The Art of Aging
Aging meats, whether game or livestock, is letting the carcass, once prepared , hang in a clean and sanitary cooler, set to 34°F – 37ºF, for up to 14 days. During this time, the enzymes in the flesh begin to break down the long, stringy portions of the muscles while excess moisture is expelled. These two processes combine to both tenderize the meat as well as bring out it’s rich, natural flavors. Also, the aging process gives the meat time to lose it’s rigor mortis, or the stiffening of the joints that happens after the animal is killed. This relaxing of rigor mortis can take up to three days depending on the size of the animal.
With bison, beef, elk, and moose, 10 to 14 days aging makes for a rich and tender meat. These animals also tend to have a good amount of surface fat which greatly aids in the aging process, slowing down the dehydration and protecting the flesh from premature spoilage and discoloration.
Sheep, ram, pig, caribou, and deer are best aged 7 to 9 days. This is enough time to bring out the animals flavors and aid in tenderizing the meat without excessive loss of moisture due to the lack of body fat.
Antelope, javelina, musk hogs, boar, and bear are all best butchered in as little as 3 days or after rigor mortis loosens. These are all very strong flavored and finely textured meats and aging can tend to really make them gamey. However, we understand everyone likes their meat the way they like their meat, so let us know how rich you love it!
Even fowl and poultry can be aged, though most aren’t and are perfectly delectable! Duck, traditionally, was said to be best when hung by it’s neck until the body dropped whence the head ‘turned’.
Each animal will have a different aging profile and time and temperature makes a difference! If you hunt during a warmer season or you are in camp with your kill for a longer time, it will affect how best or how long to age your meat. A deer taken and kept in 65ºF weather will age in 3 days the same as one taken and kept in 40ºF weather aged for 10 days!
It is also important how your dress your carcass! Keeping the musk sacks intact until they fall away with the hide will keep you, your hands, your knife and the flesh of the animal from being saturated in scent. Packing the carcass with snow or ice will greatly speed up the chilling time which vastly extends the life of the meat.
The aging process will shrink the carcass weight through dehydration. Initially, the carcass will shrink by 5% and around 1½% per day. We find, aging will reduce the weight of the animal by 30%, but 50% is not unheard of if it is a large and well aged beef carcass.