them with a Sharpie so you know what you've got. Place the oldest packages on top so they get used first, making a written inventory as you go. Use internal divi-ders or cardboard boxes to organize the interior of the freezer, leaving an empty area off to the side to accommodate all the fresh venison you hope to add in the coming fall.

What's Left

After butchering, the tender cuts are always the first to disappear. Tenderloins should be eaten fresh, and backstraps rarely last through grilling season. Versatile ground venison also doesn't last long, ending up in pasta, tacos, and, of course, delicious cheeseburgers. What's typically left in the freezer as fall approaches are larger pieces of meat some people might consider difficult to cook: shanks, shoulder roasts, the neck, and those random packages of mystery meat labeled "stew" or "jerky."

Though these chunks of meat are often referred to as "lesser cuts," there's an old adage that applies. One man's trash is another man's treasure. Personally, I prefer a tougher cut of meat as they're often the most flavorful. Cooked low and slow in a moist environment, otherwise known as braising, the connective tissues inside the shank and neck break down into a silky sauce. The braise also turns tough protein fibers into meltingly tender strands that are rich and meaty, more so then even the overrated tenderloins.

Although I like the whole muscle version better, jerky that's been ground and extruded with a jerky gun or shooter is also a great way to make use of all those mystery cuts of meat. The grinding process takes care of tough fibers, and the right spice blend, like those from Walton's, can make a delicious snack out of all but the ruttiest of bucks or bulls. The same can be said for sausage, which also turns meat found in the bottom of the freezer into a great and tasty meal for the upcoming hunting season.

Recommended for You

Hunting in Quebec offers plenty of quality outfitters, affordable hunting options, great fishing and plenty of bears. North America

Bear Hunting Makes Quebec the Ultimate Springtime Destination

Lynn Burkhead - February 01, 2019

Hunting in Quebec offers plenty of quality outfitters, affordable hunting options, great...

A new wave of allergies threatens to turn hunters into vegetarians. News

The Ticks Making Hunters Allergic to Meat

David Hart

A new wave of allergies threatens to turn hunters into vegetarians.

Smaller and lighter, sub-gauge shotguns are making a resurgence in the turkey woods. Guns

Sub-Gauge Shotguns for Turkey Hunting

Larry Case

Smaller and lighter, sub-gauge shotguns are making a resurgence in the turkey woods.

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

2018 Petersen

2018 Petersen's Hunting Episode 16: Cedar Break Bucks

Kevin Steele treks to the cedar breaks and coulees of north-central Nebraska for a shot at a big prairie whitetail.

2018 Petersen

2018 Petersen's Hunting Episode 14: Swamp Bulls

With his Mozambique forest bull in the salt, Craig Boddington sets his sights on the Marromeu grasslands in pursuit of a swamp buffalo.

Camp Chef at SHOT Show: Elk Venison Slider Burgers Recipe

Camp Chef at SHOT Show: Elk Venison Slider Burgers Recipe

Have a freezer full of ground elk venison from your fall hunting trips? Never fear, the folks at Camp Chef have a great SHOT Show recipe that is lean and mean, easy to prepare, and a crowd-pleasing favorite!

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories

My deer-hunting seeds were planted and nurtured as a youngster on my family's small farm in North America

Best Units for Hunting Western Mule Deer

Josh Dahlke

My deer-hunting seeds were planted and nurtured as a youngster on my family's small farm in

I have never felt that camping trailers at least the Hunting

The Ultimate Hunting Trailers

WA Staff

I have never felt that camping trailers at least the "house on wheels" variety that most...

If you're spending time in the outdoors where you might encounter bears, carry one of these guns. Survival

Which Firearm Is Best for Bear Defense?

Larry Case - July 11, 2018

If you're spending time in the outdoors where you might encounter bears, carry one of these...

See More Stories

More Recipes

This recipe uses a French cooking process to turn tough meat into a tender dish. Recipes

Squirrel Confit with Duck Fat Gnocchi Recipe

Michael Pendley

This recipe uses a French cooking process to turn tough meat into a tender dish.

Impress your significant other with one of these delicious venison recipes this Valentine's Day. Recipes

6 Venison Recipes for Valentine's Day

Petersen's Hunting Online Staff

Impress your significant other with one of these delicious venison recipes this Valentine's...

We make a case for eating wobbly bits - the tasty innards of our quarry. Recipes

How to Cook Deer Organs & Offal

Michael Pendley

We make a case for eating wobbly bits - the tasty innards of our quarry.

See More Recipes

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save.

Temporary Price Reduction.

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.